6 Things To Know About Flea Dips for Cats

Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP
By Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP on Jul. 6, 2022

You may have heard of flea dips being used to treat fleas on pets and may have even used one to treat your dog. Perhaps you’re wondering if these can be used on cats, what these flea dips are made of, and if they are safe for cats. Read on to find the answers to these questions and more.

What Are Flea Dips for Cats?

A flea dip is a parasiticide product that is applied and left on the cat to air dry. These chemicals typically only work for about two to four weeks before they need to be reapplied.

Flea dips have been used from at least the late 1800s, when farmers used similar products to treat their cattle and sheep for external parasites. The products at that time were reasonably safe, being based on carbolic acid, which is still used in facial soaps today.

However, as times have changed and pet parents have become increasingly concerned about household flea infestations, the chemicals in the dips have become stronger. The most common ingredient currently in flea treatment products is pyrethrin. When this chemical gets into an insect’s nervous system, it shuts down, resulting in death. But using these products at an inappropriate dose can be fatal to cats. This is also why you should never give canine flea medications or products to your cat since the dosage varies. Even the smallest dose of a product safe for dogs may be fatal for cats.

How Do Flea Dips Work?

Flea dips are applied on the coat of the animal using a sponge, or by pouring the liquid over the animal’s back. For most products, the chemical is not rinsed off once applied and is left on to dry. This is why the rate of reactions in cats is so high because they feel the need to immediately groom the product off, ingesting it in the process.

The dips contain one or more pesticides that affect the nervous system of the flea, killing it after exposure. Once the product begins to wear off—which might be in as little as seven days—an alternative flea control mechanism will be necessary unless you choose to reapply the dip. Be sure to keep other pets away from the cat until the product has fully dried, so they also don’t lick it off.

When To Use Flea Dips for Cats

Many veterinarians are reluctant to use flea dips on cats because a cat’s reaction to the pesticide is dose dependent. If your cat receives too much of the dip it is possible for it to develop symptoms. Reactions in cats include diarrhea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, muscle tremors, seizures, weakness, falling over, drooling, and possibly death. Even products that are completely safe in dogs can have serious side effects and reactions when used in cats.

Generally, flea dips should only be used with significant caution if specifically recommended by a veterinarian. Be sure to follow all instructions on the label exactly to minimize the chances of an overdose. However, sensitive animals may have reactions to flea dips even when the directions are followed closely.

Best Flea Dips for Cats

There are zero completely safe flea dips on the market. The best flea treatments for cats most commonly come in the form of spot on topical products (Revolution), oral products (Comfortis), or collars (Seresto).

It is very important to never use a product labeled for use in dogs on your cats because they have very different metabolisms. Quite a few products that are perfectly safe for dogs, can be fatal to cats. Your veterinarian will work with you to determine if a flea dip makes sense, and flea dips should be used under the direction and supervision of your veterinarian.

How Much Do Flea Dips Cost?

One of the reasons many people consider flea dips is their inexpensive price point. Dips can be cheap to use. An entire bottle of dip for multiple treatments costs between $10 and $20. However, keep in mind the frequency you need to administer the dip for it to be effective, along with the high possibility for severe reaction in cats.

Homemade Flea Dips for Cats

If you are looking for a homemade solution for fleas, dips are not the best choice.

Common household products, such as Dawn dish detergent, is an alternative product to consider. Soaps such as Dawn create an altered surface tension around the outer coating of the flea, causing it to sink in the water—effectively drowning it. The downside is that as soon as your pet is dry, Dawn is no longer active and the fleas in the household can jump right back on and settle in.

This is only a short-term solution to getting rid of the adult fleas on your cat. However, it is safe, and it can be used in conjunction with a balanced flea control plan.

There’s More Than One Option When It Comes Treating Fleas

Fleas are nasty parasites that can transmit disease to your family and your pets and requires the attention of almost every pet parent.

There are many options available for safe treatments, and there are pros and cons for each choice. Particularly if you have a very young or senior cat, or multiple animals, this decision is best made with the assistance of your veterinarian.

Dips may be one of the options to consider, although with the number of safe and effective options for flea treatment in cats, it is becoming less common. Fortunately, other products that are much safer have increased in availability. Never fear, the perfect products for your pets are right around the corner.

Featured Image: iStock.com/jeffbergen

Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP


Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP


Sandra Mitchell is a 1995 graduate of the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine. Since graduation, she has worked in many fields...

Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?

Get Instant Vet Help Via Chat or Video. Connect with a Vet. Chewy Health