I Slept with a Flea-Infested Cat – This Is What Happened Next


Fleas are extremely common in cats, with some studies estimating that up to 95% of cats will experience a flea infestation at some point in their lives (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/345197453/). These tiny, jumping insects can rapidly multiply and spread through a home when a pet brings them inside. While cats and dogs suffer the most from flea infestations, the parasites will happily bite humans as well.

When a person sleeps in close contact with a flea-infested cat, there is a high risk of the fleas jumping onto the human and biting. Flea bites are itchy and irritating, but the greater danger is in the diseases these insects can transmit. Fleas can spread bacterial infections as well as parasites like tapeworms to humans.

Understanding flea transmission, symptoms, and risks is important in protecting both pets and people. Stopping an infestation before it gets out of control requires vigilant prevention and treatment. With some basic precautions, fleas can be managed safely and the risks mitigated.

How Fleas Spread to Humans

Fleas are tiny, wingless insects that feed on the blood of warm-blooded animals like cats, dogs, and humans. They spread easily from infected cats to humans through close contact. Fleas do not actually live on humans, but they can hop onto people and bite to feed (Healthline, 2022).

Fleas have powerful hind legs that allow them to jump very high and far relative to their small size. They can jump over 7 inches vertically and up to 13 inches horizontally. This lets them easily leap from a pet to a human host to feed (Vetster, 2023). The fleas will not stay on humans long-term, but their bites can still cause irritation and potentially transmit diseases.

Cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis) are the most common type of flea in the US that spread between cats, dogs, and humans. Just petting or holding an infected cat can allow fleas to jump onto a human’s skin and clothing. Flea infestations in the home can also lead to bites. Frequent close contact raises the risk of flea transmission (Orkin, 2022).

Flea Bite Symptoms

The most common sign of flea bites on humans is itchy red bumps on the skin. Flea bites result in small, red itchy spots that may look like a rash or hives. The bumps usually appear in groups or clusters along exposed areas like the arms, legs, torso, and neck. They are often found around the ankles and feet as this is where fleas can easily reach and bite through socks or while a person is barefoot.

Flea bites are usually located in clusters because fleas tend to feed on multiple spots. The surrounding skin may also become red and swollen. In severe cases, flea bites can cause a rash or hives to break out across larger patches of skin. The rash can spread down the limbs and torso. Some people may also experience swelling around the eyes or lips. The bites are intensely itchy and may persist for 1-2 weeks before fully healing.

It’s important to avoid scratching flea bites as this can lead to skin infection. Anti-itch creams can provide relief from the itching. While flea bites don’t always require medical treatment, severe reactions may need assessment by a doctor.



Diseases Fleas Can Transmit

Fleas can transmit several dangerous diseases to humans. The most well-known is bubonic plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Bubonic plague is carried by rodent fleas and can be transmitted through flea bites. Symptoms include fever, chills, headache, and swollen lymph nodes. If left untreated, it can lead to death.

Another disease transmitted by fleas is murine typhus, caused by Rickettsia typhi or Rickettsia felis bacteria. Spread by infected fleas that feed on rats, symptoms include fever, rash, and headache. Murine typhus is rarely fatal but can cause severe illness if not treated with antibiotics.

Bartonellosis is an infection caused by Bartonella bacteria and transmitted by fleas, ticks, or lice. Cat scratch disease is a form of bartonellosis caused when fleas defecate infected feces into a cat scratch or bite wound. Symptoms may include swollen lymph nodes, fever, fatigue, and lesions at the inoculation site.[Source]

Risks for Sensitive Groups

Certain populations may be at higher risk for complications from flea bites and flea-borne diseases. According to PetMD, “Fleas can bite humans but don’t actually live on human skin or hair. Certain diseases can be carried by fleas and spread to humans, including plague, murine typhus, and tapeworm.”

The most vulnerable groups include:

  • Elderly: Older adults may have weaker immune systems and underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to flea-borne diseases.
  • Children: Children under 10 years old tend to have more sensitive skin and may be at greater risk for severe reactions to flea bites according to Skinsight.
  • Pregnant women: Expecting mothers need to take extra precautions against fleas which could potentially transmit infections to the fetus.

Those who are immunocompromised, such as patients undergoing chemotherapy, may also be at higher risk. Proper flea control and prevention measures should be taken around anyone who is more vulnerable.

