Do cats lick fleas off?

Cat grooming not only cleans the coat, and deposits saliva, but it is also a form of parasite control. In other words, domestic cats do lick fleas off their bodies but they then ingest them and in doing so they ingest the larval tapeworm which once inside the cat develops into an adult tapeworm made up of many small segments calls proglottids each of which is about the size of a grain of rice. You can see these sometimes coming out of the anus which indicates a tapeworm infection. The flea is part of the life cycle of the tapeworm. Self-grooming is also called ‘autogrooming’.

Cat grooming
Cat grooming not only cleans the coat but also deposits saliva on the coat which helps to cool the cat. It is also the reason why 10% of the human population are allergic to cats because in the saliva is the allergen, Fel d1, which causes the allergic reaction in humans. Photo: in public domain.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

But the point of the article is to answer the question and it should be answered in the affirmative. Cats do lick fleas off their bodies and it is interesting to note that a test carried out by Dr Bob Eckstein, a veterinarian in North Carolina confirmed this. He investigated the efficiency of grooming on decreasing the flea population on a cat’s body.

He did this by preventing cats from grooming by putting on an Elizabethan collar. He found that cats wearing Elizabethan collars had twice as many fleas as those that wore normal collars.

He also found, incidentally, that cats were either less able to control fleas or, perhaps, fleas found the fur and skin of a domestic cat more attractive than that of a domestic dog. And when a dog does have fleas it is more likely to be a cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis) than a dog flea (Ctenocephalides canis).

This morning I removed one flea from my cat using a flea comb. I comb him every day because he’s allowed outside and he catches mice sometimes. Technically, this is a form of human-to-cat (interspecies) allogrooming, which he loves. I’m sure that this flea was on a mouse that he recently caught and ate. The point being made is that if you regularly comb your cat even if you are in a flea-free environment it pays dividends as you can manage the presence of fleas on a daily basis and keep them down without resorting to insecticides which are inherently poisonous to a cat and therefore dangerous.


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