Veterinarian warns that the cat flea can survive the winter

News media reports that a vet and technical services manager at a pharmaceutical company, Jamie Walker, has reminded people that the cat flea can survive winter, which I think is a useful reminder. People associate the cat flea with warmer weather but it is not quite as straightforward as that. Proactive steps throughout the year is best.

You can’t ignore the cat flea during winter. In homes where there are carpets, the cat flea in egg, larvae and pupae stages can live deep within the carpet pile.

The cat flea can survive the winter even outside for a short time in pupae stage at temps of -1 degree Celsius
The cat flea can survive the winter even outside for a short time in pupae stage at temps of -1 degree Celsius. Image: MikeB
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

RELATED: Cat flea treatment insecticides are poisoning aquatic life in rivers

In homes, cat fleas can survive winter this way by remaining in their various life stages of which there are four in all namely: the adult flea, eggs, larvae and pupae (see image below). They can settle down, as mentioned, into the base of a carpet or other protected areas such as bedding or cracks in the flooring.

These areas provide insulation and protection during harsh outside temperatures. Or they can infest warm-blooded animals in the home such as rodents and sometimes humans and use them as hosts during the winter months.

If they survive the winter in a home, they can then re-infest cats when the warmer weather starts. This is why it is important to use various means to eliminate the cat flea in its various stages inside the home as much as it is on the cat.

I’ve mentioned the effectiveness of hoovering carpets routinely and of flea combing cats daily. I think a hardwood floor or bare floor is better as it substantially improves the chances of fleas not taking a hold inside a home.

Outdoors in winter

It’s important to note also that fleas can survive outdoors during the winter (in some geographic locations) particularly in protected areas like animal burrows under porches. And they might survive on wild animal hosts or stray cats in the vicinity; animals that serve as reservoirs of fleas which can then transfer to domestic cat in the summer.

Tolerance – life stages

Fleas have varying levels of cold tolerance depending upon their life stage. Using artificial intelligence, I can report the following about the low temperatures at which eggs, larvae and pupae can survive in outside winter temperatures:

Eggs: Cat flea eggs are the most sensitive to cold temperatures. They have limited ability to survive freezing conditions. It is generally believed that cat flea eggs cannot survive at temperatures below freezing (32°F or 0°C).

Larvae: Cat flea larvae have a slightly higher cold tolerance compared to eggs. They can survive in temperatures as low as around 45°F (7°C). However, prolonged exposure to colder temperatures can still be detrimental to their survival.

Pupae: Cat flea pupae have the highest cold tolerance among the life stages. They are more resistant to cold temperatures and can withstand freezing conditions to some extent. Cat flea pupae can survive in temperatures as low as around 30°F (-1°C) for short periods. However, their survival rate decreases significantly the longer they are exposed to freezing temperatures.

Vacuum cleaning the carpet is effective as part of a holistic plan to get rid of fleas
Vacuum cleaning the carpet is effective as part of a holistic plan to get rid of fleas. Imag: MikeB from images provided by the study referred to.

The temperatures are approximate and vary depending on the duration of exposure to low temperatures and the flea population’s adaptation to local conditions.

During winter months their development and reproduction slow down significantly but they can become active and resume their life cycle when temperatures become more favourable; either warmer weather or finding suitable indoor conditions.

Holistic

Removing fleas from a cat should be a holistic process meaning to remove them from the cat AND the environment. That said flea treatments are toxic as I have said before which makes them potentially dangerous to cats. Perhaps the most common injury to cats in administering a flea treatment is to use a dog flea treatment on a domestic cat. That’s a no-no.

RELATED: Flea treatments can kill or cause harm: please read the instructions and use caution

1 thought on “Veterinarian warns that the cat flea can survive the winter”

  1. Spot on, Michael. My cat is probably around 12 yrs or so, and came to me with FIV (Feline Inmunodeficience Virus) allegedly. I am extremely careful of what I subject him to as far as pharma flea TX. Rarely do I use that method. My vet, Dr. Arnold cautioned me that he didn’t have ear mites and that it was definitely an ear wax ball. These will make them scritch the ear just as much as mites (he did originally have an ear mites issue).
    If, when you brush or comb your cat, use an envelope or white piece of paper, and flick the brush over it. Drop a little water on it. If it is red, the flea frass which looks like dirt before smearing it with the water, then you know that your kitty is being bothered by their little enemies. Get a flea comb and a bottle of isopropyl.

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