Can Dogs Get Fleas From Cats?

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Fleas--nasty little critters that are famous for infesting your pets, your home and sometimes having the nerve to jump on and bite you as well--have been annoying people and pets for centuries. They jump, up to several inches, between hosts and bite their victims to obtain a blood meal. There are over 2,000 different types of flea species in the world. Some can only survive on certain species others thrive on several species, but most will bite anyone available whether they can survive off their blood or not. To make matters a bit more confusing, cat fleas, the species Ctenocephalides felis are the common flea found in North America, and Ctenocephalides canis, or dog fleas are more common in Europe. But, both species infest cats and dogs and can even bite you if their favorite furry friends are not available.

Can Dogs Get Fleas From Cats?

YES!

Indeed, your dog can get fleas from cats, especially if they live in North America, where “cat” fleas are the most common type of flea and frequently infect both cats and dogs. This may seem odd, that the most prevalent type of flea is called cat fleas and they infect dogs and cats alike, but this is the one thing that our cats and dogs can agree on, “Fleas Suck!”

Does My Dog Have Fleas?

You may at first notice your furry friend has fleas when they start itching excessively. If infestation becomes excessive, continued scratching can result in secondary infections. In addition, fleas can cause an allergic dermatitis reactions in your dog. Fleas are 2-3 mm in length, wingless, and have flat bodies. Their larvae are slightly bigger and dirty white in color. Infestation is not just a result of adults being present, but eggs, which are more or less invisible, will also be present on your dog, in your home, or in your yard.

Symptoms include:

  • Visible small red or black insects on your dog's coat

  • Flea dirt, from flea droppings, resemble little black specks on your dog's coat and skin

  • Allergic dermatitis

  • Skin infections

  • Scratching, licking, biting due to itchiness

  • Hair loss, scabs, sores and hot spots on your dog’s skin

  • Pale gums from anemia

  • Tapeworms, which may be transmitted from flea bites

Your dog can acquire fleas from another infected animal, either cat or dog, or from contaminated soil or debris. Feral cats are common sources of transmitting fleas, as there is little barrier to their spreading the pesky creature far and wide.

Determining what type of flea your dog has usually requires microscopic analysis, and may be irrelevant, as regardless of the type of flea present, the goal will be to remove them as soon as possible!

You can read more on flea infestations in your dog at Fleas in Dogs and Flea Control Allergies in Dogs.

How Do I Treat My Dog’s “Cat” Fleas?

To treat a flea infestation in your dog, there are several steps to ensure complete eradication of the unwelcome guests. Your veterinarian can provide you information on what to do and ensure fleas are addressed, and recommend several products to aid you.

First you will want to kill the adult fleas on your dog. This can be done by:

  • Using a commercially available or natural flea dip, and/or shampoo. Follow the directions on the package or from a holistic veterinarian. Usually dips are not rinsed off your dog, and both dips and shampoos need to be left on your dog for several minutes or longer to be effective. These treatments usually need to be repeated in several days as eggs hatch and a new generation of blood sucking pests infects your pet.

  • Flea powders and flea collars can be used to prevent or kill fleas

  • Oral medication in the form of tablets

  • Topical medication that absorbs through the skin is also available to eradicate fleas in your dog

All cats and dogs in your home will need to be treated because if one is infected, you can bet they all are. Medication may need to be repeated several times as new generations hatch out.

The next step is removing fleas and their larvae from your home and yard. A variety of options are available:

  • Hiring a professional exterminator

  • Clean your home and yard of all fleas, eggs, and larvae by vacuuming--sprinkling boric acid on carpets prior to vacuuming may help

  • Clean bedding in hot water frequently

  • Remove debris in yard, mow lawn

  • Hang mats, rugs etc. in direct sunlight to make fleas flee.

  • Use several commercially available products to kill or inhibit flea development

  • Use commercially available flea traps

  • Use Nylar around your home periodically to inhibit flea development

  • Check out a variety of natural remedies that are available to discourage fleas

How Are Fleas Similar in Dogs, Cats and Humans?

  • Fleas will bite humans as well as cats and dogs, causing itchy, red spots where bites occurred.

  • Humans, dogs, and cats should refrain from itching or interfering with flea bites so as not to cause secondary infections.

  • Anesthetic creams will reduce discomfort and antihistamines may reduce allergic symptoms to flea bites in all animals

How Are Fleas Different in Dogs, Cats and Humans?

Although fleas will bite humans, they can not thrive on human blood and therefore do not infest or reside long term on human hosts like they do their preferred furry victims.

The location fleas are found on can vary between hosts. Cat fleas tend to infest the head and neck area of cats, whereas they are more often found on the hindquarters of dogs. Humans often get bitten on the lower legs.

Case Study

A pet owner has two small terriers who love to play outside in their fenced in yard and have made friends with the local stray cat. Feeling sorry for the wayward kitty, the pet owner even puts out food for him. The stray makes himself at home in the terriers’ yard-- unfortunately, so do the cat fleas he his harboring, who quickly infest the pile of yard waste waiting to be disposed of, and jump from kitty to the terriers while lounging with his newfound friends. Soon the terriers are scratching, and there are fleas in their bedding in the house. The vigilant pet owner treats her terriers with flea dips and medications, cleans her house and pet bedding, removes debris from the yard, and calls a local cat rescue, where our stray kitty is taken in to be treated for his fleas and find a forever home.