Should I Use Flea Shampoo On My Cat?

Wash those fleas away 🧼

Flea infestations can be super annoying and even scary, so if you’re dealing with one, you’re probably looking for a way to get rid of fleas fast.

You might have heard of flea shampoos for cats, but are they really the best solution for your flea-ridden cat?

Flea shampoos are great and can reduce the amount of fleas on your cat, bringing some immediate relief. But they can’t prevent new fleas from jumping right back onto your cat after the bath is over — so make sure to pair any flea baths with a vet-approved flea preventative to keep your cat healthy and itch-free.

We rounded up some top-rated flea shampoos for cats and reached out to Dr. Michael Henricks, a veterinarian and owner of Faithful Friends Veterinary Clinic in Ohio, to learn about when to use flea shampoo on cats and how to find the best one.

The best cat flea shampoos kill fleas on contact and are specifically formulated for cats and kittens over 12 weeks old.

Why use flea shampoo on cats?

While flea shampoos aren’t effective at preventing flea infestations, they can help remove some fleas from your cat’s coat once she’s already infested, which could be especially useful if your cat is dealing with a lot of fleas.

It’s super important that you start your cat on medication after you bathe her in a flea shampoo, though, so you can prevent fleas from returning.

“Shampoos are typically not a useful parasite preventative because cats typically don't like to be bathed, and the shampoo only lasts for the time it is on the pet,” Dr. Henricks told The Dodo. “Since a flea or tick spends only a small portion of their life cycle actually living on the cat, pets will be at risk of having new fleas and ticks that live in the environment jump on them once the shampoo is rinsed off.”

“[Flea shampoos] do work well to ‘depopulate’ a patient that has a severe infestation,” Dr. Henricks added. However, Dr. Henricks typically recommends Capstar for cats who are dealing with an infestation over a shampoo most of the time.

“Capstar is an amazing oral parasite control product that starts working in 30 minutes and kills all fleas on the cat within 24 hours,” Dr. Henricks said. “It is used most often in cases of severe flea infestation to get the situation under control quickly, but since it only lasts for 24 hours, a longer-acting topical medication such as Bravecto or Revolution Plus is used alongside Capstar to provide lasting protection.”

Try Capstar oral treatment for cats on Amazon for $37

However, flea shampoo can be a good temporary option if you’re in a pinch, especially if you’re dealing with a cat who’s covered in fleas and needs relief ASAP.

What to consider when shopping for cat flea shampoos

When looking for a flea shampoo, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure you’re buying an effective product and that your cat stays safe when using it.

It kills fleas on contact

If your cat is suffering from a flea infestation, then she needs relief fast. That’s why it’s crucial to find a shampoo that kills fleas on contact. This will help you and your cat be able to start fresh with a more thorough flea treatment routine.

It kills fleas and other pests

Because most cat flea shampoos contain pyrethrin, they’ll kill fleas as well as other pests like ticks, as well as flea and tick eggs and larvae. This means after a single bath, your cat will be totally free from pests of all kinds, and any eggs or larvae that have yet to hatch will also go down the drain, meaning your cat will be completely pest free and ready to start a more detailed pest prevention and treatment plan.

It’s specifically formulated for cats

There are some ingredients you should avoid, and you should always make sure any flea product you give your cat is specifically formulated for cats and not dogs.

“Cats are much more sensitive to pyrethrin and permethrin than dogs because it takes their liver much longer to break the drug down, so cat-specific products will have lower concentrations of pyrethrin and not include permethrin,” Dr. Henricks said.

That’s why it can be super dangerous to use a dog flea shampoo on a cat, and vice versa (unless the product is labeled for both dogs and cats), so be sure that you’re using a product that’s appropriate for your pet’s size, age and species.

Some shampoo formulas, including a handful of all-natural, plant-based shampoos, are safe for both cats and dogs. But if “cat” is not specifically listed on the bottle, then avoid this shampoo at all costs.

