Are you looking for the best flea treatment for cats? Alternatively, are you trying to search for safer ways on how to get rid of fleas on kittens?
We don't want our beloved pets to serve as unwilling hosts to these icky parasites.
If you find your cat frequently scratching or chewing its skin, that’s an early sign of a possible infestation.
It is our job as pet owners to understand the different methods of flea treatment for cats and choose the best for our pet.
How can we get rid of fleas on our cats?
Flea treatment for cats comes in several ways and methods. You can choose a natural flea treatment method for cats to do the trick, or you can opt for medications that are commercially available in the market.
Either way it would all boil down to your preference. Of course, eliminating the fleas on your cat isn't the end.
Now if you’re ready to fight off the fleas and liberate your cat from exasperation, let’s get into full gear and prepare for extermination.
How Do Cats Get Fleas?
How much do you know about these irksome parasites? Gathering relevant information about their behavior, diets and life cycle can help us understand the best possible ways to eliminate them for good.
First, let’s take a look at their behavior. Fleas may not have wings to fly like most insects, but they are excellent jumpers.
They can surprisingly jump 100 times their height due to their sturdy hind legs.
They are also blessed with sharp claws that allow them to grasp on a host without fail.
Moreover, they are endowed with a laterally compressed body that allows them to move freely through the coat on the host's body while having the ability to withstand enormous pressure from scratching.
How Flea Infestation Begins
A pet acquiring a small number of 3 or 4 fleas may not sound too intimidating.
However, fleas reproduce at an enormous rate. Picture this: one female insect lays up to 50 eggs per day.
Additionally, infestation becomes quicker if you have more pets in the house.
More pets means more hosts, and more hosts mean more chances of survival for these fleas.
What Are the Effects of Fleas on Cats?
The cat may manifest irritation and restlessness especially when the fleas start feeding on its blood.
However, there are more harmful effects of fleas on cats that we need to be concerned with:
You may know it already, but flea bites are itchy and sometimes painful.
Most of the time, flea bites result in red spots and inflammation that can cause intense discomfort on the part of the host.
If you see your pet scratching or licking at its fur, take that as a warning of a possible flea infestation.
Skin and Coat Problems
Due to persistent scratching and chewing, your pet is at high risk of cutting its skin which can then lead to infections.
It may also pull out clumps of hair that may leave bald patches on its fur.
Flea allergic dermatitis is widespread in cats, especially kittens. The hypersensitivity causes this skin disease to the flea saliva which can result in intense itching.
Although symptoms may vary depending on the degree of sensitivity, the typical symptoms may include the appearance of scabs or papules on the skin, open sores caused by severe scratching, unpleasant skin odor, and thinning or balding of the coat.
Medications such as antihistamines and hypo-sensitization antigens are administered to ease the symptoms of the allergy.
Antibiotics and other topical medications can be used to treat bacterial skin infections caused by excessive biting and scratching.
Cats can acquire tapeworms by ingesting a flea that has eaten tapeworm eggs.
When cats lick or nibble at their fur, they are likely to ingest the fleas.
So if by chance they have ingested an infected flea, the tapeworm eggs which were carried by the insect can reach the intestines and hatch.
As a result, tapeworms rapidly multiply in the cat’s intestines that can lead to diarrhea and vomiting.
The kitty also manifests a drastic loss in weight because the tapeworms are robbing the host of all the nutrients.
A dewormer tablet known as praziquantel is the only known ingredient that can kill tapeworm.
It paralyzes the tapeworm to cause it to remove its grip on the bowel wall. The paralyzed tapeworm is then flushed out through the feces.
How Do I Know if My Cat Has Fleas?
Detecting the presence of fleas on cats is simple and straightforward.
Early signs and symptoms of flea infestation are very noticeable provided that you keep an eye on the condition of your cat on a regular basis.
Cats are the epitome of cleanliness. Specifically, they always make sure that they are clean at all times.
Cats have the habit of grooming themselves by licking their coats and forepaws. So they often use their teeth to dig out dried out dirt from their fur.
However, if you notice them restlessly scratching with a hint of agitation on their expression, it means there must be something that is bothering them.
Cats often shake their head and scratch their ears in frustration.
Your cat is likely to have fleas if you observe a sudden change in its behavior.
