ISSN 2398-2969      

Ctenocephalides felis


Synonym(s): C. felis, Cat flea




  • Class: Insecta.
  • Order: Siphoneptera.

Active Forms

This article is available in full to registered subscribers

Sign up now to start a free trial to access all Vetlexicon articles, images, sounds and videos, or Login

Resting Forms

This article is available in full to registered subscribers

Sign up now to start a free trial to access all Vetlexicon articles, images, sounds and videos, or Login

Clinical Effects



Adult fleas
  • Parasitic - in fur of rabbit, dog, cat or other animal.
  • Non-parasitic - in the absence of a host can survive few days to a few weeks (if has recently fed) in a cool, moist environment.
  • Pre-emerged adults in their cocoon - in the absence of stimuli to emerge (pressure, temperature, possibly vibration) - can remain in the cocoon <1 year, particularly in cool temperatures.
  • Laid on the animal but not sticky; eggs fall off within about 8 hours.
  • Majority fall where animal spends most of its time sleeping/resting (in the hutch, bedding etc).
Larvae and pupae
  • Larvae hatch where eggs accumulate in the environment and do not move very much, although capable of moving up to 46 cm.
  • Require blood protein found in the feces of fleas.
  • Negatively phototactic, positively geotactic → found on the floor of the hutch (or base of carpet pile if rabbit lives in the house).


  • Adult → egg → larva → pupa → pre-emergent adult → adult.
  • Become active and breed at temperatures >10-15°C/50-59°F.
  • Pre-emergent adults will emerge in the spring, or at preferred temperature and humidity, eg if artificial heating provided.
  • Eggs, larvae and pupae develop slowly at spring temperatures, but the speed of development of subsequent generations increases, reaching about 5 weeks in the late summer.
  • Development slows down as temperatures fall, and ceases in winter in unheated accommodation.
  • Development can continue in artificially heated accommodation if microenvironmental humidity is adequate.
  • Marked variation in temperatures will increase mortality.


  • Animals become infected by:
    • Newly emerged adults in their own environment.
    • Newly emerged adults in visited environment, eg homes, rabbit shows and gardens of other animals.
    • Adult fleas, in particular males, will transfer from one animal to another; less significant.

Pathological effects

  • There are at least 15 allergens in flea saliva. One is a hapten (4-7 kDa) that binds to collagen; others have been identified in MWs 14-150kDa.

Classical progression of the hypersensitivity response

  • Period of hypersensitization with no response.
  • Type IV nodular DTHS reaction appearing about 6-12 hours after the bite.
  • Type I wheal and flare ITHS reaction within 15 min to a few hours of the bite; this is then followed by a DTHS reaction.
  • ITHS reaction only.
  • Possible desensitization.

Response in the rabbit

  • The response of the rabbit has not been as well characterized but ITHS, DTHS and type III basophil hypersensitivity are all described in the same or different individual rabbits.

Immunological response of individual rabbits

  • Unexposed and asymptomatic.
  • Infested and asymptomatic (in a period of sensitization or desensitization).
  • Infested showing flea bite dermatitis.
  • Infested showing flea allergic hypersensitivity.
  • Flea infestation → chronic flea bites → hypersensitivity to flea allergens, eg salivary chemicals → pruritus Dermatology: pruritus and self-trauma.
  • Alopecia Dermatology: alopecia predominantly on the dorsum of the back at the tail base.
  • Not all rabbits with fleas however will be pruirutuc in front of the owner. Being a prey species they are inherently inclined to hide clinical signs of disease.

Other Host Effects

  • Depends on blood meals - the female ingests large volumes of blood (which leads to an enlarged abdomen) to maintain high fecal output (provides food in environment for larvae); the male feeds less → less susceptible to systemic insecticides.
  • C. felisnot single-host specific, so it can breed if it feeds on rabbits, dogs, cats and some wild mammals, eg foxes and badgers.
  • If hungry, the flea will feed, but not breed, on other hosts such as farm animals.
  • Body is streamlined for moving quickly through animal coat.
  • Specialized mouthparts for piercing skin, sucking blood, and injecting saliva as an anticoagulant.


Control via animal

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

Other countermeasures

  • Imidacloprid is effective at feline dose levels Imidacloprid (licensed in the UK for rabbits). The UK licensed product (Advantage® 40 mg Spot-On Solution for Small Cats, Small Dogs & Pet Rabbits and Advantage® 80 mg Spot-On Solution for Large Cats & Pet Rabbits) is applied topically to skin on the dorsal neck once monthly to treat and prevent flea infestations. 
  • Imidacloprid should only be used on rabbits above 10 weeks of age.
  • Lufenuron is reported to be safe and effective in rabbits.

Fipronil should not be used in rabbits as adverse effects have been reported.


This article is available in full to registered subscribers

Sign up now to start a free trial to access all Vetlexicon articles, images, sounds and videos, or Login

Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Hutchinson M J, Jacobs D E, Bell G D et al (2001) Evaluation of imidacloprid for the treatment and prevention of cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis felis) infestation on rabbits. Vet Rec 148 (22), 695-696 PubMed.
  • Jenkins J R (2001) Skin disorders of the rabbit. Vet Clin North Am Exotic Anim Pract 4 (2), 543-563 PubMed.
  • Lee S E, Johnstone I P, Lee R P et al (1999) Putative salivary allergens of the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis felis. Vet Immunol Immunopathol 69 (2-4), 229-237 PubMed.
  • Marsella R (1999) Advances in flea control. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 29 (6), 1407-1424 PubMed.
  • Dryden M W & Rust M K (1994) The cat flea - biology, ecology and control. Vet Parasitol 52 (1-2), 1-19 PubMed.
  • Heath A W, Arfsten A, Yamanaka M et al (1994) Vaccination against the cat flea Ctenocephalides felis felis. Parasite Immunol 16 (4), 187-191 PubMed.
  • Rust M K (1994) Interhost movement of adult cat fleas (Siphonaptera - Pulicidae). J Med Entomol 31 (3), 486-489 PubMed.

Related Images

Want more related items, why not
contact us

Can’t find what you’re looking for?

We have an ever growing content library on Vetlexicon so if you ever find we haven't covered something that you need please fill in the form below and let us know!


To show you are not a Bot please can you enter the number showing adjacent to this field

 Security code