I have rescued and fostered many pets over the years. Keeping my pets healthy and happy is my number one priority.
Throughout the spring and into the summer is known as kitten season to many animal rescues and city shelters. As the weather starts heating up, the number of abandoned or stray litters increases as well. Many shelters seek help from volunteers and foster families to help take care of the kittens until they reach an age and weight where they can be spayed and neutered, given vaccinations, and then put up for adoption.
These young kittens can be a lot of fun to foster as they grow and learn, and it is a very rewarding experience. However, with this fostering can come some issues—including fleas. Kittens under two pounds are usually not given flea prevention as it can be too hard on their system. But they very often still come in with fleas, especially if they are strays or were found outside.
But since nursing mamas and kittens should not be treated with flea prevention, are there other ways to combat fleas and keep them all healthy and happy? Luckily, the answer is yes, and it is relatively easy to do and economical.
How to Get Rid of Fleas on Kittens
As always, you should talk with your vet if the kitten is yours or talk to your rescue organization or shelter if you are fostering a very young kitten. Different rescue groups may have different rules for fostering.
Generally kittens under two pounds and nursing mamas should not be given flea prevention (such Revolution or Advantage).
Instead a simple bath, some vacuuming, changing and washing bedding and, for good measure, flea combing can help to get rid of those pesky pests.
Step-by-Step Guide to Dealing With Kitten Fleas
|Order of Steps||Equipment Needed||What to Do||Hints|
Original Dawn dish washing soap (blue*)
Using a sink or small tub with warm water, gently wash the kitten. You will notice fleas coming off and dead ones in the water.
You may want to use some garden gloves as the kitten will try to fight their way out of the water. Also, keeping a cup nearby to pour fresh water on them for rinsing may help. Be careful not get soap in their eyes and carefully rinse around ears and mouth so that water doesn't get into them.
Two dry towels
Gently wrap the wet kitten in the dry towel. Save the other towel for bedding.
The kitten will enjoy feeling the towel and the warmth. Have someone else hold them while you prepare their bedding.
Turn the heating pad onto the lowest setting. Wrap the towel around it so that one layer is surrounding the heating pad.
It is important that the heating pad supplies warmth but isn't too hot, especially if the kitten is orphaned or does not have litter mates to snuggle with.
Basket or pet crate
Place the towel-wrapped heating pad in a basket or carrying crate and set the kitten on it. He or she will likely be tired from this experience and ready for a nap.
Kittens may feel safer if they have somewhere that they can "hide" or somewhere they can snuggle as they recover from the ordeal of their bath.
Repeat these steps daily until no fleas are found.
Be sure to change bedding daily and vaccum or wipe down surfaces to discourage fleas and remove flea eggs.
Video Tutorial on Washing a Kitten
Why Does It Have to Be Dawn Dish Detergent?
While there is some debate online about whether it has to be Dawn or if some other detergent will work, anecdotal evidence from those that work closely in animal rescue indicate good results with Dawn. Dawn is also the detergent that is used when wildlife gets caught up in oil spills and needs to be washed before being rehabilitated or re-released in the wild. It is gentle and safe to use on very young kittens.
From my own experience, my own foster kitten showed great results with Dawn. On the first day, she had upwards of ten fleas come off of her during the bathing process. The next day, I bathed her again and there were five. The next day, there were two. I bathed her two more days and found no fleas. I continued to change her bedding every day.
I also used a flea comb to help get rid of any fleas that made their way back onto her after bathing.
Flea Combs Can Also Help Speed Up the Process
If you don't have too many kittens at once or have time, a flea comb can really help to discourage and get rid of the fleas.
I would flea comb my foster kitten after her bath, before placing her on the heating pad wrapped in the towel. I would also try to flea comb her once she had dried. When I did this, I had a small bowl of water with a drop of Dawn in it. I would use that to place any fleas I found in the soapy water (so they couldn't escape) and clean the comb. Flea eggs will cling to the flea comb as well, which is a plus.
You can simply use the comb as you would any pet brush. I had especially good luck brushing her tail as it seems that some fleas had taken refuge there. As soon as they came up on the comb, I dipped it into the soapy water.