In severe cases, you can almost visibly notice some fleas moving and jumping on and off your pet’s body.
Fleas have small, flat bodies that make it easier for them to hide in the cat’s fur.
However, their dark color suddenly turns into a lighter shade, and they usually swell after ingesting blood.
Take time to check your cat’s coats and skin, especially on the areas where fleas are most likely to hide.
Fleas typically dwell in areas that are warm and dark. Check the cat’s armpits and groin since these are the ideal areas for their hiding place.
Furthermore, don’t forget to check your pet’s ears. Your cat may develop an ear hematoma where blood and serum are accumulated between the cartilage and skin of the outer ear.
You can also notice thinning of hair or balding on some areas of the cat’s body.
The skin on the groin, belly, or the base of the tail may appear bumpy and red. Also, you can spot some black spots along with scabs on the skin.
How to get rid of fleas on cats Using Medications
While the options are many, you may find it challenging to pick the right product for your pet.
These treatment products are using different types of ingredients, but they all fall into three major categories:
Most flea medicines make use of elements that can kill these bugs by attacking their nervous system.
Pesticides such as nitenpyram, imidacloprid, fipronil, and dinotefuran are the most common solutions for flea infestation on cats.
Insect growth regulators (IGRs)
While insecticides kill fleas by targeting their nervous system, IGRs work differently by targeting their hormones. IGRs don’t instantly kill these bugs.
However, they alter their hormones to destroy their reproductive abilities.
Most IGRs in the market are using ingredients such as (s)-methoprene and pyriproxyfen in the form of topical, shampoo, and collar.
Synergists are chemicals that have a minimal impact on these bugs when used on their own.
However, when used together with insecticides, they intensify the effect of active ingredients to help kill fleas faster and more effectively.
Fleas tend to resist insecticides, and they may bounce back from the initial paralysis.
Synergists such as n-octyl bicycloheptene dicarboximide and piperonyl butoxide work to improve the efficacy of active ingredients in the insecticides, particularly when resistance has arisen.
Insecticide synergists can be found in powders and shampoos mostly used as flea treatment for cats.
Flea medicine ingredients that you should watch out for
Let's not forget that while insecticides, IGRs, and synergists are effective in killing these type of bugs, we can’t deny the fact that they are chemical compounds.
All flea treatment products in the market are required to list down all the active ingredients they used. So, take advantage of this detail.
While you’re at it, you may want to watch out and avoid these following ingredients:
Side effects of using tetrachlorvinphos may include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, paralysis, and even death.
The side effects could also be transmitted to other animals and humans who come in contact with the insecticide through the collars.
Propoxur is a carbamate insecticide with a fast and long-residual effect against fleas.
Some flea collar products and powders include this chemical to block the production of the essential enzyme in the pest's nervous system.
Without this enzyme, the nervous system will fail to result in paralysis and death.
However, the risk of carbamate poisoning pushed EPA to disallow its use on animals in 2016.
Pyrethrins are naturally found in chrysanthemum flowers, but this compound is highly toxic to insects.
Unfortunately, the toxicity of pyrethrins can also cause severe implications in pets, especially cats.
Kittens lack the necessary liver enzymes to metabolize the pyrethrins as they are absorbed through the skin.
As a result, the kitty also suffers the danger of the compound.
Pyrethroids are ‘chemically’ derived compounds from the same flower as pyrethrins.
This makes pyrethroids more potent and more toxic than pyrethrins
Selamectin is a topical insecticide that disables parasites by impairing and paralyzing their nerves and muscles.
This neuromuscular paralysis then leads to immediate death for the parasite.
However, the kitty absorbs this substance through the skin and hair follicles.
Since it travels through the bloodstream, fleas can ingest the content when they feed on the cat's blood.
Although selamectin has been found to be safe on kitties, there are still those that manifest side effects.
Over the counter Cat lice treatment: How effective are they?
You can opt for tablets that are administered orally or soft chew alternatives. These oral drugs are considered one of the safest ways to get rid of fleas on cats.
However, some cat owners find it troublesome to cut the tablets and to force the kitty to swallow the drug.
If you and your pet are not comfortable with tablets, you can opt for spot-on medications that are more effective than oral pills.
Basically, this is because these topical medications contain insecticides and IGRs that can kill fleas and prevent them from developing and laying eggs.
