Cat owners want the very best for their cats. The top concern for just about all cat owners is (or at least should be) FLEAS! They’re the bane of your existence as a cat owner. If you’re considering adopting a cat for the first time then flea prevention should be a top priority. This definitive guide will help you both get rid of and prevent fleas.
Regardless of how much you think you know about fleas and flea prevention, we encourage ALL cat owners to thoroughly read this guide. (I guess we’ll let dog owners read this guide too if there’s a few of you out there who have accidentally stumbled across a site named CATS ONLY)help you
Yes, indoor-only cats are still susceptible to fleas. Fleas make their way into your home through many different routes.
“My cat is strictly an indoor cat and I have no other pets so I don’t need to worry about fleas, right?” WRONG!
Even if you’re a single-pet household and your cat stays indoors 24/7, you should still be very concerned about fleas!
Having an outdoor pet is not the only way that one can develop a flea problem. Fleas will feast on most mammals, not just cats and dogs, and their eggs can lay dormant for 5+ months! Also, your home is NOT a sealed environment. People come and go. You likely get up, go to work or out to run errands, and come back home. Fleas can live for up to 2 weeks without a host.
Maybe you bought a new couch from Facebook Marketplace or a new rug from OfferUp. Maybe you went thrifting and some of the clothes from the thrift store weren’t properly cleaned or sanitized beforehand.
Even if you’re a homebody and never go anywhere, you still need basic food and supplies. A delivery driver who owns pets could have fleas on their socks. They could go pick up your groceries and drop them off at your doorstep where the fleas may hop off or fall off. You open the door to get your groceries and now you’ve got fleas inside.
I could go on and on with various scenarios, but I think the point is clear. ALL pet owners need to worry about fleas.
How can I tell if my cat has fleas?
Obviously the number one sign of fleas in cats is increased scratching or biting of their fur. All of this itchiness can cause your cat to groom themselves much more frequently than normal and can make your cat feel restless.
It doesn’t take as many fleas as you’d think for your cat to really start suffering from the itchiness and restlessness. Fleas move fast throughout your cat’s fur and can wreak havoc very quickly. Because these tiny jerks are literally getting nourishment from your cat’s blood, fleas and cause anemia, weakness, and they can actually transmit tapeworm infections.
REMEMBER: It only takes one or two fleas to start an infestation!
As conditions worsen you might notice that your cat now has bald patches from overgrooming. You might also notice skin irritation from all of the scratching and biting.
You might notice ‘flea dirt’ as you groom your cat or if your cat scratches. This ‘dirt’ turns a very distinct reddish color when it gets wet. If your cat is grooming itself by the kitchen sink and some of this dirt gets into a drop of water, it may look like a dark drop of blood. Thankfully it’s not blood directly from your cat, but it should still be just as concerning.
Fleas aren’t always obvious, however. You need to perform regular checks!
How do I check my cat for fleas?
A visual check is a great place to start. The most common place for fleas to hide out on a cat is going to be on the back of their neck, usually a little bit above their shoulder blades, or further down their backs.
Divide their fur so that you can see your cat’s skin. Look for small black dots on the skin. These black dots can either be fleas, flea dirt, or even eggs. Keep a bowl of water with some dish soap and drop these specks into that water. If they’re fleas you might see them try to move around before sinking to the bottom. If it’s flea dirt you’ll see it turn red.
The best way to go through your cat’s fur is with a fine-toothed comb. There are PLENTY of great and inexpensive flea combs available online. Your local pet store should have plenty to choose from. Even the pet section of large chain stores like Walmart will have some.
If you’re using one of these combs, start at the base of your cat’s head behind their ears and comb back to just past their shoulder blades. Again, keep a bowl of water with dish soap in it as you’ll want to immediately get any fleas into this water and soap solution to ensure they won’t be a problem anymore.
But don’t stop there! You’ll need more than just a flea comb if you want to ensure fleas aren’t going to be a problem anymore!
How do I get rid of fleas on my cat?
If you’ve checked your cat out and have found fleas or signs of fleas then you need to work quickly. Fleas can spread very easily and they can lay eggs in places like your carpet. Sometimes these eggs won’t hatch for MONTHS so you’ll think everything is fine and dandy until one day you’ve got a flea problem again.
Remove as many fleas as possible
Get that bowl of water and dish soap ready, and grab a towel and some cat treats, because you’re going to want to try and manually remove as many fleas as possible with the flea comb. Cover as much surface area as you can and be sure to clean the comb out after every swipe or two. Your cat may get fussy when you get to their belly so don’t force it if it’s going to be a problem.
Give your cat a bath
This is, for obvious reasons, one of the worst parts about fleas. Cats are notorious for hating water and this part is going to make you feel pretty sad. Just know that you’re helping your cat.
You’ll want to use a special-made flea shampoo for cats. Pay attention to whether or not the bottle says it’s safe for kittens, or cats of certain ages or weights. If your cat refuses to participate in bath time then consider a spray bottle. Just spray the water on your cat and run the comb through their wet fur as the fleas try to get away.
Be careful using dish soap. It likely won’t harm your cat, but unless the fleas are fully submerged and drowning, it also won’t harm the fleas. Over the years fleas have grown and evolved to be VERY resilient.
It's time for flea medicine
You need to attack fleas at every stage of their lives – eggs, larvae, pupas, and adults – so simply combing and bathing your cat won’t ensure you’re 100% in the clear just yet.
