The physical signs that indicate flea infestations in cats include persistent scratching, biting at their sides or excessive grooming. Picture: Supplied

Despite their tiny size, fleas are tough little terrors that can place your cat under severe stress, transmit diseases and cause a range of health problems.

It is important therefore to understand the dangers, recognise the signs and take simple steps to treat and prevent flea infestations.

The dangers of fleas

If untreated, fleas can cause severe stress to your cat as well as potential health problems ranging from mild skin irritation, itching and scratching and excessive grooming that may result in skin damage and dermatitis, to severe illness such as tapeworm, flea allergies and anaemia.

Fleas transmit the bacterium causing "cat-scratch disease" (Bartonella henselae) and the tapeworm Dipylidium caninum. In addition, flea bites can lead to Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD), a cat allergy to flea saliva marked by hair loss due to excessive grooming and licking; excessive scratching; and red, sore areas or scabs on their skin.

Fleas feeding on your cat’s blood can also cause anemia, particularly in kittens, making your cat lethargic or listless. 

Know the signs

The physical signs that indicate flea infestations in cats include persistent scratching, biting at their sides or excessive grooming, and licking their hair coats constantly. There might even be hair loss or black grit, which is flea dirt, in their coats. A pale nose and pale gums could indicate that your cat is anemic.

3 simple steps to a flea-free home

Regular flea checks: Groom your cat regularly all year round, checking for fleas around the base of the tail, lower back, between the legs, under the arms and around the belly. Place a white paper towel under your cat while running a fine-toothed metal flea comb through its coat to check for flea dirt, which look like black specks that turn reddish-brown when moistened.

De-flea your home: Good housekeeping is crucial as 95 percent of fleas - in the form of flea eggs, larvae and pupae - are found in nooks and crannies in your home and garden. Eradicate fleas in all stages of the flea lifecycle by washing your pets’ bedding regularly and vacuuming carpets, bedding, soft furnishings in your home frequently.

Protect your cat monthly: A flea product formulated specifically for cats that targets both adult fleas and flea eggs, larvae and pupae, will provide your cat with highly effective protection. Avoid tick and flea products intended for dogs, which could make your cat sick.