Best Flea Treatments for Getting Rid of Fleas on Cats

Katy Nelson, DVM
Apr 07, 2020
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Fleas can be very hard to spot on cats. Cats are very diligent groomers, so you often don’t see any evidence of the flea infestation.

It’s actually pretty common for cats to come in for a vet visit with scabs down their back and no sign of fleas. In these cases, a flea infestation is typically the underlying problem. For many cats, the name of the game when it comes to fleas is subtlety.

If you’re thinking your cat can’t have fleas because they don’t go outside, you’ll be surprised to know that even indoor-only cats can get fleas. In fact, it often seems that you see just as many flea cases in indoor cats that are not on flea medication as you do on outdoor cats.

Fleas are so sneaky that they can even hitchhike into your home on your shoes and clothing. They can also be brought in by dogs or even jump through window screens. No matter how fleas get inside, no cat is immune to their ravages if they are not being treated for fleas.

Best Options for Getting Rid of Fleas on Cats

Fortunately, treatments for fleas in cats have improved significantly, and there are a lot of options available.

Use Only Flea Treatments That Are Made for Cats

Cats are much more sensitive to medications than some other species (such as dogs), so you should not assume that if you can use it on your dog, you can use it on your cat. Many cats have died from this misconception.

Additionally, not all medications labelled “for cats” are as safe or as effective as you might wish; some cats are more sensitive to the chemicals in these products than others. When in doubt, contact your veterinarian to see which product(s) they recommend.

Flea Collars

Until recently, flea collars were not recommended for cats. They simply didn’t work—plus, cats seemed to hate wearing them. That all changed with the release of the Seresto collar, made by Bayer.

This collar contains multiple ingredients that have increased the effectiveness of the product dramatically, and the collar will protect your cat against fleas (with some action against ticks as well) for as long as eight months.

It works within 24 hours, and the fleas do not even need to bite your cat to be killed.

Topical Products

These are some of the newest, “latest and greatest” products out on the market. Many of these products work extremely well, and as a rule, are applied monthly.

Most have some degree of water-resistance (so you can still bathe your cat if needed) and act generally within 12 hours. A nice benefit with these products is that they generally kill on contact, so fleas do not need to bite the cat to be killed. This spares allergic cats the discomfort of receiving flea bites.

Another plus is that several of the products can also kill ticks, ear mites, and/or internal parasites, as well as prevent heartworm disease. And since they are reapplied monthly, you have flexibility in dosing (severe infestations may require more frequent applications as recommended by your veterinarian) and the security in knowing that they have not worn off (something harder to know with collars).

Cats living with young children are best treated in the evening after the kids are in bed (keeping them out of the children’s rooms overnight). Allow the product to dry before coming in contact with your pet in the morning.

Some reliable products to consider include:

  • Revolution

  • Vectra

  • Advantage Multi

  • Bravecto

Each product has its own pros and cons, so you should consult with a veterinarian who knows your cat’s medical history to find the best option for flea medication.

Oral Flea Treatment Products

Some people prefer oral products for cats because there is no residual medication left on your cat’s coat.

Perhaps the biggest concern with oral flea treatments is that once you have given the medication, it is in your pet’s system until it wears off. If a cat has a reaction to the product, there is no real way to eliminate the medication from the system (unlike collars that can be removed and topicals that can be washed off).

With oral flea products, the fleas must bite cats in order to be killed; they aren’t killed upon contact. This means that particularly for flea-allergic cats, they will still show significant skin sensitivity associated with flea bites until the fleas have been eliminated.

However, once administered, these products do work quickly—generally, within about 12 hours.

Here are some flea tablets you can try for cats:

Don’t Forget to Treat Your Home

It is important to remember, however, that for every LIVE flea that you find, there are up to 10,000 more “fleas in waiting” in the environment, and they come in the form of eggs, larvae, and pupae waiting to feed.\

The more eggs and larvae you can clear out of the house, the fewer adults that will hatch and cause a problem for your cat. In many cases, the most effective route here is diligent vacuuming and laundering of any bedding that your pets lie on.

Even if you have hardwood floors, running the vacuum cleaner twice a week will help get rid of some of the flea eggs and larva. Likewise, throwing pet laundry through the washer and dryer a few times a week will also remove and kill some of these “fleas in waiting.” 

How Long Must You Treat Your Cat for Fleas?

Flea treatments for fleas are not a “one-and-done” experience. Not only do you have to use flea medication year-round, but you need to treat the entire household.

If you treat only your cat because you notice a rash on them, the fleas will simply look for someone else to feed on in your home. As a rule, any pet with fur needs to be treated for fleas to eliminate them from the house.

How Long Does It Take to Clear a Flea Infestation?

Unfortunately, getting rid of fleas is not a quick process, since an infestation is not over until all of the eggs in the environment have hatched and matured. You can speed up the process by doing all you can to physically remove those eggs and larvae, but in most instances, it can take up to four months to completely clear a household of fleas.

In warmer climates, the life cycle of the flea is faster, and in cooler climates, it is slower. But if you stop treating your pets, the fleas will be back.

Featured Image: iStock.com/chengdongshan

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