Do wild cats get fleas?

Google users ask whether wild cats get fleas. My answer is Yes for captive wild cats and probably No for wild cats in the wild. All wild cats are hosts to a range of parasites. Intestinal worms are common. Therefore wild cats can get fleas, at least in theory.

Fleas in a jar
Fleas in a jar
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However, the domestic cat is the principal host of the cat flea. So what about wild cats living in the wild?

It is interesting that Big Cat Rescue (BCR) treat all their cats for the cat flea just like treating a domestic cat. They say that all cat species get fleas. Domestic cats are a species of cat as are lions and tigers et cetera.

BCR provide a firm and confident answer to the question in the title. However, I have one query about BCR’s statement. Their cats are not living in the wild. They are all in cages and enclosures – smallish areas which supports the flea life cycle. The cats are near people all the time (people can carry fleas). The environment is very different to the wild.

My argument is that the cat flea life cycle helps to prevent wild cats getting fleas. And the flea life cycle makes it far more likely that a captive wild cat will get fleas compared to a wild cat living genuinely in the wild.

The adult flea on the cat produces eggs which fall to the ground and which are dispersed into the environment. They hatch into larvae. The larvae metamorphoses via various stages into an adult. This adult flea is on the ground waiting for a host, a wild cat to pass by. Whereupon it jumps onto the cat.

In a cat owner’s home with carpets you can see how the environment is very suited to the flea life cycle. It can be hard to get rid of fleas in the home. For the domestic cat the flea is potentially a major health problem. It is much less of a health hazard for the wild cat.

In the wide open spaces and jungles through which wild cats of all species roam, often over huge distances, it is hard to see how a flea could be fortunate enough to meet a passing wild cat. However, the chances of transmission would be higher in dens where mothers raise offspring. But fleas acquired there would die in due course and not be replaced once the cubs become independent and find their own home range. One factor increases the chances of transmission: wild cats like to follow their own tracks.

Accordingly, I’d say that wild cats living in their own habits are unlikely to get fleas or less likely than domestic cats to get fleas. However, they are probably more likely to be host to other skin parasites such as ticks. Internal parasites such as intestinal worms are commonplace.

These are my thoughts. I could be wrong. I have been unable to refer to authoritative sources.

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