A simple prescription from your vet will be much more effective than anything you can buy at the store or online. Prescription flea medicines are usually stronger and longer-lasting than traditional flea medicine off the shelf. We understand that’s not an option for everyone though so don’t lose hope. Meds from a store are much more effective than no meds at all!
Oral Flea Medicine
Ingestible flea meds are another fast-acting method of killing fleas. They start working within the first half hour that they are taken. These types of meds are available both over-the-counter and by prescription. If you’re buying online or in-store without a prescription then look for a brand that has Nitenpyram or Spinosad. Both start working very quickly. Please note that Spinosad only protects against fleas, not ticks. PLEASE be sure to pay attention to the dosing instructions included with the medicine.
This is a liquid that is applied to the back of your cat’s neck, typically between their shoulder blades. Most of these are applied monthly and the good ones will get into your cat’s bloodstream to help fight against parasites as well. The good thing about spot treatments is that they start working right away. As with the oral meds, be sure to pay attention to the label as dosing is different depending on the age and weight of your cat. Advantage and Frontline are two of the most popular brands out there.
Flea collars typically contain at least one or a combination of 5 potentially toxic chemicals. They can also take nearly a month before they start working. On top of that, it’s not uncommon for cats to get sick or lethargic from flea collars. We do not recommend them and they’re unnecessary if you’re properly using a combination of oral medicines and spot treatment applications.
We understand you want the very best for your cat(s). If you truly want the best for them then you’ll be weary of products that promise all-natural or homeopathic remedies to fleas. Fleas have evolved to be VERY resilient and many (if not all) all-natural products aren’t nearly as effective as the routes mentioned above (if they’re even effective at all). As far as homeopathic goes.. Homeopathy is a pseudo science that is never going to work and there are no peer-reviewed, scientific studies to say otherwise.
How can I prevent fleas from coming back?
Alright, so you’ve made it this far. You’ve removed the fleas, you’ve bathed your kitty as much as they would let you, you’ve given them an oral medicine to kill all of the fleas on their body, and you’ve given them a topical treatment to hopefully help them out for the next 30 days. You’re all done, right? Sorry, but there’s still more work to do! You’ll want to protect your home, your yard, and your pets from future infestations.
Flea prevention for cats
The very first step in flea prevention comes from properly arming your animals against flea infestations in the first place. You want to do this for ALL of the cats and dogs in your house, regardless of their outside or inside status. If your pet does not currently have any fleas then a once-a-month spot treatment will be a great starting point.
You’ll want to brush your cats regularly and dogs in the household should be bathed regularly. If you have an indoor-only cat then do not bathe them regularly. Indoor cats rarely need to be bathed (with exceptions for special needs or elderly cats that can’t clean themselves) as they are pretty efficient self-cleaning machines. Obviously if the cat has fleas then a bath is in order! If you have a cat that goes outdoors then giving them a bath a few times per year wouldn’t hurt.
Brush, groom, check! Always brush your cats! (READ: How often should I brush my cat and why should I brush them?) Brushing has numerous benefits but it’s also a great way to constantly be checking them for fleas.
Flea proof your home
Now that your animals are in order, you’ll want to make sure that fleas don’t want to hang out anywhere in your home. It’s best to sweep and vacuum often. The CDC recommends vacuuming your carpets and rugs AND any cushions on chairs or sofas. Empty the vacuum bag in an OUTSIDE trash can when finished.
Be sure to also frequently clean bedding – both yours and the pet’s – to ensure that there are never any eggs laying dormant just waiting to hatch. And don’t just rinse your pet’s bedding off (yeah, some people actually think that’s good enough), you’ll want to use soap or some kind of laundry detergent that won’t agitate their skin or fur.
Flea proof your yard
A final precaution to take is to make sure fleas don’t want to stay in your yard. Again, even if you have an indoor-only cat, fleas from the yard can still be tracked in by humans! Fleas cannot tolerate the sun for a long time and they love humid and moist environments so you’ll want to make your yard as inhabitable as possible for them!
- Mow frequently to expose more of your yard’s soil to direct sunlight
- Don’t over-water your plants if possible
- Use insecticide on areas that may be frequented by any outdoor pets, such as a dog run
- Rake thoroughly to remove debris and again expose more of the ground to sunlight
- Keep rodents (mice, rats) and other animals (racoons, opossums, etc) away from your home by storing any pet food in tight containers, sealing up any holes they can crawl into, remove any junk piles that rodents would climb into, and makre sure your trash can lids are on tight!
Get Rid of and Prevent Fleas before it's too late!
The first and most obvious reason you’ll want to get rid of and prevent fleas is because you don’t want your pets to suffer. Animals, especially cats, are allergic to the saliva of fleas. If you’ve been bitten by a flea you know how much it itches. Now imagine that itchiness has increased ten-fold. That’s what your cat is feeling.
The itching can be really bad. It can cause bald patches in your cat’s fur from their scratching. They can also get terrible skin irritation. Incessant scratching from your cat can also open up wounds on their bodies that can easily become infected.
The negative effects of fleas go beyond just the itching. Fleas can also transmit parasites. A tiny little flea can give your cat tapeworms believe it or not. Fleas can also spread diseases such as Bartonella AKA Cat Scratch Disease.
If you spot your cat itching, don’t wait for it to get worse. If you spot a single flea on your cat during brushing, don’t wait for it to get worse. Your cat is quite literally suffering regardless of how many fleas are on them. Help them out ASAP if they’ve got fleas and if they don’t have fleas then take preventative measures before it’s too late.