Spot-on medications are also ideal for cat lice treatment and could also be used to get rid of ticks and mites.
Many pet owners still prefer collars due to its ease of use and lower cost compared to the other alternative medications stated earlier.
Flea collars are formulated with a substance that dissolves and spreads throughout the cat's skin.
Cheaper necklaces are found to repel bugs, but they are not powerful enough to kill them.
You may want to resort to more expensive collars that offer higher and more potent toxic substances.
However, collars may irritate your pet’s neck which can lead to hair loss and skin damage.
More importantly, you have to pay more attention to your cat when using flea collars.
Since these collars are not made elastic, these might get caught on something that can lead to choking. You can read our guide on flea collars here.
Make sure you protect your cat in your flea treatment solutions
Improper usage and administration of flea treatment for cats may do more harm than good.
You need to see to it that you are effectively eliminating these bugs without compromising the health of your beloved pet.
Powerful insecticides and mighty IRGs may sound promising, but there’s always a catch to these things.
Hence, why you should always consult a vet before you decide on using a particular flea treatment for cats.
If you’re too hesitant to use these medications then don’t worry, don’t raise the white flag just yet.There are home remedies for fleas on cats that you can use as well.
Natural Flea Treatment For Cats
Flea combs are specially designed to catch and pull these bugs out from the fur.
Make sure to reach the skin surface when running the comb through the fur. However, do this slowly and gently so as not to scratch the cat's skin.
Avoid combing downwards because the fleas may fall off the comb and jump back onto your cat. Run the comb from the ears to the head and move towards the tail.
Don’t forget to comb the underbelly and the top of the cat’s neck including the area around the rump.
Prepare a bowl of water beforehand. After each stroke, pull the bugs off the comb and place them into the water.
Fleas are so tiny that some people have trouble spotting them.
To help you see them, place a white paper towel or a white piece of paper on the floor next to your pet.
Let each stroke land on the white paper to see the bug. Since they are dark-colored, you can easily see them against a white background.
The use of a flea comb can reduce the population of bugs that are residing in your cat. However, it can't eliminate all of them.
2. Lemon Spray
Lemon juice, when mixed with water, is a great way to repel and kill these bugs.
Just a bit of reminder, do not use straight lemon juice because the strong acidic smell of lemon can overwhelm the sensitive nose of your pet.
Making your homemade lemon spray is easy and straightforward.
You will need:
- 2-3 lemons
- 3 cups of water
- a spray bottle
- a pot
- a flea comb
Slice the lemons into disks and place the slices into a pot filled with 3 cups of water.
Mash the lemons with a fork to release some of their juices. The active ingredient in fruits that can kill fleas is found in rinds.
Therefore, breaking up the rinds with a fork helps release this active ingredient.
Put on the lid and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat when the water comes to a boil. Let the lemons simmer in the water for 30 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat and let the lemon steep in the water overnight or at least 8 hours.
After soaking the lemons overnight, strain out the fruits and pour the water into a spray bottle.
Spray the lemon water onto your cat’s fur before running the comb through.
Use the lemon spray together with the comb at least twice a day. lemon spray can also be used as an effective cat lice treatment.
3. Apple Cider Vinegar Bath or Spray
Apple cider vinegar doesn't kill fleas as lemon does. However, these bugs typically find apple cider vinegar’s taste and smell both unpleasant.
Using it onto your cat creates an unpleasant environment that would force the fleas to move out.
Additionally, apple cider vinegar can effectively remove allergens and yeast on the skin that can cause rashes and itching.
However, you should not apply this on open wounds.
You will need:
- several cups of apple cider vinegar
- water (optional)
- a spray bottle
- mild shampoo for cats (optional)
For apple cider vinegar spray, add equal amounts of apple cider vinegar and water to a spray bottle.
You can also choose to use straight apple cider vinegar (without water) and pour it in a spray bottle.
Spray it directly onto the cat’s coat and leave on.
For the apple cider vinegar bath, you can choose whether to use apple cider vinegar alone or use it together with a mild shampoo.
If you prefer using the apple cider vinegar alone, spray a generous amount of it onto the fur and leave it for 5 minutes before rinsing it off. Make sure to use a flea comb following the bath.
If you choose to use it along with the shampoo, use equal amounts of each to form a foam.
