How To Use a Flea Comb to Check Your Cat for Fleas

Posted on 20 Apr 2017 21:27 by EricT


When someone suspects their cat has fleas, I'm usually the guy called on the check it out. Fleas are not always obvious, after all. Unless the infestation is particularly severe, you won't see fleas jumping around like they're in a circus, and you may not even notice any symptoms such as scratching. Or, the symptoms could be generic, such as hair loss, which could also be due to contact allergies, etc.

But, checking for fleas is not rocket surgery. It's easy to check for yourself and all you need is one very simple piece of equipment.

Enter: The Flea Comb.

A flea comb is a small double-sided comb with very fine teeth. Pursuing the web on this subject, though, has revealed to me that the flea comb is misunderstood. It is a comb, after all, so anyone could be forgiven for thinking the idea is to comb your cat. One source supposed that the purpose of the comb was to "remove all the excess hair on your cat so that the fleas become apparent."

That doesn't sound like a fun time. And it also would not work. Fleas would not become apparent because you removed excess hair.

You see, trying to reveal fleas with a comb, or better yet, trying to remove them by combing them away, is not a strategy that you can rely on. This is because believe it or not:

Fleas Do Not Live on Cats (or Dogs)

Fleas do not set up house in your cat's fur and hang around waiting to be discovered by you and eradicated. No. They jump on, have a meal then jump off. They live, gasp, in your house (and in the yard). Fleas do prefer cats, dogs, and other furry mammals to humans. But, if your household flea problem becomes big enough, they will jump on you too. This means that you have to stay ahead of fleas so that they do not become a big household infestation!

Purpose of a Flea Comb

The purpose of the flea comb is not to reveal fleas. It is to reveal flea dirt. Flea dirt is a nice way of saying "flea poop." Flea poop looks like tiny bits of dirt. It is actually tiny bits of partially digested blood. Fleas, while feasting on your cat's blood happily deposit large quanities of their waste on your cat's skin, leaving crucial evidence behind before jumping off until they are ready for their next meal.

So, the primary purpose of a flea comb is to comb through the strands of hair, separating them enough to actually reveal or even comb away some of these black flecks. The black flecks are evidence of fleas and let you know you need to do something to keep the fleas off your cat. Many people still try to comb away fleas, and while it is quite possible to reveal some live fleas this way, it's not going to stop the other fleas, living somewhere in your house, possibly even in the carpet, furniture, or bedding, from jumping on your cat when you're done. The video below shows how to use a flea comb to check your cat for fleas.

As you can see on the video, you should use a white towel, place under your cat, to catch any flea dirt, which will show up better against the white. To make sure that the little flecks you are seeing are flea dirt and not just regular dirt, you can use a wet Q-tip to rub them. If they are flea droppings they will reconstitute to the host's, that is your cat's, blood, and turn red or rust-red.

The doc in the video uses a fancy metal comb but you can also use a plastic lice comb, the same kind you use to check your kid's hair for nits (God forbid). A white plastic one has an advantage in that the flea dirt will show up easily against the white comb, itself. These types of combs are double-sided, with one side having finer teeth than the other. Use the finest side.

The flea dirt will look like flecks of black paper, or they may look like little comma-shapes or long coils. You may not need a flea comb at all. Here is a photo of flea dirt revealed a thorough brushing, which you could achieve with everyone's favorite deshedding tool, the Furminator.

Flea dirt from a cat

Image by Dr Zak via [wikipedia]Image Credit

Flea dirt from a cat

Image by Dr Zak via [wikipedia]Image Credit

There are many products to help you control fleas on your cat. Regardless of how safe you think these products are, however, you must realize that killing or removing fleas from your cat; or removing eggs or stopping them from hatching, may likely be only a temporary fix. The fleas live in the environment, both in your yard and, once your cat has brought them in, in your house. And, although fleas do lay eggs on their host, these eggs drop off to the ground to undergo several life stages before they become adults. So, these eggs will be left behind in the environment, and these become pupae that emerge later as new adult fleas, ready to feast on your feline buddy.

In truth, a good shampooing will get rid of fleas or any eggs present on a cat, but this won't stop them from bothering her later. So, you have to control fleas in the environment or use a product that will work continually to keep fleas from biting your pet.

Keep in mind that products which claim to safely kill fleas on contact only work when directly sprayed on a flea. Once these products have dried, and a flea jumps on your cat, the remaining residue will not affect the flea. So, in order for such products to work, you have to be lucky enough to catch a flea in the act, and this explains why they take so many repeated applications if they ever work at all.

Once you check your cat for fleas and discover evidence of them, it is best to ask your veterinarian for advice on how to deal with them. There are many good monthly topical products that as well as products to stop flea larvae. You can also get household products based such as Indorex, based on permethrin, piperonyl butoxide, and pyriproxyfen, to control fleas around the house. However, if you want to avoid chemicals and go for something completely natural and safe for both you and pets, diatomaceous earth is a good choice. You can spread it around the yard and the house, including the carpet. It will kill any soft-bodied insects and you can even sprinkle it in voids, under cabinets, in attics, and basements to control roaches, ants, and other insects. Keep in mind, however that you must use food-grade diatomaceous earth like the product I linked above, not the kind used in swimming pools, and that it will kill the beneficial insects as well as the harmful ones, so be judicial in your application.

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