Can Indoor Cats Get Fleas?

Your indoor cat used to spend most of their time napping in a sunny windowsill, but bouts of scratching, licking, and chewing at their skin have made them restless. You check for the source of the irritation and see weird, black dirt on your cat’s skin. Could it be fleas?

Fleas are a common external parasite in domestic cats. But why aren’t indoor cats immune to these pesky pests? In this article, we will take a closer look at how indoors cats can get fleas, plus share ways you can protect your feline friend from infestations.

Can Indoor Cats Get Fleas

Yes, indoor cats can get fleas. Research shows that fleas are most common in kittens under 12 months old and more prevalent between July and October (1). But cats can get fleas at any age and at any time of the year—even if they never go outdoors.

If you spot fleas (or notice common symptoms of a flea infestation) in your indoor cat, Mitzi Clark, DVM, DACVD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, offers an important piece of advice.

“Don’t panic,” Dr. Clark says. “It doesn’t mean you are a bad pet parent or have a dirty house.” 

How Do Indoor Cats Get Fleas?  

Indoor cat resting in cat bed

Fleas go through four stages of development: egg, larvae, pupae, and adult insects. 

It’s possible for fleas to lay eggs on your cat, but you’re more apt to find flea eggs on beds, cat towers, perches, and other places where your cat spends time. White, worm-like larvae and cocooned pupae are also found in carpets, beds, and other dark, warm hiding spots. Once adult fleas emerge, the tiny crawling insects need a blood meal—and that leads to flea infestations.

Fleas might seem like a problem that only affects outdoor cats, but their preferred environment is full of cozy hiding spots: the deep recesses of the carpeting, tucked under the cat bed, or snuggled up in the couch cushions. Outdoors, fleas don’t survive well in hot, sunny temperatures with low humidity, but the conditions are ideal in the house.

Even though fleas don’t have wings, these parasites are excellent jumpers. They can reach an estimated 150-200 times the length of their bodies. This allows the crafty creatures to climb aboard pets or pant legs and hitch a ride inside.

Dr. Clark notes that fleas can come into the house on other household pets who go outdoors, and pet parents can bring fleas in on their clothing. The wingless parasites also can crawl in through cracks in the windows and doors or come home from kennels, groomers, and the vet’s office. In apartment buildings, Dr. Clark adds, “fleas from common areas like hallways can enter the home.”

Fleas can also live on rodents or in the fabric of old furniture. This means that a mouse sneaking inside or the purchase of secondhand furniture can bring fleas into the house, where they can seek out your indoor cat for a blood meal.

How to Tell If Your Indoor Cat Has Fleas

Fleas on cats can cause health issues, so it’s important to know the telltale signs that an indoor cat may have fleas and provide treatment. Common signs that your indoor cat has fleas include:

  • Constant itching or scratching, especially around the base of the tail, groin, and rump
  • Hair loss
  • Scabs and bumps on their skin
  • Flea “dirt” that looks like small black dots on their skin

Do Indoor Cats Need Flea Treatment?

All cats with fleas need flea treatment, including indoor cats with fleas. Flea medicine for cats comes in several forms, from chewable and topical medications to flea collars. Some products were designed to treat fleas while others offer flea prevention.

Dr. Clark notes that the timing for application varies between products; some flea products are given monthly while others need to be given every three months. 

Before starting flea treatment, she advises calling your veterinarian to ask about flea control that is specifically designed for cats. “Not all over-the-counter flea preventatives are safe for cats,” Dr. Clark says. “You want something that is effective, safe, and meets you and your cat’s needs for administration.” 

One effective oral medication that kills fleas fast is Credelio CAT, a tiny, tasty tablet flea treatment for cats. This medication also protects cats against blacklegged ticks. 

Credelio Cat flea and tick control medication

Most indoor cats need tick and flea protection year-round, not just during “peak” months in their region. Dr. Clark notes that fleas can survive all winter in warm, indoor environments and seasonal temperature spikes could reawaken outdoor fleas that can crawl back inside.

“I’m a big fan of year-round prevention, except in really isolated pet populations in really cold climates— perhaps those pets can take winter off,” she says. “But I generally just suggest year-round flea prevention in all of my patients.”

Flea and Tick Protection for Cats: Tips and Tricks

Treating fleas in indoor cats is important, but it’s also essential to prioritize prevention. In addition to using a year-round flea control product, such as Credelio CAT, these strategies can help minimize parasites in your home.

Get grooming: Regularly brushing your cat is a wonderful way to promote coat health, bond with your cat, and look out for any skin or hair abnormalities, including fleas. Flea combs are ideal for removing adult fleas as well as flea dirt from your indoor cat’s coat.

Keep it clean: Vacuum carpets and upholstered furniture and other areas where fleas hide. Use the crevice tool to vacuum along baseboards and around the cracks in the doors where fleas can enter the house. Afterward, immediately empty the vacuum canister into a trash bag and throw it away in an outdoor trash can. A steam cleaner is also ideal for carpets and furniture, because the hot steam and soap will kill eggs, larvae, pupae, and adult fleas. 

Do the laundry: Wash all pet bedding and the blankets, pillows, and other soft surfaces where pets spend time in hot, soapy water every two to three weeks. To treat a severe flea infestation, you may need to toss old bedding and buy new items.

Treating the environment is as important as treating your pet for fleas.

“[You] may not realize that fleas spend much of their life cycle off the host and so environmental clean-up such as vacuuming and washing bedding can be as important as continuing flea prevention long-term to treat all future generations of fleas that will hatch from the environment,” Dr. Clark says. “Just treating the adult [fleas] you see today will not rid your home of a flea infestation.”


  1. Farrell, Sean et al. “Seasonality and other risk factors for fleas infestations in domestic dogs and cats.” Medical and veterinary entomology vol. 37,2 (2023): 359-370. doi:10.1111/mve.12636

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