Fleas and ticks— the very words trigger disgust and cause pet parents to worry about their cat’s comfort and health.
- Fleas are extremely common on cats and cause physical discomfort as well as potentially transmitting diseases in some regions.
- Ticks are potentially more serious in that, while less frequently found on cats, they transmit diseases more commonly when they feed.
In addition to the problems caused for cats, both fleas and ticks can attack humans. They are much more than a nuisance and should be approached aggressively.
How can I keep fleas and ticks away from my cat?
Controlling these parasites requires a two pronged approach:
Kill fleas and ticks that are already present— Check your cat frequently for fleas and ticks. If any are found, the first step is to use an insecticide to kill the fleas and ticks. There are a number of products that can rapidly kill fleas and ticks. They include insecticidal shampoos, topical sprays and short acting systemic insecticides given orally. All are effective but they only kill the pests on your pet at the time they are treated or for very short time periods after treatment.
Make sure you ask your veterinarian for a recommendation of a product to kill existing fleas and ticks. Be extremely certain to follow labeled instructions and never use a product on cats that is not labeled for cats.
Prevent future fleas and ticks— So now you have killed the fleas and ticks on your cat. The next step is to prevent re-infestation. This may require a change in your cat’s lifestyle. Cats that are kept indoors are far less prone to being attacked by external parasites, however, in households with both dogs and cats, even indoor cats can still be exposed.
Also effective are the use of topical products that kill fleas and ticks as well. Most such products are effective; however, the tick must feed on your cat to die.
[Heartworm Disease: Cats Get it Too]
Can flea and tick collars help protect my cat?
Flea and tick collars have been greatly improved in their efficacy and safety and can aid control and repellency. Most should be changed every 30 days but newer products are effective for much longer.
Can testing help protect my cat from flea and tick disease?
No matter how many precautions you take, it is still possible for your cat to pick up disease from fleas and ticks. To be sure your cat is protected, the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) recommends the following:
- Conduct preventive physical examinations at least every 6 to 12 months.
- Test cats prior to placing on heartworm preventive and thereafter as indicated.
- Test annually for tick-transmitted pathogens, especially in regions where pathogens are endemic or emerging.
- Conduct fecal examinations by centrifugation at least four times during the first year of life, and at least two times per year in adults, depending on patient health and lifestyle factors.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
Cat flea and tick prevention factors to consider
There are a great number of factors that might affect how well any given product works for your cat, so keep the following considerations in mind as you shop and you can increase your chances of finding a suitable option.
Age: If you're in search of pest prevention for a kitten, selecting an age-appropriate treatment is vital to his health. Flea and tick preventives for adult cats typically contain higher concentrations of chemicals that may be harmful or even fatal to kittens. Always check the packaging for age and weight guidelines.
Fur length: If you're considering using topical preventatives, such as spot-on treatments, sprays, or powders, consider the length of your cat's fur. While reaching the skin of short-haired cats is relatively easy, this may prove more difficult with long-haired kitties. For extra-fluffy furballs with thick coats, oral medications or collars may be a better option.
Duration of efficacy: To keep fleas and ticks at bay, it's essential that you follow up with additional treatments as specified by the manufacturer. When using shampoos, powders, or sprays, be sure to note how frequently the product should be used and stick to these guidelines as closely as possible.
Lifestyle: Your cat's lifestyle is an important consideration when selecting a tick and flea prevention product. Indoor cats may do well with simpler products like shampoos or powders. However, for lion-hearted felines who simply won't be restricted to indoor living, you'll need a more heavy-duty option. Spot-on treatments are a preferred choice for many owners of free-roaming kitties. Dual action collars can also do a great job of keeping your cat pest-free.
If you’re unsure of the birth date or weight of an adopted kitten, a quick trip to the vet can help clear things up and determine the best way to keep your kitty free of fleas and ticks.
Long-lasting treatments such as spot-on prevention or a collar can help reduce the chances of missing a dose and unintentionally leaving your cat vulnerable to pests.
If you opt for a flea and tick collar and your cat happens to be a climber (as most are), choose one with a quick-release clasp to prevent accidental snagging and possible choking.
Q. Do indoor cats need a flea and tick prevention product?
A. The answer to this question is a resounding “yes”! Even if your kitty is a sheltered princess who never sets a pampered paw outside, she’ll still need protection from ticks and fleas. These pests can easily be carried indoors by other pets, household pests like rats and mice, and even humans.
