Most fleas live on cats near their head and neck area. The lower back is the next most common region to find fleas, followed by the belly. Hardly any fleas live on cats’ tails or legs.
Img 1 Heat map showing the regions on a cat’s body where fleas live.
Where Fleas are Found on Cats
Survey #1: Head & Neck
One study hand-counted fleas on stray cats Fig 1. Of 200 cats, 164 were infested with a total of 3382 fleas. Nearly half of the fleas came from the cats’ necks and heads (29.4% and 16.3%, respectively). 26.6% were found on the back area, but this region is large so the population density was low. 20.94% of the fleas were found on the belly area. Only 6.72% were recovered from the legs and tails.
Fig 1 Mean percentage of fleas found (y-axis) on different regions of cats (x-axis).
Survey #2: Head & Neck
Another study saw similar results when cats were inspected for fleas. Most fleas were found on the head and neck, followed by the dorsal area.
Survey #3: No Preference
In a survey done in Southern California, fleas didn’t show a preference for any specific body region of cats. The largest portion were recovered from around the neck, followed by rear of the back, and then the belly. However, the abundance of fleas was proportional to the size of the body areas.
Questionnaire #1: Head & Neck
Veterinarians in Taiwan were given a questionnaire regarding fleas on cats. In their clinics, they reported that the most flea-burdened areas were the head and neck, followed by the back, and then the ventral zone. The legs weren’t considered to be a common location where fleas live.
Where Fleas Bite Cats
Flea bites on cats provide further evidence of where they prefer to live. Bites on pets are typically distributed across the hips and lower back near the tail. The belly area can also be affected. However, cats are less affected on their underside than dogs. Cats have more problems around their necks and collars.
Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) in cats commonly occurs around the neck and lower back. FAD can also develop on the abdomen, behind the ears, and between the hind limbs. However, the allergic reaction can be systemic and doesn’t necessarily occur at bite locations.
Effects of Host Grooming
Host grooming is the most significant factor governing flea mortality.. Cats easily remove and kill fleas from areas they frequently groom. As a result, their grooming behavior influences the on-host distribution of fleas.
When grooming, cats spend most of their time licking and biting. During oral grooming, they spend 26% of the time on their legs and tail, 30% on their underside, and 13% on their sides and back Fig 2. This may explain why more fleas live on the backside of cats, as opposed to the belly area and extremities.
Fig 2 Percent of a cat’s oral grooming time budget (y-axis) spent on different bodily regions (x-axis).
It’s difficult for cats to orally groom their heads and necks. Instead, they’ll scratch these regions with their hind legs and claws. This can dislodge the fleas living there. However, scratch grooming only accounts for 2% of a cat’s total grooming time. This explains why the neck is often densely populated with fleas.
Fleas only prefer living on specific body regions of living cats. Once a cat is euthanized, fleas don’t have a preference for any particular body area. The number of fleas recovered will correspond to the region’s surface size. Fleas begin leaving the animal once its body temperature drops.