Fleas can be an absolute nightmare for both humans and pets—itchy days, laundering everything, potential cat health problems, and maybe even the expensive services of an exterminator or vet.
The best cat flea treatment is preventative, so make sure to regularly treat and test your cat for fleas based on your vet’s recommendations, but there are also treatment options available for a full-fledged infestation.
Check out the tips below for preventing and treating fleas on cats.
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Testing for Fleas on Cats
Before you start buying expensive products to treat fleas and calling an exterminator, try some simple tests to see if you actually have a flea infestation on your hands:
- Watch your cat’s behavior for increased grooming, scratching, and hair loss.
- Check your cat’s skin for bumps or crusts, particularly on their back or neck.
- Check for signs of movement on your cat’s coat. If you see tiny black spots bouncing off of his or her fur, this means they have fleas.
- Use a fine-toothed flea comb to comb your cat—do this on a white sheet or pillowcase to really see any fleas that fall off. Check the comb for adult fleas and eggs or flea dirt. "Flea dirt" are tiny little black specs, which is actually the flea's poop. Since fleas eat/drink blood, their poop will turn red if you scrap the black specs on a damp paper towel.
Another way to catch fleas before the infestation takes over is by conducting regular flea tests on your cat. The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) recommends a few steps:
- Take your cat for preventative physical examinations 1-2 times per year.
- Test your cat for fleas before putting them on a heartworm preventative medicine and afterwards as recommended.
- Do fecal examinations by centrifugation four or more times during the kitten’s first year, then at least twice a year for adult cats depending on their health and lifestyle (i.e. indoor vs. outdoor).
Cat Flea Pills and Products
Choosing a flea treatment—either as a preventative measure or to kill existing fleas—requires considering factors like cost, side-effects, effectiveness, and safety. Look for a flea treatment product with either an “adulticide” or an “insect growth regulator” (IGR). The adulticide ingredient will kill adult fleas before they can reproduce, and the IGR will sterilize eggs so that the next generation of fleas cannot reproduce. As far as how you give your cat this treatment, there are several options:
[Editor's note: I use Revolution on my Ragdoll cats, Charlie and Trigg. I only apply it in the warmer months because of where I live - midwestern USA - and do not apply it in winter. I also only apply it once every 6 weeks or so. I do think these topical medications can be toxic - so you need to do what works for you in your home, your area of the country/world and what you feel comfortable with based on your veterinarian's recommendations. This article is for informational purposes and not for recommendations]
- Spot-ons – Spot-ons are topical medications applied to your cat’s skin on a monthly basis. Make sure the liquid dries before you pet or wash your cat, and note that even though some claim to be waterproof, frequent baths tend to reduce their efficacy. As your vet for recommendations for spot-on treatments and how to use them. Here are some prominent brands and active ingredients to ask about:
- Fipronil (Frontline Plus)
- Imidacloprid (Advantage)
- Selamectin (Stronghold/Revolution)
Natural Flea Treatments for Cats
- Oral Products – Oral products are an appealing option because they are easy to use, do not leave any residue, and provide full coverage across the cat’s skin.
- Nitenpyram (Capstar) is an option for killing adult fleas, although the effects are short-term.
- Spinosad (Comfortis) is a chewable that that kills fleas before they lay eggs and is good for a month of protection.
- Injections – Some vets offer a 6-month injection with the active ingredient lufenuron, which prevents the development of flea larvae and eggs. It won’t stop adult fleas from biting your cat, but it can prevent an infestation.
- Shampoos – There are many different shampoos available (just make sure whatever you choose is labeled safe for cats), but shampoos will only kill the fleas that are currently on your cat, not prevent fleas from biting them after the bath.
- Flea Collars – These are appealing because they are easy to use and in recent years have become safer and more effective. Flumethrin and imidacloprid are common active ingredients (Seresto), so ask your vet about these options. However, flea collars usually need to be changed regularly (about every 30 days), and some do not provide adequate coverage for body parts furthest from the collar.
If you are interested in naturally getting rid of fleas on cats try a few of these home remedies:
- Rinse your cat with cool water and use a cedar, eucalyptus, lavender, or citrus-infused shampoo—these are known natural flea repellents.
- Add omega-3 fatty acid to your cat’s diet to improve skin health.
- Comb out the fleas and drown them in soapy water as you go.
- Treat your home – wash everything and vacuum the floor regularly.
- Put salt on your carpet to kill fleas—but only if you live in a low-humidity area.
- Plant herbs and plants around your house that repel fleas, such as lavender, eucalyptus, fennel, or marigold.
- Use cedar chips and food-grade diatomaceous earth in your yard.
These options can help treat or prevent fleas, and they can also be used in conjunction with medical flea treatments for your cat.
If you are worried about treating your cat for fleas, talk to your vet about their recommendations and do a cat flea treatment comparison. For more information on cats and fleas, check out our post “Fleas and Cats—Let’s Discuss”.
What cat flea treatments have you used on your kitty that are effective? Share in the comments below.