Q. Is it really necessary to use flea and tick prevention year-round?
A. Unfortunately, ticks and fleas are exceptionally hardy critters, and the eggs can lay dormant in nooks and crannies both inside and outside of the home, even in colder climates. To keep your cat healthy it’s best to ensure that he remains protected through all seasons.
Q. Can I use dog and cat flea and tick medications interchangeably?
A. Unless the packaging clearly specifies that your product is suitable for both cats and dogs, this isn’t recommended. Dosages can vary dramatically and in many cases, formulations intended for dogs – even smaller breeds – can be fatal to cats.
How to Prevent Fleas
Your cat's warm, furry coat and nourishing blood supply are a flea's dream home. Protect your pet with a flea barrier to prevent these tiny pests from settling in. There are a few different types:
Products you put on your cat. Spot-on treatments are safer, more convenient, and more effective than traditional dusts, shampoos, and sprays. You can buy them from your vet or online. Ask your vet where on your cat to put the product, how much to apply, and how often to use it. If you’re not getting the treatment from your vet, read the product label first to make sure it's safe for cats. Some common active ingredients and brands include:
- Fipronil (Frontline Plus)
- Imidacloprid (Advantage)
- Selamectin (Stronghold/Revolution)
- Fluralaner (Bravecto)
A flea collar with flumethrin and imidacloprid (Seresto) can also work well.
Medicines your cat eats. The pill nitenpyram (Capstar) kills adult fleas on your cat within 30 minutes. It doesn’t have any lasting effects, though. Spinosad (Comfortis) is a fast-acting chewable that starts killing fleas before they lay eggs. It provides a full month of flea protection to help prevent future hatchings.
Natural Insect Control: Flea and Tick Treatments for Pets
WebMD discusses natural options for controlling fleas and ticks on pets.
When it comes to keeping fleas and ticks off your pets, you’re faced with the same old problem. How can you balance the risks posed by insects with the risks of the repellents? When you treat your animals for fleas and ticks, they may not be the only ones affected. If your dog rubs his brand new flea collar all over your couch, the whole family could wind up exposed.
A report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), "Poison on Pets II: Toxic Chemicals in Flea and Tick Collars," found that many over-the-counter insect control products for pets, even when used as instructed, can cause "serious health consequences to pets and humans." Many of these products include organophosphate (OP) compounds, which have been used for insect control for decades and are known to have toxic effects. Most immediate health problems come from not using these products properly, but there is some evidence that more insidious health problems may arise from chronic exposure. Many pet store flea and tick products contain more than one active ingredient and some of these products cause problems when used together.
In its review, the NRDC found that dangerously high levels of pesticide residue can remain on a dog or cat's fur for weeks after a flea collar is put on the animal. The NRDC also found that residues from two pesticides used in flea collars – tetrachlorvinphos and propoxur – were high enough to pose a risk to children and adults who play with their pets.
So what can you do? First, talk to your vet before you make any decisions about flea and tick control for your pet. He or she can help you make the best selection for your family. Share your concerns and be sure to tell your vet about any small children or pregnant women in the household. Your vet should be able to clearly explain the toxicities of various treatments -- whether available at pet stores or only through your vet -- and which products can be safely used in combination. Ask about trying the least toxic options first. Ask how you can minimize the risks to your family and your pets.
Be wary of natural insect control treatments for pets. Some -- like geranium, lavender, and eucalyptus -- can cause severe allergic reactions in pets and people. Pennyroyal oil has been associated with seizures and death in some animals.
The NRDC offers these suggestions in its Green Paws Pocket Guide:
- Avoid all organophosphates, including amitraz, fenoxycarb, permethrin, propoxur, tetrachlorvinphos (TCVP)
- Use other topical products sparingly, particularly on pets that are around pregnant women or small children. These include fipronil (Frontline), imidacloprid (Advantage), metaflumizone (ProMeris), pyrethroids (pyrethroids are found in many insect control products they are toxic to cats and should be used on dogs only), selamectin (Revolution)
- Consider orally administered products, as exposure to other pets and children is minimal. These include lufenuron (Program), nitenpyram (CAPSTAR), spinosad (Comfortis, for dogs only)
- Use natural insect control methods:
- Use a flea comb regularly to catch fleas – and then drown them in water
- Wash pet bedding regularly
- Vacuum regularly
- Bathe your pet
NRDC Green Paws web site, “Your Pocket Guide to Safer Flea and Tick Treatments.”