How to get rid of fleas and stop them biting your cat.
First a warning: many products used to control or kill fleas are DANGEROUS and POISONOUS to you and your animals. READ THE LABELS and use as recommended. It's not to a supplier's advantage to make up dangers and warnings. When they do, believe them. They are not making it up. If anything, they will tend to under report possible dangers and side effects. Products have been approved and are considered safe WHEN USED AS DIRECTED
Never use products designed for dog, on cats. Cats don't have special enzymes in their liver to break down many toxic substances. They can be poisoned easily. Never use Permethrin on or NEAR a cat. It is very poisonous to them.
You must kill all the forms of the flea, in all the spots the cat likes.
Fleas can be found as eggs, larva, pupa (cocoon), and adult fleas. Adults are most likely to be on the cat but eggs, larva and pupa are most likely to be off the cat, in it's bed or in areas it hangs out on. To eliminate fleas you must get rid of all the phases of the life cycle in all the spots your cat likes. You might want to check out my Life Cycle of the cat flea. If you only kill the adult flea, the other forms will become adults and re-infect your cat.
There is more need for flea control in the warmer months since conditions are better for flea development. Fleas can multiply very quickly so quick action once you spot a problem can prevent a much larger problem just a few weeks later.
Because of the ability of the flea to slow down its development in poor conditions, a flea infestation can persist for several months even when no animal is present. A cat flea can dine on cats but also on many other animals including dogs mice and raccoons. Although they will bite humans they cannot lay eggs easily after a human meal.
University of Kentuky has a good article on flea control. It is not specific to cats so before you use some of the suggested flea control insecticides, CHECK THAT THEY ARE SAFE FOR CATS.
What are the preferred methods of flea control?
- Spot treatment on the cat
- Insect Growth Regulator
- Sprays and powders for the interior
- Exterior treatment
Spot on Flea treatments is an effective way of controlling fleas on cats. It is (in my opinion) the best and overall safest method of controlling fleas on cats. A drop of insecticide is placed between the cat's shoulder blades. Gradually the flea treatment migrates over most of the cat's body because of oils on the skin of the cat and the active grooming a cat does. This insecticide is geared specifically to the flea and has proved to be very safe for most cats.
Spot on treatment work either as a systemic insecticide, where the flea killing chemical is absorbed by the cat and the flea is poisoned when biting, or as a surface insecticide where the flea is killed by the product that is on the outside of the cat.
Spot on treatments are usually applied once a month. Bravecta is an exception, it is applied once every 3 months.
There are many different brands I use a product by Bayers called Advantage II. I have found that it works very well for my cats. I have one cat that is sensitive and reacts to it. The others do well with it. It kills without the need for fleas to bite.
Be careful if you buy online, this link is to Amazon and the vendor is BAYERS. There are a number of sellers that offer cheaper prices but there is a chance that it is counterfeit merchandise. Some comes from China and are not the same. It can be a fake and be poisonous to your cat. Buy from reputable dealers or get from your vet. Look at the reviews, low ratings are often an indication that the product is not real.
I have also used "Revolution" for cats and it has worked well. I buy it from my vet. Good Spot treatments are pricey but they work very well and in the end save you trouble and money.
Done regularly over a year or more, the life cycle of the flea is disrupted and fleas are eliminated.
Although most cats tolerate spot-on treatment quite well, some are sensitive and will suffer side effects such as drooling, twitching or erratic behaviors. The spot on treatment are insecticides which are nerve poisons to the insect. Older cats, kittens or sick cats are more likely to suffer side effects, sometimes quite severe.
Young children should not be allowed to come in contact with the cat immediately after administering the treatment.
Dog spot treatment should NEVER be used on cats. Cats are more sensitive to poison and some of the medicines that are perfectly safe for dogs are DEADLY to cats such as Pyrmethrins.
Many spot treatments will have an insecticide that kills adult fleas, and an insect growth regulator the interferes with the development of the eggs, larva and pupa. This prevents them from maturing into adult biting fleas.
Some spot treatment also help prevent and treat ear mites, ticks, mange, and some internal parasites. Here is a link to Veterinary Partner. It has links to the various products for fleas on Cats and Dogs. The link is a pdf file. It lists the chemicals in the various spot and pill (also one injection) used for flea control.
Medications given in Pill (Oral Medications.)
These act as spot on treatment to kill fleas. Most pills do not contain insect growth regulator to control the larva egg and pupa. They kill the flea when it bites the cat.
Some of the pills are flavoured and some cats will take them with no argument at all. Others need the usual subterfuge to administer the medicine.
Insect Growth Regulator
These systemic medications appear to be quite safe but have not been around long enough for long term effects to be completely identified. Since they work by interrupting a process that is specific to the flea, usually preventing an enzyme or protein that regulates chitin formation they are very specific to insects since cats don't make chitin at all.
Insect growth regulators often are combined with insecticide to kill adult fleas. The insect growth regulator then breaks the life cycle by preventing the other forms from developing and becoming adult fleas.
