Is It Hard To Get Rid Of Fleas?
Yes, managing a flea infestation is challenging. Getting rid of cat fleas requires a multimodal approach. This is because only 5% of the flea population lives on the cat – the remaining 95% is scattered around the house (and other pets if living in a multi-pet household).
There are three main components to managing flea infestations:
- Establishing The Cat Has Fleas. To deal with the problem, first, you need to be aware of its presence. The most common sign of fleas is itching. But, the fastest way of detecting fleas is regular grooming (not to mention that grooming has other benefits for cats).
- Understanding The Flea Life Cycle. Adult fleas lay eggs that hatch into larvae. In warm and dark conditions, the larvae form a cocoon, and within it, they grow into pupae. The pupae only emerge if there is a host and the conditions are favorable. The complex life cycle is the reason that getting rid of an infestation requires repetitive treatments.
- Acting Against The Fleas. The last step is the actual flea removal. For best results, you need to use both mechanical and chemical approaches (they are discussed below). You also need to deal with the fleas that are on the cat, fleas on other pets, and fleas in the house (also discussed below).
How To Get Rid Of Fleas From Cats?
To eliminate fleas, first mechanically remove as many fleas as possible, then kill the fleas with chemicals, and finally prevent re-infestations. Here is a closer look at each step and how it is done.
Step 1: Physical Removal Of Fleas
To physically remove fleas, start by bathing and then combing your cat. Since cats hate water, the bathing part can be tricky. If your cat makes a mess out of the situation, instead of a regular bath, you can use mist it using a spray bottle.
The next step is combing. To make the process more efficient, dip the comb in vegetable oil or Vaseline to make the fleas sticky and pick them up easily. After each stroke with the comb, soak it in a bowl filled with water and dish soap.
Note: If the bowl is filled with pure water, the fleas can jump. Therefore, use a mixture of water and Dawn or even alcohol.
Step 2: Chemical Flea Treatments
The next step is chemical removal. Luckily, there are many anti-flea products on the pet market. They come in different forms, and each has its advantages and disadvantages.
Note: Some of these methods are not safe for kittens. Eliminating fleas from kittens is complex and requires a special approach.
Let’s review the different options for removing fleas from cats.
Flea Spot-On Liquids
Spot-on liquids are probably the most popular anti-flea product for pets. These products feature an active ingredient that kills adult fleas or fleas in different life stages (eggs and larvae). The liquid is applied to the back of the cat’s neck and then absorbed through the skin.
Active Ingredients: Imidacloprid, selamectin, sarolaner, moxidectin, fluralaner, fipronil
- Start working immediately
- Often potent against various parasites
- Relatively affordable price
- Often available over-the-counter
- Need frequent re-application
- Make the coat greasy (temporary and locally)
Note: Some active ingredients kill only adult fleas, while others act against all life stages (with the exception of pupae, as they are protected by the cocoon).
Flea Oral Medications
If you do not like spot-on options, try oral medications. There are two types – pills and chewable treats. After being ingested, they are metabolized and then start working. Most oral anti-flea medications require a veterinary prescription and are very effective.
Active Ingredients: Nitenpyram (pills), Spinosad (chewables)
- Fast acting (start working within 30 minutes)
- Reliable and very effective
- Pills can be hard to administer
- Cats are fussy eaters (may dislike the chewable)
- Usually short-acting (no more than a month)
Flea collars are collars impregnated with natural or synthetic chemicals that can kill fleas. To work properly, the flea collar must fit snuggly. However, if too tight, it will be uncomfortable for the cat.
Active Ingredients: Imidacloprid
- Easy to use
- Long-lasting effects (up to 8 months)
- Start working within hours
- Not for outdoor cats (choking hazard)
- Usually more expensive
Shampoos, Sprays & Powders
There are special shampoos, sprays, and powders featuring ingredients that kill fleas. The natural ingredient in these products – pyrethrin, is derived from the flowering chrysanthemum. Both the natural ingredient and its synthetic analogs can be toxic to cats.
