What is the best flea preventative for cats?

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What is the best flea preventative for cats? - a cat receiving a topical flea treatment

Fleas are a common, annoying problem for cat owners and their pets. These pests pose risks to cats and other pets in the home as well as humans. Flea prevention products are the only way to effectively offer cats protection from fleas. Read on for answers to questions such as:

  • Why is flea prevention important?
  • What types of prevention are available for cats?
  • How does flea prevention in cats work?
  • Can my cat have a negative reaction to prevention?
  • What is the best kind of prevention for my cat?

Prevention of fleas using veterinarian-approved products is a necessary part of cat ownership that keeps your pet happy and healthy. Fleas infest the entire living environment instead of just a single pet, so when the home becomes infested, other pets and even people in the home are at risk for potentially dangerous diseases spread by fleas. Fleas are also the trigger for flea allergy dermatitis, one of the most common skin conditions affecting cats. Some flea preventative medications also protect your pet against heartworm disease, tick infestations, and other external and internal parasites.

Why do cats need flea prevention?

Domestic cats in North America are primarily affected by the cat flea, or Ctenocephalides felis. Despite its name, the cat flea affects both dogs and cats and can be spread between the two pets. Fleas are the most common external parasites found on cats. The consequences of flea infestations can range from annoying itchiness to deadly infections and anemia. Fleas can cause conditions such as:

Flea allergy dermatitis is especially common and can lead to skin irritation and sores, along with itchiness and hair loss.

Many diseases spread by fleas can affect humans and other pets in the home. Once fleas reach a point in their life cycle where they are able to reproduce in a cat’s fur, an infestation can quickly get out of control and spread throughout the entire home. Treatment for fleas is complicated and often takes months, so preventative measures are the best way to control flea infestations in the home and on cats.

Does my indoor cat need flea prevention?

Fleas infest the environment, with only a small percentage of the population living on the host’s skin, so even indoor cats are at risk. The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) recommends that all cats should be on flea prevention year-round due to the health risks fleas impose. However, it’s best to discuss the matter with your veterinarian. Indoor cats who live with dogs or other animals that go outdoors can catch fleas when those pets pick up fleas and contaminate the house. Cats can also get exposed to fleas through screened porches or windows. “Don't be fooled if your cat never leaves the 25th floor of an apartment building,” cautions Dr. Jo Myers, a veterinarian at Vetster. “If there are other pets in your building or on your floor with fleas, your cat will probably end up with fleas too. It's really common for entire buildings to have a serious flea problem.” Talk to your veterinarian about your cat’s specific risks and needs.

What kind of flea prevention is available for cats?

Flea treatments for cats come in three forms: topical solutions, oral medications, and flea collars. Many of these preventatives also protect cats against heartworms, ticks, and other external and internal parasites. Flea prevention is available as prescription medication or over the counter. It is important to know: many flea medications available over the counter are dangerous to cats because they contain active ingredients classified as pyrethroids, such as permethrin or pyrethrin. Always use a vet-recommended flea product. A virtual vet appointment is a great way to find the right flea treatment for your cat and avoid adverse reactions.

Topical flea treatments

Topical treatments are typically given every one to three months depending on the medication. They come in single doses that are placed directly on the skin between the shoulder blades where cats cannot lick the medication off. Cats should not get wet or be bathed until the topical solution has had time to absorb through the skin, which is usually about 24 hours after application. Topical medications work by killing fleas and preventing them from reproducing. Many topical products labeled for use on cats are unsafe, so always check with a vet before applying anything to your cat’s skin.

Oral flea treatments

Oral flea medications are given (usually monthly) in a pill, chewable tablet, or treat. Oral flea treatments cause fleas to die quickly after biting a cat, preventing them from continuing to feed and lay flea eggs. When giving an oral treatment, ensure your cat does not spit out the pill, or the prevention will not be effective.

Flea collars

Flea collars can last one to eight months depending on the brand and type of collar. The collars work by emitting a pesticide to repel fleas from the cat. Flea collars must be worn tight enough for skin contact to work properly. However, flea collars may not be the best option as they can cause irritation if your cat has sensitive skin. Many cat flea collars available over-the-counter contain potentially dangerous pyrethroids, so talk to a veterinarian to make sure the flea collar you want to use is safe.