This breaks the life cycle thus gradually eliminating the fleas.
Spray Insect Growth Regulator
Some insect growth regulators have been developed which are sprayed in areas where the cats spend time. This does not kill fleas on contact but rather prevent the flea from completing its life cycle. It is often used alongside a spot treatment that kills the adult fleas on the cat. This IGR is then sprayed on the bedding and other spots you have identified as areas where the cat likes to hang out.
Many IGR are not specific to fleas but rather will also work on cockroaches and other insects. Some crustaceans are also affected by IGR. Precor Insect Growth Regulator concentrate, 1oz.
There are many brands of medicated shampoos that kill fleas on contact. It is very effective in the short run and will kill all the adult fleas on the cat. Typically the fleas will run to the dry head of the cat and can be picked up. Alternatively a ring of wet sudsy shampoo can be made around the neck before the cat is immersed in water thus creating a barrier.
Typically the flea shampoo gets washed off as the cat is thoroughly rinsed off. Very little insecticide remains on the cat. Gloves should be worn. It may be necessary to regularly shampoo to kill newly emerged fleas.
Shampooing a cat or kitten is effective as a start for a heavy flea infection, but other methods such as systemic pills, or spot treatment should back it up. Shampoo does nothing for breaking the life cycle of the flea so it is useful as a start when backed up with insecticide spray or insect growth regulator for the premises.
Don't use dog products on cats EVER. I'm boring about this but cats have livers that cannot produce some enzymes used to get rid of toxins and so are easy to poison. Dogs can produce the enzymes so more substances are safe around dogs than cats.
Flea collars repel and kill fleas by using an insecticide impregnated in the collar. Without being very effective they somewhat work, there are several drawbacks.
Flea collars contain insecticides which can poison your cat if he chews on it. Sometimes where the collar contacts the skin gets irritated or the cat reacts badly to the collar. The same warnings for small children applies, it's hard not to handle a flea collar if the cat is wearing it. To work properly the collar must be properly adjusted. There is always a danger of chocking if the cat is allowed outside and the collar gets caught.
Some cats respond badly to flea collars. In the same way as spot treatment, cats can be very sensitive to the insecticide and suffer convulsions, drooling and erratic behaviour. The collar can also cause irritation, allergic reactions and hair loss where it touches the cat.
If you plan to use a collar, a good plan is to leave the collar on for a week or less, then remove it for 3 weeks then replace it for another week. This way the adult fleas are killed, then as new generation emerges they get killed when the collar goes back on.
Follow instructions carefully for size and age of the cat.
NEVER use a collar designed for a dog on a cat.
Flea collars are not a great way of controlling fleas and can poison you, your kids or your kits.
Flea dips are chemicals that are diluted and applied to the cat either by dipping in the solution or by using a wet cloth or sponge. The Dip is not rinsed off.
Dips are dangerous and any mistakes or misuse can lead to serious toxic reactions. Do not use dips on your pets unless you have no other choice. Never use on a sick, old or very young cat. Cats which have been treated this way should not be handled by young kids. Wear gloves if you use. In fact Avoid dips, there are better ways for everyone.
Bathing your cat
Bathing your cat with ordinary cat shampoo (not medicated) or with pure soap with no scent or colour, can be an effective way of controlling fleas particularly if the bath lasts for a few minutes and is long enough to drown the fleas. It helps to have a helper looking out for fleas which will crawl to the cat's head. If your cat has short hair it might be possible to use a flea comb. I've not found them to be much good over the full body but to get fleas off a cat's head they would work.
Use a mild shampoo designed for cats.
Sprays and Powders
There are many formulations of sprays and powders. Some as dangerous and toxic, others are relatively benign.
Sprays and powders have the added disadvantage that breathing them in or getting them in your (or your kid's) or the cat's eyes or mouth can be dangerous.
Diatomaceous earth with or without pyrethryn has been used and is relatively non toxic. However, other stabilizer are added to the mix and these are often quite dangerous to cats. Only use food grade formulations from reliable companies. Pyrethrins degrade in sunlight and has a relatively short life, but is fairly safe for cats. Flea will fall off a cat quite quickly but sometimes recover. The cats bedding should be vacuumed soon after the cat has been treated.
Diatomaceous Earth Food Grade 10 Lb
Diatomaceous earth can safely be used in the vegetable garden to control various insects as well as fleas.
It's important for you and your cat not to breathe in the dust, it makes it tricky to apply to a cat safely. It's better to use powders on bedding and in places where the cat hangs out.
Pyrethrin is NOT the same as permethrin. Permethrin is a synthetic pyrethrin, and is less easily broken down than pyrethrin. Although its toxicity is relatively low, it is higher than that of pyrethrin. Pyrethrins can be used on cats; permethrins should NOT be used on cats and can be deadly.
Use only cat products on cats. Sprays and flea powder aimed at other animals can kill your cat.
