6 Things to Know Before Using Natural Flea and Tick Products on Cats

Updated Aug. 15, 2023
Flea and tick

Fleas and ticks are a nuisance and can transmit serious diseases to you and your cats. Recently, home remedies and natural parasite preventatives have become a popular topic for protection against fleas and ticks in pets.

Motivations for using natural products may include a desire to avoid side effects or wanting a less expensive option than conventional or prescription products. But just because a product says it is all-natural doesn’t mean that it is safe, or even all-natural.

There are important factors to keep in mind when choosing a natural flea and tick product for your cat. As always, make sure to talk to your veterinarian and discuss the best option before starting a natural flea and tick prevention or treatment regimen.

What Are Natural Flea and Tick Products?

There are a few different classes of products used for flea and tick prevention in cats:

FDA-registered products, called “drugs.”

  • The US Food and Drug Administration is the same organization that manages drugs for humans, and these are the safest and most effective products that have been closely studied. Most of these products require a prescription from your veterinarian.

  • Examples: Revolution, Sentinel, Capstar, Advantage Multi

EPA-registered products, considered “pesticides.”

  • The EPA is the same organization that determines the safety of these products in humans. These can be obtained without a prescription and are proven to be safe and effective when used as directed by the product label.

  • Examples: Advantage, Frontline, Vectra, Bio Spot

Unregistered products, including “natural products.”

  • These products contain ingredients that are considered by the EPA to have a minimal risk and are therefore unregulated. But the EPA’s primary concern is the safety of people, NOT pets. These products are evaluated only for safety, not for efficacy. This doesn’t mean they do not work; they just might not have met the highest expectations of the product.

  • Examples: Essential oils

How Do Natural Flea and Tick Products Work?

A few types of ingredients are commonly found in natural flea and tick products. Some are EPA-approved but most are unregistered.

  • Pyrethrins: A group of botanical insecticides derived from chrysanthemums. They work to kill insects by attacking their nerve function.

  • Pyrethroids: These have a synthetic chemical structure like pyrethrins and are more stable in light outdoors. These are considered safe in dogs but are HIGHLY toxic to cats.

  • Pennyroyal: Used as a flea repellent. This product is derived from two plants, Mentha pulegium and Hedeoma pulegioides. Even at recommended doses, this herb oil has been proven to be toxic to both dogs and cats by causing liver damage that can be fatal even when only applied to the skin.

  • Citronella: Extract from several plants that all have an insect-repellent property. This product is EPA-approved and registered as a biochemical pesticide that is nontoxic if used exactly as the label recommends. Mild toxicity occurs when ingested or inhaled at high concentrations and beyond normal use.

  • Cedar: Cedarwood oil is naturally derived from the red cedar tree as a nontoxic insect repellent.

  • Lemon: Some believe that the active ingredient in lemons can kill fleas.

  • Garlic: It has been suggested that feeding your cat garlic can make your pet “distasteful” to insects. Cats are highly susceptible to the toxic effects of garlic, and it should NEVER be fed to cats.

  • Diatomaceous earth: This is non-chemical flour-like powder containing shards of silica, which can dry out an insect’s exoskeleton, killing it. It can be used in controlling fleas on carpet, bedding, or outdoors, but it is not advised to be used directly on cats. If inhaled, it can cause irritation to the nose and lung damage. Since cats groom themselves often, the risk of ingestion is also possible, which can cause stomach upset.

  • Sodium polyborate powder: The non-chemical ingredient in Borax. It is used in an indoor environment to interrupt the flea life cycle, but should never be applied directly to the pet. It is generally considered safe to use in the household around cats, but it can cause illness if ingested in large amounts.

What Is the Difference Between Natural Flea and Tick Products and Home Remedies?

The definition of home remedy is a medicinal product made with ingredients available at home. Natural flea and tick products are ready to use after being manufactured and/or passed through government regulation standards. They each have their differences, but both are typically made from natural ingredients such as worms/insects, plants, fruit, and vegetables.

A home remedy that has been proposed to help with fleas and ticks in cats is the example of releasing special nematodes (roundworms) in your yard or home. Ladybugs are known to eat fleas. Nematodes feed on flea larvae and can help make a noticeable difference in a flea population in a matter of days. Both remedies can be purchased at your local garden store.

The most common natural flea and tick products are made from essential oils. Before trying any home remedy (or natural flea and tick product), please consult with your veterinarian to ensure it is a safe and effective product for your cat.

The Problem with Natural Flea and Tick Prevention

Certain ingredients and natural plant products used for flea and tick prevention in cats are considered toxic and can cause serious illness or death. Garlic, pyrethroids, and most essential oils are on the top of the list of highly toxic natural flea and tick products.

How to Protect Your Cat from Fleas and Ticks

The best way to protect your cat safely from fleas and ticks is to use an FDA-registered and EPA-approved commercially available prevention product.

In general, products recommended by veterinarians are the safest and most effective; these products are in the FDA-registered category and a select few in the EPA-approved category. Your veterinarian can work with you to find a product that you are happy and comfortable with using, one that works best for your cat.

Other Ways to Protect Cats from Fleas and Ticks

While having your cat on a routine flea and tick prevention schedule is crucial, is it also important to keep the area around their home free of excessive debris. Keeping the lawn cut short and the yard free of branches and plant materials will help prevent insects from coming into the yard and hitching a ride on you or your pets.

If your cat goes outdoors, check them for fleas and ticks when they come inside. It’s best to use a flea comb or a fine-tooth comb to check and ensure that these parasites aren’t hiding in your cat’s fur. Your dog and other household pets should also be examined frequently as they can be vectors, bringing pests like fleas and ticks inside to your indoor-only cat. There is no replacement for traditional flea and tick prevention in cats!

Featured Image: iStock.com/Elitsa Deykova

Barri J. Morrison, DVM


Barri J. Morrison, DVM


Barri Morrison was born and raised and currently resides in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. She went to University of Florida for her...

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