Felis ISSN 2398-2950

Pulex irritans

Synonym(s): P. irritans

Contributor(s): Susan Dawson


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Clinical Effects



  • Adults found on rodents and in their burrows and in housing

Pathological effects

  • Hypersensitivity does occur.

Other Host Effects

  • Can feed and breed on human blood, rodents and possibly pigs, and will feed as a vagrant on other host species.


Control via animal

  • Three point strategy to control:
    • Eliminate adult flea population on animal.
    • Protect animal against reinfection.
    • Eliminate environmental reservoir of fleas (see below).


Control beginning in the early spring

  • To prevent build up of flea population.
  • If cat confined, treatment in spring with an insecticide and treatment of the environment to kill overwintered stages.
  • If cat free to roam and can acquire fleas though the year - regular treatment with a residual long-acting product.

Control via chemotherapies

Systemically acting insecticides

  • The flea must bite and ingest blood to be susceptible:

Surface-acting insecticides applied as sprays, spot-ons, shampoos

  • The flea does not have to bite to be killed, but these products do not prevent fleabite:
    • Permethrin (some residual activity).
    • Permethrin spot-on (residual activity).
      Cat may show severe adverse reactions to permethrin if ingested.
    • Fipronil (phenylpyrazole) (residual activity) Fipronil.
    • Imidacloprid (residual activity) Imidacloprid.
    • Carbaryl Carbaryl.
    • Dichlorvos/fenitrothion (some residual activity) Dichlorvos Fenitrothion.
    • Propoxur (some residual activity) Propoxur.

Flea collars

  • Activity is high when the collar is new but declines with time:

Control via environment

  • A strategy that kills adults first is preferred to prevent production of new generations of fleas.
  • Regularly vacuum, particularly where the cat lies and around the edges of carpets and beds (eggs are pushed to the edges) and the base of long curtains.
  • Move furniture and carpets in order to expose all larvae and pupae.
  • To kill or prevent development of environmental stages:
    • Dichlorvos/iodofenphos sprays (kills adults, possibly pupae and larvae if carefully applied) .
    • Methoprene/pyrethrin sprays (the permethrin kills adults, possibly pupae and larvae if carefully applied; followed by a long-term kill of eggs or interrupted development of the larvae).
    • Lufenuron oral or injectable treatment (ingested by the flea during blood feed   →   interrupts development of egg and larva - does not kill adults) Lufenuron.
    • Sodium polyborate applied to the environment (clogs the intestine of larval fleas and thus kills them, lasts for 1 year, need some carpeted area).


  • No vaccine is available.
  • Experimental work on a vaccine based on flea gut antigens is underway.

Other countermeasures

  • Routine treatment with a residual long-acting product should be sufficient to prevent build up of household infestation, since egg-laying is prevented.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Fisher M A, Jacobs D E, Hutchinson M J et al (1996) Evaluation of flea control programmes for cats using fenthion and lufenuron. Veterinary Record 138 (4), 79-81 PubMed.
  • Koutinas A F, Papazahariadou M G, Rallis T S et al (1995) Flea species from dogs and cats in northern Greece: environmental and clinical implications. Vet Parasitol 58 (1-2), 109-115 PubMed.
  • Patrick M J, Harrison A L (1995) Fleas on gray foxes in New Mexico. J Med Entomol 32 (2), 201-204 PubMed.
  • Harman D W, Halliwell R E, Greiner E C (1987) Flea species from dogs and cats in north-central Florida. Vet Parasitol 23 (1-2), 135-140 PubMed.
  • Kalkofen U P, Greenberg J (1974) Public health implications of Pulex irritans infestations in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc 165 (10), 903-905 PubMed.