Anti-flea shampoos, sprays, and powders for cats are safe only when used in small amounts. If used too often or in large amounts, they are toxic.
Active Ingredients: Pyrethrins, pyrethroids (permethrin)
- Very fast-acting (work on contact)
- Available at a budget-friendly price
- Do not require a veterinary prescription
- No residual efficacy
- Risky to use (overdoses can be fatal)
- Cats dislike baths & powders can be irritating for people with asthma
Note: While toxic to cats, pyrethrins, and pyrethroids are generally safe for dogs and often found in dog anti-flea products. If you have a dog treated with such a product, you must keep it separate from the cat (especially if she tends to groom the dog).
Anecdotal reports suggest that certain household items and materials can be used to manage fleas in dogs. Common examples include apple cider vinegar, diatomaceous earth, and lemon juice. However, natural treatments are not very reliable. Also, keep in mind that natural does not always equal safe.
- No chemicals
- Cheap and readily available
- Not always reliable
- No residual efficacy
Note: There is a common misconception that essential oils are good for cats with fleas. The truth is cats cannot metabolize essential oils (especially if not diluted). As a result, many essential oils are toxic to cats.
Step 3: Preventing Re-Infestations
The above-explained spot-ons, oral meds, and collars can be used to prevent re-infestation. They have residual efficacy that protects cats for a certain period – from one month to up to 8 months, depending on the active ingredient.
Keep in mind that preventing a cat flea infestation is much easier than eliminating one. If you are unsure which product is best for your cat, do not hesitate to talk to your trusted veterinarian.
To prevent re-infestations, use a prescription-strength anti-flea product. Based on where you live, it might be necessary to practice year-round protection. Also, do not forget that even indoor cats need protection.
Note: Indoor cats can get fleas from other pets and from humans. Even if the cat is not going out, fleas can hitch a ride on other pets and humans (clothes, shoes, bags).
How To Get Rid Of Fleas From Other Pets?
If you have other cats, chances are they are infested as well. The good news is you can use the same treatment for all cats.
Note: Also, do not forget to manage flea-related issues, such as skin irritation or itchiness due to flea allergy dermatitis.
If you have other pets, like dogs, ferrets, and rodents, you need to use products that are specifically made for them. It is critical that you treat all pets on the same day.
Warning: Never use dog flea products on cats and the other way around. Flea products formulated for dogs can be toxic (and lethal) for cats.
How To Get Rid Of Fleas From The House?
Last but not least, you need to treat the house. As mentioned, as much as 95% of the flea population lives in the environment (and only 5% on the cat itself). Here is what you can do to treat the environment.
Thorough & Repetitive Cleaning
Deep cleaning includes various procedures and needs to be repeated often to achieve results. When we say thorough and repetitive cleaning, we refer to the following procedures:
- Washing. First, machine-wash upholstery and fabric-made items such as bedding, pillowcases, and blankets.
- Vacuuming. The next step is vacuuming. Vacuuming is very effective against fleas – the vibration produced by the vacuum cleaner stimulates the pupae to emerge.
Tip: When vacuuming, pay extra attention to floor and furniture crevices. Also, ensure you dispose of the vacuum bag properly (sealed in a plastic bag to prevent the fleas from escaping). If using water-operating vacuum cleaners, flush the water into the toilet.
- Steam Cleaning. Steam cleaning is also great for flea management. It can be practiced after vacuuming the carpets and is safe for all upholstered furniture.
- Wax-Sealing. If you have wooden floors, consider waxing them. The wax will seal the crevices and smother the fleas.
- Chemical Treatments. Finally, there are commercially available chemicals that can be used to kill fleas. However, they are not always safe to use around pets.
In cases of heavy infestations, the above-elaborated approaches are not enough. If they fail to get rid of the fleas, consider professional exterminators. Depending on what they will use, you may need to leave the house for a couple of days.
Note: It may take up to three months to completely eliminate a flea infestation in the environment (house).