How Can I Get Rid Of My Cat's Fleas For Good?
Tips for treating and preventing fleas.
If your cat has been scratching a lot more than usual, and maybe you’ve seen a little bug jumping around on her once or twice, it’s time to face the truth: Your cat probably has fleas.
Fleas are common pests that take up residence on pets and in the home — and sadly, they’re not the most fun of roommates. You’ll want to snuff out your cat’s flea problem before it becomes everyone’s problem. But you may be wondering, “What’s the most effective way of evicting them?”
The Dodo reached out to Dr. Liz Bales, a veterinarian and founder of Doc & Phoebe’s Cat Co., and Dr. Megan Conrad, an Oregon-based vet who works with telehealth company Hello Ralphie, to gain a better understanding of how flea infestations happen and how you can get rid of fleas on cats and keep them off for good.
How do cats get fleas?
Unfortunately, it’s incredibly easy for your cat to have a run-in with a flea.
“Cats can get fleas from a number of places,” Dr. Conrad told The Dodo. “Outdoor cats are at the highest risk of encountering fleas in the grass; however, indoor cats can get them as well when other pets bring them in from outside.”
And a single flea can cause a massive problem. Dr. Conrad said that one flea can lay hundreds of eggs in a day, “so once you have a few who make themselves at home, it is easy to have an infestation rather quickly.” Ick.
Signs your cat has fleas
So, what exactly does a flea infestation look like?
“If your cat starts grooming much more than usual, scratching or has itching or loss of hair at the base of their tail, fleas may be the cause,” Dr. Bales told The Dodo.
You might also notice your cat’s more restless than usual, shakes her head often or has scabs appearing on her body.
Surprisingly, you probably won’t actually see many fleas on your cat since cats are such expert groomers. And sometimes fleas reside in carpets or grass and only jump on your cat to feed. It’s more likely you’ll see flea dirt (aka flea poop) on your cat, which looks like coffee grounds in her fur.
Even so, you’ll want to keep an eye out for the culprits themselves. “Fleas are small, flat insects that are dark brown or black,” Dr. Conrad said. “They are usually easiest to see on the areas of your pet that have thin hair, such as their stomachs or legs.”
You can use your fingers to part your cat’s hair to look for fleas and flea dirt, or run a flea comb through her coat to see if you can rustle up either the bugs or the evidence they leave behind.
How to treat fleas on cats
All dogs and cats should be on a reliable monthly flea and tick preventative to keep flea infestations from ever happening.
So if your cat hasn’t been on one and gets fleas, now’s a good time to start!
Flea shampoo or spray
Preventative topical or oral medications can take hours to kill live fleas on your cat, so flea shampoos — which kill fleas pretty effectively on contact — are a great product to use to give your cat some much-needed relief in the meantime.
“Flea shampoo can be a good starting point for treating a bad infestation,” Dr. Conrad said, but keep in mind that it only kills the adult fleas and won’t do much to thwart flea eggs from hatching later down the road (so you’ll need to put your cat on a preventative medication, too).
Most flea shampoos also include ingredients that can soothe your cat’s skin, which will be nice for her since she’s probably super itchy.
“Only use flea shampoo that is labeled for cats,” Dr. Conrad said. Other shampoos for different animals may have too much of the flea-killing chemical and are therefore toxic for your cat.
And if your cat totally hates baths, you can try a flea spray instead.
Once your cat has a flea bath, or has been treated with flea spray, you might also want to brush her with a flea comb.
Flea combs have ultra-fine bristles that can effectively remove fleas, flea eggs and flea dirt from your cat’s fur.
You can also use the flea comb as a daily grooming brush, so it’s a nice tool to keep handy.
However, it’s important to note that bathing a cat with flea shampoo and combing her with a flea comb won’t do much good if you’re not taking long-term preventative actions like treating her with a topical or oral flea treatment as well as treating your home.
An oral, over-the-counter fast-acting medication known as Capstar can get rid of the live fleas on your cat. But it won’t prevent them from coming back.
“Capstar is a pill that starts killing fleas in 30 minutes but does not prevent new fleas after a day or so,” Dr. Bales said.
So, if you give your cat a Capstar pill for short-term relief, make sure to pair it with a quality long-term cat flea preventative.
Flea treatment for home
If your cat has a flea infestation, it’s likely fleas are in your home, too — which means a deep, deep cleaning might be in order after you begin a long-term treatment plan for your cat and any other animals you have in the home.
“If you find your cat is infected, you will need to first treat your cat with a medication … then treat the environment and all other animals in the home,” Dr. Conrad said. “This may include washing all bedding in hot water, using flea-killing chemicals (either store bought or with an exterminator) and treating your yard.”
Dr. Bales also recommended “vacuuming all the areas where your cat lays thoroughly, and then disposing of the vacuum bag or cleaning out the container, and washing all the bedding that you can on high heat and drying in the dryer.”
And once everything has been cleaned, you can double down on the fleas in your house with a home flea spray.
“Once you start the process, it could take up [to] two months to get it fully under control,” Dr. Conrad said.
How to prevent fleas on cats
Dealing with fleas using any of the above short-term solutions can give your cat quick relief. But to kill the whole infestation and prevent fleas from attacking in the future, you’re going to need to get serious about long-term flea prevention.
Most flea preventatives come with enough doses to keep your cat covered for a good chunk of time (usually six months). But stay on top of reapplying and/or retreating to keep that flea eviction notice in place.
Topical cat flea treatments
Spot-on treatments can prevent new fleas from feasting on your cat, as well as kill any existing fleas — but it will take a while for it to start working.
“Most spot-on flea preventions will kill fleas in 8 to 12 hours and then prevent them from returning for 4 to 12 weeks, depending on the product,” Dr. Bales said.
“I recommend keeping all cats on regular prevention, like Bravecto,” Dr. Bales added. Bravecto is a prescription medication, so your vet will need to approve it first — but it’s totally worth it.
Oral flea preventatives for cats
There are also effective prescription oral flea preventatives available. Usually, these medications come in the form of a flavored chewable, so it’s super easy to give to your cat.
Talk to your vet first about which oral flea prevention medication they recommend. They might prescribe a chewable treatment like Comfortis, which kills fleas within 30 minutes of taking it.
Can you treat fleas on cats naturally?
“There are no natural cures for fleas that [are] proven to be safe on cats,” Dr. Conrad said, adding, “Cats are very sensitive to chemicals, so only used products for cats your vet recommends.”
A flea infestation on your cat can be annoying for both you and her — but it doesn’t have to last long. With the help of a few short-term flea solutions and regular flea preventative treatment, you can send those horrible roommates packing and never see them again.
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