Why Does My Cat Lick So Much When They Have Fleas?


Cats and fleas go together like peanut butter and jelly. According to the 2016 State of Pet Health Report, the prevalence of fleas in cats is nearly twice as high as in dogs, with 10.9 cases per 100 cats. This is because cats are meticulous groomers and spend much of their awake time licking and scratching. When a cat has fleas, this licking and scratching behavior ramps up as they try to find relief from the itching and irritation caused by flea bites.

Excessive licking and scratching can lead to hair loss, hot spots, and skin infections. That’s why it’s important for cat owners to understand why cats lick more when they have fleas, how to safely treat flea infestations, and tips for reducing licking behavior.

What Are Fleas?

Fleas are small, wingless, parasitic insects that feed on the blood of their hosts. The most common flea found on cats is the cat flea, known scientifically as Ctenocephalides felis. Cat fleas are about 1/16 to 1/8 inches long and are brownish-red in color.

The lifecycle of a cat flea consists of four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Adult female fleas live on cats and dogs where they mate and lay eggs. The eggs fall off into the environment. The eggs hatch into larvae, which feed on organic debris. The larvae molt into pupae, inside which the larvae metamorphose into adults. The newly emerged adult fleas then jump onto hosts to feed, starting the cycle again (1).

Cat fleas complete their entire lifecycle on or near their host. The optimal temperature for flea development is 70-85°F, which is typical of indoor environments (1). The total lifecycle can be completed in as little as 12-14 days under ideal conditions.

Why Do Cats Lick More with Fleas?

Flea bites are extremely itchy for cats. When fleas bite your cat, they inject saliva under the skin that contains proteins foreign to your cat’s body. This causes an allergic reaction resulting in severe itchiness (VCA Animal Hospitals).

Licking is a natural reaction for cats trying to relieve itchy skin caused by flea bites. The grooming motion of licking temporarily soothes the itch, providing short-term relief. Cats will lick repeatedly to try to eliminate the irritating itchy sensation (Chewy).

Excessive licking due to fleas can lead to hair loss, wounds, and skin infections. Cats can lick themselves raw trying to gain relief from the incessant itching. It’s important to address the root cause by treating and preventing fleas.

Dangers of Excessive Licking

When a cat has fleas, the intense itching can cause them to lick, chew, and scratch themselves excessively, which can lead to some dangers:

Excessive licking and chewing at their skin can cause hair loss, wounds, and abrasions. The constant irritation opens the door for secondary skin infections caused by bacteria or yeast entering through the damaged skin barrier.

Areas commonly affected include the cat’s lower back near the base of the tail, the belly, inner thighs, neck, and base of the ears. Without treatment, the hair loss and skin damage can worsen over time.

In severe cases, excessive self-trauma from licking can cause areas of bleeding, scabbing, and thickening or darkening of the skin. Stopping the itch-scratch cycle is key to allow the skin to heal.

Treating Fleas

There are several effective options for treating fleas in cats, including topical treatments, oral pills, flea collars, and flea shampoos:

Topical Flea Treatments: Topical flea treatments like Revolution, Advantage II, Cheristin, and Seresto are applied to the skin on the back of the cat’s neck and absorb into the skin and coat to kill adult fleas and prevent eggs from hatching. They are very effective when applied monthly according to label instructions.

Oral Flea Pills: Oral flea pills like Capstar, NexGard, and Bravecto are given by mouth and begin working very quickly to kill fleas on contact. Some provide longer lasting protection while others treat existing infestations.

Flea Collars: Flea collars like Seresto release small amounts of insecticide onto the fur to kill and repel fleas. They provide continuous protection for up to 8 months. Make sure to properly size and fit the collar.

Flea Shampoos: Flea shampoos containing pyrethrins can provide immediate relief by killing many of the adult fleas on a cat during bathing. Use shampoos as directed and avoid getting in eyes.

Be sure to consult your veterinarian to choose the most suitable flea treatment for your cat. Proper use is key for effectiveness and safety.

Tips to Reduce Licking

Excessive licking and scratching from flea bites can cause inflammation, infection, and further skin irritation for cats. While treating the flea infestation is critical, there are some tips to help reduce licking and provide relief:

Distract with play – Provide plenty of stimulating toys and interactive playtime to keep your cat distracted from licking. Rotate different types of toys to keep them engaged. Laser pointers, feather wands, and treat puzzles are good options.

