Flea Control for Cats

It’s the middle of the summer and those pesky fleas are out in full force. Even indoor only cats get fleas. Fleas can hitchhike on humans and come in through screens or open windows. Fleas can only live off of the blood of your cat or dog, so if you are getting flea bites, you have a big infestation with desperately hungry fleas in your home.

Fortunately there have been great advances in products that effectively kill fleas and are safe for our furry feline friends. You no longer have to use collars, sprays, powders or dips to protect your cat from fleas. My opinion is that those products are obsolete and much more toxic to you and your cat than newer options. If you have an exterminator come into your home, always be sure they are using products that are safe around cats.

Cats are very sensitive to drugs and insecticides and younger kittens are even more sensitive, so it is crucial to read labels and never use products labeled for dogs on cats. Many dog products are potentially lethal to cats.

All natural flea repelling products have not proved to be very effective either. In fact some natural remedies are also toxic to cats. Please be wary and research any of these products if you choose to give them a try.

As a veterinarian, I feel comfortable recommending the products that have been researched and have either FDA or EPA approval for use on cats. The manufacturers have spent the time and money needed to be sure their products are safe for cats. The newer products for flea control are not cheap, but I think they are worth the money. Buying them from online or non-veterinary sources are not usually good deals, because veterinarians have promotions where they can add in free tubes. You also have the risk that you are not receiving original product, since some of the current products are being produced/copied illegally overseas.

One of my favorite flea control products is a flea comb. You can use one to monitor your cat for fleas. A wire toothed flea comb with a handle is the easiest type to use. Unless you comb your cat several times daily, or have an indoor cat that never gets fleas, a flea comb alone will not be adequate for complete flea control.

The monthly veterinary spot-on products that offer excellent flea control are Advantage®, Frontline®, Revolution®, ProMeris®, and Vectra®. These each contain a different chemical that will kill fleas within several hours, but none of these products repel fleas. A flea will physically have to jump on the cat to be killed. Some owners are disappointed to see fleas on a cat that has been treated with one of these products, but patience is needed since the flea kill is not immediate. These chemicals work by damaging the flea’s nervous system. Some of these products are similar to those used in agriculture to protect the fruits and vegetables that we eat.

An oral veterinary product called Capstar® will kill fleas in the shortest amount of time, but it only lasts for 24 hours. It is safe enough to give frequently and is sometimes used by owners whose cats have reactions to topical products. Some veterinarians are using another oral product called Comfortis® with cats, and this product keeps killing fleas for a month, but it is not currently licensed for use in cats so you must be willing to assume an off label risk.

Lastly there is a veterinary product called Program® that comes as tablets, oral gel, and injection. Program® does not kill adult fleas but it will sterilize any fleas that are exposed so they will not reproduce and keep up an infestation, and it will keep immature stages of fleas from developing into adults.

There are so many good, effective, and safe products available, that there is no excuse for your cat to have fleas. Fleas are a nuisance and are uncomfortable for your cat, and overwhelming infestations can cause life threatening anemia. Fleas also transmit other diseases and tapeworms to cats. Discuss a flea control plan with your veterinarian and keep your cat healthy.

Written by Dr. Wexler-Mitchell of The Cat Care Clinic in Orange, CA
Copyright © 2011 The Cat Care Clinic