Cat Fleas: How to Get Rid of Them

Poor kitty— those nasty fleas are making him miserable, and he's itching and scratching like crazy. Here's how to help your feline start purring again.

We’re not trying to say, “I told you so,” but Brendan Russi, DVM, of Banfield Pet Hospital in Vancouver, Washington, can’t stress enough how year-round flea prevention is far more preferable to flea treatment for cats. “By the time you start to notice signs of a flea infestation, your pet will already be suffering the effects of fleas, and you will already have flea eggs in your carpet and furniture.” Yikes! But not all hope is lost. There are a host of remedies to choose from to discuss with your vet. Read on to learn more about cat fleas and how to get rid of them.

Oral medications for cat fleas

Oral flea medicines for cats are suitable for many felines—if you can get them to take the pill, since giving your cat meds is one of the 13 things you do that it secretly hates. While your dog might be tricked into eating a pill that’s stuffed into a tasty treat, cats are more likely to be on to you. (Watch this video for tips on how to do it). In addition, Dr. Russi says even if you can get your cat to take the medication, it might not be the right choice for them. Cats who have difficulty digesting or metabolizing specific medications, or are on other medications or have certain diseases, may have to use a different type of flea medicine. Considering adopting? These cat breeds are most affectionate. 

Topical medications for cat fleas

We know, you’re hoping the solution for cat fleas and how to get rid of them is a flea collar; after all, they’re convenient and easy to put on your cat’s neck. But cat’s with sensitive skin may not react as well to flea collars or topical flea medicine (such as Frontline or Advantage). Dr. Rossi says there are newer-generation flea collars that might work but don’t buy one without talking to your vet first. “Be very careful when selecting a topical flea medication (including flea collars) for your cat,” says Dr. Russi. “If it doesn’t explicitly say it is for cats and your veterinarian doesn’t approve it, do not use it!” You should also steer clear of these 16 pet products vets would never buy.

Shampoos and powders for cat fleas

Cute tabby kitten taking a bath in the gardenANURAK PONGPATIMET/shutterstock

Shampoo and powder flea treatments for cats aren’t recommended for long term cat flea control. The fleas that are on the skin may immediately die, but once you wash off the shampoo or the powder is licked or rubbed off from your cat the medication is gone. Plus, shampoo and flea treatment powders aren’t healthy for their skin. “They can have a drying effect on the skin and an extremely short-term period of effectiveness,” Dr. Russi says, which is why they aren’t recommended for long-term parasite prevention. You should be aware of itchy skin and these other subtle signs your cat may not be feeling well.

Cat fleas: How to get rid of them naturally

If you prefer to take the natural approach for cat fleas and how to get rid of them, Carol Osborne, DVM, integrative veterinarian, of the Chagrin Falls Veterinary Center and Pet Clinic in Ohio has a few flea treatments for cats. One is Avon Skin So Soft Oil. “Dilute 50/50 with water and put into a spritzer bottle to repel fleas, mosquitos, and other pests,” Dr. Osborne says. Or try a catnip oil (always use a therapeutic grade oil) diluted with coconut oil. One drop of catnip per 100 of coconut oil is a good place to start. Lightly mist fur and “pet” it on the skin. Don’t worry, the catnip oil won’t make your cats go crazy. Dr. Osborne says that only happens when catnip is in the dry form. But remember, just because essential oils are natural, it doesn’t mean they’re all safe for cats. Here’s what you should know before using essential oils on your pets.

Don’t forget to treat your house

When you wage the war on fleas your cat isn’t the only battleground. “In order to rid your cat of fleas be sure all the pets in the home and the home itself are also treated at the same time for most effective results,” says Dr. Russi. Try these home remedies to keep fleas at bay in your home.

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Lisa Marie Conklin
Lisa Marie Conklin is a Baltimore-based writer who writes regularly about pets and home improvement for Reader's Digest. Her work has also been published in The Healthy, HealthiNation, The Family Handyman, Taste of Home, and, among other outlets. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center. Follow her on Instagram @lisamariewrites4food and Twitter @cornish_conklin.