Work the shampoo mixture onto the head first because fleas are likely to run up to the head when the cat is placed in the water.
Gently rub the foam into the fur and leave it for 5 minutes before rinsing it off. Again, don’t forget to follow the bath with a flea comb.
4. Diatomaceous earth
Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a naturally occurring sedimentary rock that can be easily crumbled into a fine white powder.
This organic powder is derived from algae-like plants called diatoms. DE doesn’t contain any toxic chemicals. So, how can this powder get rid of the pesky bugs?
DE works by physically attacking the fleas on your cat. It uses little sharp edges in its particles that can slice and tear apart the flea's exoskeleton.
Without their exoskeleton, the DE lodges themselves on the fleas to suck the water out their bodies. As a result, the bugs will eventually die of dehydration. We actually wrote a guide on Diatomaceous earth here.
Here are the things you need to do in applying DE on your cat.
You will need:
- food grade diatomaceous earth
- a pair of gloves
Protect your hands from picking up some bugs by wearing gloves.
Take a small amount of DE or dust your hands with it. Sprinkle or pat the powder onto the cat's fur and gently rub to distribute it throughout the cat's body evenly.
Make sure that the DE reaches the cat’s skin.
Avoid getting close to the cat’s nose to prevent it from inhaling the dust.
Leave the DE on your cat for a couple of days before bathing them. Use a flea comb following the bath to remove any dead fleas sticking around the fur.
You can also sprinkle DE onto your cat’s bedding to drive the fleas away permanently. Do this even on the areas where your cat usually rests.
Leave the DE on the bedding for a couple of days before washing it. Also, vacuum the area to collect any dead fleas lying around.
5. Beneficial nematodes
A nematode called Steinerma carpocapsae is a small microscopic parasite that targets fleas.
These beneficial nematodes can effectively kill adult fleas as well as their larvae and pupa. They may be harmful to fleas, but they are safe for humans and pets.
Beneficial nematodes are also environmentally-safe, so you can liberally apply them to your yard without worrying about your crops and garden.
They typically live in warm and moist soils, so this must give you an idea of where to apply them.
For most applications, beneficial nematodes are mixed with water. You can use a pump sprayer or a Hose-end sprayer to spray the mixture directly into the soil.
Spread the nematode solution as evenly as possible. For best results, apply it when the soil temperature reaches above 42̊ F to provide them a warm environment where they can survive.
How to Get Rid of Fleas on Kittens
Flea treatment for kittens under 12 weeks is much more challenging because cats are at their most sensitive state during this age range.
Toxic chemicals found in insecticides, IRGs and synergists should be taken out of the discussion when kittens are involved.
Since they are particularly delicate, the constant loss of blood can lead to anemia if the flea infestation isn’t treated right away.
Before you apply flea treatment for cats on your kitten, it’s important to check with your vet first.
You must NOT apply anything on newborn kittens. If you spot some fleas on your new pet, you need to remove them manually by using a pair of tweezers.
Again, you can only administer this to your kitten if the vet prescribes it. If not, do not attempt to do so.
Safe Flea Treatment for Kittens
You can still use the above mentioned natural flea treatment for cats, but carry these out with more precaution.
For example, if you’re going to use DE, see to it that the kitten doesn’t inhale too much of it.
Manual removal of the fleas is probably the safest flea treatment for kittens under 12 weeks. Bathe the kitten with a mild shampoo and make sure all the fur is wet.
Use a mild dish washing detergent and gently massage the lather all over the kitten, avoiding the nose and eyes.
Rinse off the detergent by submerging the kitten up to the neck. After the bath, follow up with a flea comb and drop the bugs in a bowl of hot, soapy water.
Continue bathing and combing your kitten twice a week until the fleas disappear. It is also important to pay attention to your kitty’s bedding and blankets.
Commercially available medications or home remedies for fleas on cats?
Over the counter medications to treat flea infestations are available almost everywhere.
Regardless of the cat’s age, it is always advisable to consult a vet first before you buy any flea treatment for cats in the market.
However, if you choose to go natural, there's a lot of natural flea treatment for cats that you can quickly make and use.
Moreover, home remedies for fleas on cats are always the safer alternative if you want to avoid dangerous side effects and overexposure to toxic substances.