How to Get Rid of Fleas on Cats

gray tabby kitten scratching itself

It is very common for cats to have fleas, especially if you allow your cat to go outdoors. Even cats that remain indoors may have fleas. This is especially true if you have another animal, such as a dog, that goes outdoors. The dog can bring the fleas into the house and then they can get onto your cat.

All stray cats and kittens will have fleas.

Fleas can cause a variety of health problems and so it is important to treat your cat for them.

If your cat has fleas it will often scratch itself excessively. You may also see the fleas on your cat and on your cat's bedding. Fleas are small black, wingless insects that can jump.

The most common type of flea found on cats is the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis), however, cats may also be parasitized by the dog flea (Ctenocephalides canis), and the human flea (Pulex irritans). Treatment is the same for all flea types.

Health Problems Caused By Fleas

Because fleas feed on your cat's blood, a cat with fleas may become anemic. Anemia can be a serious health problem for any cat, but can be especially serious in kittens or in cats with feline leukemia or other health problems.

Fleas are also part of the tapeworm lifecycle. Cats usually get infected with tapeworms by eating fleas that are infected with the tapeworm parasite.

The bacterium that causes cat scratch fever is also thought to be transmitted to cats via fleas.

Some cats have flea hypersensitivity (flea allergy). They are allergic to flea saliva and may have red sores or bumps on their skin and may have severe fur loss.

About four years ago I took in a stray cat that had flea hypersensitivity. He was almost completely bald from fleas and when I took him to the vet, his blood tests showed that he was suffering from severe anemia from the flea bites. The veterinarian gave me Advantage to put on him. I kept him in the house, his fleas disappeared, and in just a few months his fur grew back, and his flea-bite induced anemia disappeared. He is still alive and is currently 18 years old.

How To Check Your Cat for Fleas

If you see small, black, jumping insects on your cat or in your house then you know that your cat has fleas, but often the evidence of fleas isn't so obvious.

Sometimes you can find evidence of fleas, even if you don't see the fleas themselves. Fleas leave behind debris that is commonly called "flea dirt." Flea dirt consists of flea fecal material and dried blood from the fleas biting your cat.

To check your cat for fleas, brush through your cat's fur with a flea comb. Flea combs are very inexpensive fine-toothed combs. Then get a white sheet of paper and put the fur from the comb onto the sheet of paper. If you see dark specks they are most likely flea dirt and your cat probably has fleas. Next put a small amount of water on the paper with the cat fur from the comb. If the specks turn red then you know your cat has fleas.

How To Treat Your Cat For Fleas

Treating your cat for fleas is pretty easy these days. Gone are the days from the past where you had to give your cat a flea bath or dip. Keep in mind that many companies still sell flea shampoo and dips, but this is not the best treatment for fleas. Often the flea medicine in the shampoos and dips is toxic to cats.

Flea Treatments Can Be Toxic to Your Cats

Years ago before the more advanced (and better) flea treatments were available I gave a new small kitten a flea dip at the advice of a veterinarian. The kitten apparently licked some of the flea medication off of her and later that night I had to take her to the emergency room at the animal hospital to get her a shot of atropine. Thankfully, she survived (for another 16 years), but you must be very careful when using flea medicine on kittens or even on adult cats. Flea medication contains insecticides that may be harmful to your cat or kitten, as well as the fleas. For this reason, don't give your cat a flea bath or dip, and don't use flea sprays or powders on your cat. The cat will lick the insecticide off and may become very ill.

In fact, it is always best to treat your cat for fleas using a product prescribed or suggested to you by your veterinarian.

There have been reports of cats dying after using flea treatments sold in stores.

While use of over the counter products may not harm your cat, they possibly could and that is why I only use flea medicines from the vet on my cats and recommend you do the same.

Don't use flea collars as a flea deterrent. They don't work. About the only thing flea collars will do for your cat is irritate your cat's neck. They don't work well for flea control.

The best flea treatments for cats are Advantage, Frontline, or Revolution for kittens. All three of these are topical treatments. You can use Advantage or Frontline on kittens, however, they get a lower dose. You can't use either product on kittens under eight weeks old.

Revolution for kittens is a topical treatment that gets rid of fleas as well as ear mites, roundworms (Toxocara cati), and hookworms (Ancylostoma tubaeforme). This is a great product to use when you take in a stray kitten that probably has a variety of internal and external parasites.

Revolution can't be used on kittens younger than six weeks old. Because a flea infestation in kittens can be serious you should check with a veterinarian about how to treat fleas in kittens younger than six weeks old. In fact, even though Revolution states you can use it on kittens over six weeks old, you should check with your veterinarian before putting ANY flea medication on a cat that is younger than eight weeks old.

The benefit of putting flea medications such as Advantage, Frontline, or Revolution on your cat is that all you have to do is put a small dab of it on the back of your cat's neck. Your cat won't be able to reach the spot and won't be able to lick the flea medication off. However, you must be very careful to put the flea medicine in exactly the right spot. If your cat licks it off he or she will foam at the mouth for a time and will be very distressed (and so will you!).

To apply these flea medications you part the fur at the base of your cat's skull (the back of your cat's neck and right in the middle). Once the skin is visible squeeze the tube to apply the solution directly onto the skin. Each of these products (Advantage, Frontline, and Revolution) will kill fleas within 12 hours and will continue to kill fleas for 30 days. Don't put any of these products on your cat more often than once every 30 days.

If you have an indoor only cat and no other animals that go outdoors you typically only have to treat your cat for fleas once and they will remain flea free. However, you will have to treat your house at the same time as your cat, otherwise your cat will get reinfected from the flea eggs that hatch out in the surroundings.

Flea larva hatch from eggs and get into carpets and your cat's bedding. In a week to 10 days the flea larva enters a pupal stage. Adult fleas emerge a few days later and will reinfect your cat. The whole flea life cycle takes about 30 days.

Treating Your Household For Fleas

To rid your house of fleas, wash all bedding and other cloth items that your cat has come in contact with.

Any item that can't be washed, such as a carpet or furniture, can be sprayed with a product such as Siphotrol Plus II. Make sure that any product you use is designed for use around pets. Even so, when you spray the product on the carpet you must keep your pets and yourself out of the room for a period of time. Read the label on the product you are using for the specified period of time that you and your pets must remain out of the area.

Before spraying your carpet and furniture you should vacuum the area thoroughly. You will need to dispose of your vacuum bag or empty it outdoors if you are using a bagless vacuum. This is because flea eggs can hatch in the vacuum bag and reinfect your house.

If you have any questions about what product you should use then contact your local veterinarian. Often they sell products for flea control that are specifically made for use around cats.