Number 109 • April 22, 2014 • Jeffrey K. Barnes

Cat flea
Order: Siphonaptera
Family: Pulicidae
Genus and species: Ctenocephalides felis (Bouché)

Cat fleaCat flea larva

Cat fleas are a common nuisance in homes. When the adults bite and suck blood, they can cause flea allergy dermatitis in humans and other animals. The severity of the allergic response varies, depending on the sensitivitiy of the host. Cat fleas are intermediate hosts to an intestinal parasite, the dog tapeworm. Unlike adult human fleas, adult cat fleas have two conspicuous combs of bristles – one at the front of the head and another just behind the head. In contrast to adults of many other flea species, adult cat fleas remain on the host and require a fresh blood meal in order to reproduce. They are found on both cats and dogs in North America, and they are the most common domestic flea in the United States. Dog fleas are more common in Europe. Eggs, which dry and smooth, easily fall out of animal fur. After hatching, the worm-like larvae feed on almost any organic debris on the floor covering, but they prefer the hemic fecal matter from the adults. The cat flea was originally a parasite of cats in North Africa and the Near East, but it is now widespred throughtout the world on a variety of hosts It is highly promiscuous, occurring not only on many species of Felis, but on other carnivores such as civets, coati-mundi, dog, fox, jackal, mongoose, raccoon, tiger weasel, and wolf. It is also found on armadillo, cattle, and hedgehog, horse, man, opossum, bats, lagomorphs, and rodents. In Arkansas, the cat flea has been found on Louisiana skunk, prairie spotted skunk, Virginia opossum, Norway rat, dog, domestic cat, Wisconsin gray fox, and white-tailed deer. In nearby Texas, it has been recorded from dog, cat, man, domestic rat, skunk, raccoon, rabbit, calf, horse, mule, and. It is the most common flea infesting man in many parts of the world. The cat flea is increasingly common in Europe and North America. It is capable of withstanding the low humidity of modern homes, and it has a wide host range. The warmth and insulation of modern homes are favorable to this species. Populations generally peak in the autumn. Serious outbreaks can occur when wild animals abandon nests or lairs built near houses. Pet owners will sometimes find they are being severely bitten upon returning home from a long vacation. Before leaving, the cat fleas were taking blood meals from their preferred hosts, the household pets. While the vacationers were away, and the pets were either with them or in a kennel, the fleas were deprived of blood meals. The starved fleas, suddenly presented anew with returning pets and humans, are desperate for a feast, and even human blood suffices.