Preventing Flea Infestation

Preventing fleas from taking hold in your home is crucial to avoid infestations and uncomfortable bites. There are several key steps you can take to prevent fleas on both your pets and around your house:

Treat all pets in the home with veterinarian-recommended flea prevention medication. Topical spot treatments like Frontline, oral medications like Capstar, and flea collars can kill fleas and eggs before they hatch and spread. Be sure to treat both cats and dogs, as fleas can spread between them. Never use dog products on cats. Consult your vet for the safest and most effective flea preventatives for your pets. (Source)

Thoroughly vacuum and wash all fabrics in the home. Focus on areas pets frequent like couches, beds, and rugs. The vibration of vacuuming causes flea eggs and larvae to emerge, where they can be removed. Wash all pet bedding, blankets, and throws in hot soapy water to kill fleas at all life stages.

Spray insecticide formulated to kill fleas both indoors and outdoors. Concentrate on carpets, baseboards, and outdoor areas where pets play. Look for sprays containing IGRs like methoprene or pyriproxyfen that prevent immature fleas from reaching adulthood. Reapply as directed on the label. (Source)

Treating Flea Bites

If you experience severe itching or pain from flea bites, there are some remedies and medications that can provide relief:

Anti-itch creams containing menthol, camphor, or pramoxine can help soothe itchy skin. Over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream is also effective for reducing inflammation and itchiness. Apply a thin layer to the affected area 1-2 times per day until symptoms subside.

For pain management, over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) can help reduce discomfort. Take as directed on the label.

If flea bites become infected, causing redness, swelling, warmth, and pus, your doctor may prescribe antibiotic ointments or oral antibiotics to clear the infection. Applying a warm compress can help draw out pus and promote healing.

Be sure to keep the bites clean and avoid scratching, which can worsen irritation and introduce bacteria. See your doctor if symptoms persist or worsen despite home treatment.

When to See a Doctor

In most cases, flea bites are a nuisance but not dangerous. However, you should see a doctor if you experience severe symptoms or signs of infection, including:

  • Intense itching or pain that lasts more than a few days
  • Signs of a skin infection, such as oozing pus, swelling, heat, redness, or streaking red lines
  • Possible allergic reaction with symptoms like hives, swelling, or shortness of breath
  • Unexplained fever, which could indicate the presence of infections like typhus or plague transmitted by fleas
  • Numbness, tingling, weakness, or paralysis, which may be a sign of flea-borne typhus

See your doctor promptly if you develop any concerning symptoms after a flea bite. You may need medication to treat infection or inflammation. People with weakened immune systems, the elderly, and children should also take extra care to monitor flea bites and see a physician if they have multiple bites or any signs of infection.

Sources: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21718-flea-bites, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/fleas

Home Remedies

There are several natural home remedies that can help soothe flea bites and relieve associated itching or inflammation. Some popular options include:

Essential oils like lavender, tea tree, and peppermint can have anti-inflammatory and anti-itch properties when applied topically. Mix a few drops with a carrier oil and apply to the affected area. Do not ingest essential oils.

Baking soda baths can help dry out existing flea bites and prevent new ones. Add 1-2 cups of baking soda to a warm bath and soak for 15-20 minutes. Rinse skin afterwards to avoid irritation.

Aloe vera gel is commonly used for sunburns and other skin irritations. It contains compounds that reduce inflammation and promote healing. Apply the gel directly on flea bites as needed.

Other natural remedies include using cold compresses, calamine lotion, honey, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, witch hazel, and oatmeal baths. Some antihistamines or hydrocortisone creams may also help reduce itching and swelling.

Be sure to avoid scratching flea bites as this can worsen irritation and potentially lead to infection. See a doctor if signs of infection, severe swelling, or allergic reaction develop.


If you sleep with a cat with fleas, there is a risk of getting flea bites and potentially contracting diseases transmitted by fleas like plague or typhus. Though uncomfortable, flea bites are usually harmless and can be treated at home. It’s important to take preventative measures by using flea control products on your pets and vacuuming/washing bedding regularly. If you experience severe reactions to flea bites or suspect a flea infestation, see your doctor for evaluation and treatment. Preventing fleas on your pets through monthly flea medication and flea collars is key to avoiding flea exposure. Work closely with your veterinarian to control fleas on your pets and keep both them and you flea-free.

Scroll to Top