“Make sure a product, whether it is a shampoo, oral, collar or topical, is labeled for cats, and if there is any question whether a product is safe or not, ask your veterinarian,” Dr. Henricks said.

All-natural vs. medicated

An all-natural flea shampoo won’t contain any pyrethrin, which is a mixture of six chemicals that actively kills fleas, ticks and other pests and is found in most flea shampoos for cats. Pyrethrin is actually found naturally in the chrysanthemum plant, but shampoos that are labeled “all-natural” will not contain pyrethrin but rather concentrated amounts of essential oils.

Clove, eucalyptus, peppermint and other essential oils are sometimes used to treat flea problems (peppermint oil can be toxic to pets, though), and have been deemed effective in warding off pests. 

But keep in mind that all-natural formulas may not be as effective as formulas with pyrethrin.

Lathering shampoo vs. waterless foam

If your cat hates baths, you can try a waterless flea shampoo so your cat will actually let you use it on her. Foam shampoos can be combed through her coat and don’t require any rinsing afterward.

Sensitive-skin-friendly formula

If your cat suffers from dry and itchy skin, then you’ll want to find a shampoo that is labeled specifically for sensitive skin. Cat skin issues can be caused by numerous things, including nutritional deficiencies, seasonal or environmental allergies, hormonal disorders, and more. All flea shampoos are going to be a bit harsh on the skin because of the pesticides, but you can look for shampoos that give nourishment back to sensitive skin with soothing ingredients like oatmeal and aloe.

Top-rated flea shampoos for cats

Below are some top-rated shampoos available online. But remember, each flea shampoo must be used alongside a flea preventative in order to keep fleas from coming back.

Best overall flea shampoo for cats: Veterinary Formula Flea and Tick Shampoo for Dogs and Cats

With over 7,800 five-star reviews on Amazon, this pH-balanced flea shampoo from Veterinary Formula is super gentle (it’s soap- and paraben-free) and kills fleas and ticks on contact. It’s safe for dogs and cats 12 weeks and older, and is formulated with just enough pest-killing pyrethrin to kill off fleas and ticks without causing harm to your cat.

Best runner-up flea shampoo for cats: Advantage Flea and Tick Treatment Shampoo

The Advantage Flea and Tick Treatment Shampoo is a great runner-up flea shampoo because it’s safe, effective and can be used alongside other Advantage flea and tick topical or oral treatments. It has over 800 five-star reviews on Amazon, with cat parents saying that fleas and ticks can’t abandon ship fast enough during bath time.

Best plant-based flea shampoo for cats: Vet’s Best Advanced Strength Flea + Tick Cat Shampoo

This plant-based cat flea shampoo from Vet’s Best can kill fleas, flea larvae and ticks on contact with its blend of essential oils. This shampoo is specifically formulated for cats and kittens over 12 weeks old, and you can feel good knowing that your cat is being treated for fleas without chemicals or harsh soaps. 

Best flea shampoo for cats with sensitive skin: Adams Plus Flea & Tick Shampoo with Precor

Adams Plus Flea & Tick Shampoo can kill fleas, flea larvae, flea eggs, ticks and lice, and it has a fresh coconut scent. It’s safe for both dogs and cats, and the sensitive skin formula — made with aloe, lanolin and oatmeal — conditions your cat’s skin and fur while removing pesky pests. This is great for flea-affected cats who struggle with dandruff  or dry, flaky skin.

Best waterless flea shampoo for cats: Vet’s Best Flea + Tick Waterless Cat Bath Foam

And for cats who can’t stand baths, the Vet’s Best Flea + Tick Waterless shampoo is a great alternative to the brand’s Advanced Strength formula. It naturally kills fleas, ticks, flea larvae and eggs on contact and can be simply brushed through your cat’s coat without any water or rinsing needed.

A safe and effective flea shampoo may be the best first step in tackling your cat’s flea infestation. Just remember that shampoo should only be the first step in a longer flea prevention treatment plan. Talk with your vet about which flea and tick preventatives your cat should take, and watch her go from itchy and scratchy to totally relaxed!

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