Use Elizabethan collar – An Elizabethan collar prevents your cat from being able to reach problem spots and lick excessively. While cats don’t love wearing them, it may be necessary temporarily to allow hot spots and irritation to heal.

Trim nails – Keeping your cat’s nails short and smooth can reduce skin damage from scratching. Do this carefully to avoid hitting the quick.

Apply soothing topicals – Natural remedies like aloe vera gel or hydrocortisone cream can provide relief from itching when applied to irritated areas. Always monitor for licking or reactions.

Consider medications – In severe cases, your vet may prescribe antihistamines, steroids, or antibiotics to reduce inflammation and skin infection caused by excessive licking.

With some creativity and persistence, you can help ease your cat’s discomfort until the flea infestation is fully under control. Just be patient, as it may take some time for their skin to heal after intense scratching and biting.

When to See the Vet

If your cat is constantly licking and scratching due to flea bites, it’s important to watch for any open wounds or signs of infection that may require veterinary attention. Excessive licking and scratching can lead to hair loss, reddened skin, scabs, and sores where bacteria can enter the skin.

According to petMD, open wounds should be seen by a vet, as they can quickly become infected. Signs of infection include pus, worsening swelling and redness, foul odor from the wound, and fever. Skin infections require antibiotics prescribed by a vet to clear them up. Leaving wounds open can allow them to worsen and spread.

The vet may shave and clean affected areas to properly examine skin damage. Treatment may include antibiotic ointments, oral antibiotics, medicated shampoos, and medications to reduce itching and inflammation. Restricting licking with an Elizabethan collar may be recommended to allow wounds to heal. Identifying and eliminating fleas is also key.

Catching infections early allows for quicker recovery. See the vet promptly if your cat’s flea bites lead to any open sores or show infection signs. Proper treatment will provide relief and prevent more serious complications.

Preventing Fleas

The best way to prevent fleas is by using flea prevention products on your cat regularly. There are many effective monthly topical treatments like Frontline Plus and Advantage II that kill adult fleas and prevent eggs from hatching. Oral medications like Capstar can kill adult fleas within hours. It’s important to use flea prevention year-round, even during colder months when fleas are less active. Your veterinarian can recommend the best products for your cat.

You should also keep your home and yard clean to help prevent fleas from taking hold. Frequently vacuum floors and furniture and wash your cat’s bedding to pickup and remove eggs and larvae. Use flea sprays or powders on carpets. Keep your lawn mowed short and remove brush piles where fleas can live. With diligent prevention both on your cat and in your home, you can stop a flea infestation before it starts.




Flea Bite Allergies

Some cats develop allergic reactions to flea bites. This condition is known as flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) or flea bite hypersensitivity. It results when a cat’s immune system overreacts to the saliva in flea bites. FAD is estimated to affect 5-15% of cats.

The most common symptoms of flea allergy dermatitis in cats include:

  • Extreme itching and scratching, especially around the base of the tail, neck, and hind legs
  • Excessive licking, chewing, and grooming
  • Red, inflamed skin and bald patches from scratching
  • Scabs, sores, and crusty skin lesions

To treat flea allergy dermatitis, vets recommend:

  • Using monthly flea prevention medications like Frontline, Advantage II, or Revolution
  • Anti-itch shampoos and topical sprays
  • Cortisone injections for short-term itch relief
  • Antihistamines like diphenhydramine to reduce inflammation
  • Immunotherapy or allergy shots in severe cases

The key is controlling fleas and minimizing bites to prevent reactions. Keeping cats indoors also helps reduce flea exposure. With diligent flea control and treatment, cats with FAD can live normal, comfortable lives.


In summary, cats who have fleas often lick excessively in an attempt to find relief from the itchiness. While a certain amount of licking is normal grooming behavior for cats, excessive licking can lead to hair loss, hot spots, and skin infections. The best way to reduce flea-related licking is to treat the underlying cause – fleas. Using monthly flea prevention medication, washing bedding frequently, and vacuuming regularly can help eliminate fleas in your home and on your cat.

If your cat is licking persistently, inspect them thoroughly for fleas and talk to your veterinarian about flea treatment options. You can also try distracting your cat with playtime and treats. While flea prevention is ideal, prompt treatment when fleas are present is key to reducing discomfort for your cat and curbing excessive licking behavior.

Scroll to Top