Note: Be sure that water with fleas is washed down the drain thoroughly. This way, if the fleas do revive, they will be long gone in the sewer line or septic tank.
This Method Is Also Great for Older Animals With Allergies
There are so many great flea preventatives on the market. No animal in modern times needs to have fleas. However, some animals end up developing allergies or intolerances to many of the flea preventatives. These intolerances can be to both the topical and oral flea medication.
If your animal is very sensitive, washing them in Dawn and using a flea comb may be a viable alternative. While it may not have as good of an outcome, long term, as something stronger, it will still cut down on your pet's suffering and help you manage the fleas.
Don't Let Fleas Get the Best of Your Kitten
Fostering and taking care of very young kittens can be fun and rewarding. Many animal lovers who do help foster kittens also have pets of their own, so they are not likely to want to start a flea infestation in their home just for doing a good deed. It's always a good idea to make sure any current pets are on monthly flea prevention.
With a few days of work and diligence, your young kittens will feel better and will be flea-free.
© 2016 L C David
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 29, 2016:
This is great information, LCD. If you can start bathing kittens when they're young, they'll be easier to bathe when they're older. I think my three would have a feline revolt if I tried to bathe them now. I did have a cat once upon a time ago who loved baths.
Karen Hellier from Georgia on June 04, 2016:
Thanks for this great information. Boy that Dawn really is a great thing for dishes and animals!
How to Spot Fleas on Cats
Telltale signs that your cat has fleas are “scratching and itching, redness to the skin, or small red bumps or a rash,” says Melanie Thomas, DVM, a primary care veterinarian at Coral Springs Animal Hospital in Coral Springs, Florida.
Another thing to look out for is flea dirt, which can look like tiny, black specks in a cat’s fur.
“Adult fleas feed immediately on their host and create the ‘flea dirt’ found in the hair coat,” Dr. Mitchell says.
In her practice, Dr. Mitchell finds that cats are such good groomers that they eat most of the fleas, so they often can be hard to spot. But there’s one more way to confirm fleas on a cat.
“One of the most common signs is that we see white, wriggling tapeworms on the cat or in the litter box,” Dr. Mitchell says. “Tapeworms [can be] spread by fleas.”
Does my cat have fleas?
When grooming, cats often ingest (eat) any fleas that they discover, which can make it difficult to find adult fleas in the hair coat. An itchy cat, or insect bites on human ankles, may be the only sign of an infestation.
The best way to demonstrate the presence of fleas is often to comb the cat meticulously with a fine-toothed ‘flea comb’. If you do this over a clean white surface such as a large piece of white paper, any fleas or ‘flea dirt’ (flea excrement consisting of digested blood) will be deposited onto the surface. If there is any debris (for example small black specs), place this on some damp cotton wool – if these are flea dirt, they will slowly dissolve leaving red-brown blood marks. This demonstrates the presence of fleas even if adults cannot be found.
Flea Pills and Oral Flea Control for Dogs and Cats
Many people use flea pills as an alternative to other flea prevention products, like flea drops or flea collars. As with most other products used for flea control, there are several types of pills that have different purposes. Some flea pills only kill the adult fleas and some hits the fleas on every stage in their life cycle. There are also different types of flea pills for dogs and cats that are given either monthly or daily. Most of the pills for dogs are dangerous for cats, so be sure you get the correct product for your pet.
How to Check Cats for Fleas
Last Updated: November 26, 2020 References Approved
This article was co-authored by Pippa Elliott, MRCVS. Dr. Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS is a veterinarian with over 30 years of experience in veterinary surgery and companion animal practice. She graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1987 with a degree in veterinary medicine and surgery. She has worked at the same animal clinic in her hometown for over 20 years.
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Before you go on a flea hunt, think about why you suspect your cat might have fleas. If you've seen fleas on your cat or in your house, you know for sure you are dealing with fleas and should use a veterinary flea treatment labeled for cats. But, you may have a flea problem even if you've never seen a flea on your pet or in your home. Your cat may have cleaned the adult fleas from her fur. Flea eggs may have fallen off your pet and could hatch a few weeks later. Either way, it's important to know for certain if your cat has fleas.