Cleanliness is next to Flealessness
Your vacuum is your best friend when it comes to cat flea control. Vacuuming will remove many eggs, larvae and some pupae. The process of vacuuming will stimulate new fleas to emerge faster. Wash your cat's bedding in HOT water and dry in hot dryer if possible, and make sure you clean between cushions, carpets and in the car if your cat goes in the car.
When a pupa gets vacuumed up it often hatches in the vacuum bag. The bag should be closed and removed or the canister emptied every time you vacuum your pet's areas, otherwise the fleas might hatch and find their way out of the vacuum.
Although your cat probably does not approve of frequent vacuuming it is a highly effective and harmless way of controlling fleas in cats. Some cats actually like it.
House Sprays and Fog Bombs
Sometimes the flea infestation is so severe that insecticide is used in the house. This is particularly true of homes that have large carpeted areas.
This is a drastic step and can be very dangerous. Animals, fish and humans in particular children have to leave the premises.
You should avoid doing this if at all possible. There are many reports of people and kids getting sick even after several days and the house having been declared "safe". Avoid foggers in particular.
If you choose to spray, choose an insecticide that is less toxic and which does not remain for long periods such as pyrethrins NOT Permethrins.
Safer is the use of less toxic powders
These powders are placed in the carpets, and along basebords and cracks, allowed to stay for a short while and then vacuumed up. Some people have used diatomaceous earth, pyrethrin, borax and even table salt or a mixture of these. All these should be carefully vacuumed up along with the dead fleas and larvae. Because there is no toxic residue left behind, this is much safer. Note that diatomaceous earth, pyrethrins and borax are not without risks but they are less dangerous. Care needs to be taken not to breathe in the powder while applying and vacuuming.
Many versions of flea traps have been devised and they will attract and kill fleas. Typically a sticky sheet or duck tape or dish of soapy water is placed near a light which seems to attract the fleas, probably the heat does it. The flea falls on the sticky sheet or into the water and dies.
Here is a link to a commercial flea trap:Pumpkin Style Flea Trap with 2 Glue Discs
This will not rid you of fleas but will reduce numbers or adults. Larvae and eggs will not be affected. It is one way of figuring out if you have a large infestation and where the fleas are.
Treating the yard, porch or balcony
By removing debris and keeping the grass and bushes trimmed this will help reduce flea population, it will also help control ticks. Some people will spray the yard but there is severe danger to helpful insects, animals including pets and birds around your home. Paving or putting down cobblestones around the immediate area around your house will help reduce flea infestation by removing areas where organic matter and flea dirt can accumulate.
It can also keep water away from the foundation.
The previous owner of my old house in the city has cemented the front and back and this has kept fleas away. Even the feral cats around my house are practically flea free.
Nematodes work well in the Yard and are safe.
Nematodes are a living worm that attacks fleas. It is an effective way of killing fleas in the yards and is non toxic and harmless to your pets. Care must be taken when handling the nematodes to keep them alive until they are applied.
Summary on Treating the Cat for Fleas
- Keep the cat out of areas that are hard to reach and clean so that he doesn't get re-infested. Flea eggs fall off the cat and can stay alive for several months before hatching.
- Drops can be applied on the shoulder blades and some are very safe and effective while others are more dangerous. Some cats are sensitive though.
- Bathing in Vet approved flea shampoos is effective to remove adult fleas.
- Just bathing in a mild shampoo can remove and drown fleas, particularly if you pick off fleas that flee to the head to avoid drowning.
- Flea collars are also available but carry some risks and are not very effective.
- Powders and sprays are available. They have to be applied carefully in order that the cat does not inhale dangerous powder or aerosols. Or for that matter that YOU do not inhale nasty flea killer.
- Fumigating Flea bombs and dips where the chemicals are allowed to remain, are dangerous and should not be used.
- There are many different products that target various stages of development of the flea.
- Do not use Dog products on Cats. Some dog flea treatment products containing permethrin can cause deaths in cats. Even just being close to dogs that have been treated with it can be dangerous to cats.
- Garlic, nutritional yeast, and most essential oils don't work. Essential oil can poison a cat. See my Natural control of fleas and cats. Electronic flea killers DO NOT work, don't waste your money.
Ask your Vet
Talk to your vet for the latest in flea medication. There is a large range of products available, some are very safe while many are quite dangerous to you and your cat (and other pets) if mis-used. Some products control fleas, ticks, mites, parasites and some even target heart worm. Once you have a plan you can do the work and don't need to see the vet again unless you have problems.
Ear Mite Control
As a side benefit of controlling fleas in particular with drops between the shoulders, cat and dog ear mites will also be reduced or eliminated, and reinfection after treatment will be slowed.
Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station has an interesting article on fleas.
Alternative Treatment for Flea Control
There are several alternatives to insecticides. They are not as effective but they are not usually as toxic either. Some plants are dangerous so do your research. Just because it's natural does NOT mean it's safe.
Garlic is toxic to cats and dogs. Do not treat your animals with garlic. It might repel fleas but it is poison. ASPCA page on garlic toxicity to dogs, cats and horses.
This article is provided for information only. It is not to be used instead of consulting a VET. If your kitty is sick get some help.