Can I protect my cat from fleas naturally?

There are no homeopathic or natural flea control products that offer protection against fleas, and some are unsafe. Veterinarian-recommended flea products are the only flea treatments that are thoroughly tested for safety and efficacy.

How does cat flea prevention work?

Cat flea treatments use insecticides to kill adult fleas and growth inhibitors to prevent larvae from maturing. Some preventative products circulate in the blood while others “cloak” the exterior fur of a cat. Many preventives use a combination of these ingredients to prevent the full flea life cycle.

Can my cat get sick from flea prevention products?

Many flea prevention products are unsafe for use on cats, even if they’re labeled for felines. Always give size and species-specific prevention approved by your veterinarian to greatly reduce the risk of adverse reactions and toxicosis. Some flea preventatives contain dangerous active ingredients that cannot be used on or around cats. For instance, many flea products that are safe for use on dogs are potentially lethal to cats due to pyrethroid active ingredients. Other adverse reactions to flea prevention in cats are rare but can happen. Veterinary-recommended flea products for cats are generally very safe when administered properly.

Flea collars and topicals can cause skin irritation, especially in cats with sensitive skin, and oral preventives can cause stomach upset in some cats. Neurological side effects, such as tremors, ataxia, and seizures, are common with many types of collars and topicals. Some oral preventives can also cause neurological adverse effects in cats with underlying neurological conditions, but this is rare. Overall, the health risks associated with flea prevention are low and outweighed by the health risks from fleas.

How do I know if my cat has fleas?

Adult fleas may be more difficult to find on cats than dogs due to their grooming habits. Instead, look for the presence of flea dirt, or flea feces, on the skin. To find flea dirt, use a comb or your finger to briskly rub against your cat’s skin. Flea dirt looks like black specks and will smear red or dark brown on a damp paper towel.

Cats that are not allergic to flea saliva often show no symptoms of an infestation other than the appearance of adult fleas or flea dirt. Common signs of cat flea allergies, or flea allergy dermatitis, include itching, hair loss, and skin irritation. Consuming fleas can lead to tapeworm infection, so flea treatment is typically recommended for cats with tapeworms and vice versa. Heavy infestations in small kittens can result in anemia from blood loss. Veterinarians diagnose a cat with fleas by observing the presence of fleas or flea dirt, regardless of other symptoms. However, not finding fleas does not rule out an infestation if symptoms of flea allergy dermatitis are present.

How are cat fleas treated?

To treat a flea infestation in your feline friend, the first step is to start using a veterinarian-approved flea control product. Flea preventive medications work quickly and fleas will jump off the body or die shortly after the medication is started. Medicated flea shampoo, flea sprays, or powders provide only minimal effect and are usually not the safest options for cats, so they should be avoided.

Along with the cat, all other animals in the home will also need flea treatment for at least three months if they are not already on prevention. Treating the home, especially carpeting and bedding where fleas like to hide and breed, may also be beneficial. The continued use of prevention is needed to avoid future infestations.

Which flea preventative is right for my cat?

As long as the prevention is veterinarian-recommended, the type of medication used to control fleas is up to the pet owners’ preference and the cat’s tolerance. Some cats are more tolerant of one kind of prevention over another. If your cat does not tolerate one type, work with a veterinarian to switch to one that works better for you and your cat. If you need help choosing the right flea prevention for your cat, you can chat with an online vet who can give you safe recommendations.

FAQ - What is the best flea prevention for cats?

What is the most effective flea treatment for cats?

The best way to choose an effective and safe form of flea treatment is to ask a veterinarian. The type of prevention, whether oral, topical, or collar, is up to the cat owner and what the cat tolerates. Continued use of flea prevention is needed to avoid future infestations.

Should indoor cats be on flea prevention?

It is recommended that all cats, regardless of whether they go outdoors, stay on flea prevention. Fleas present health risks to pets and people and can be carried indoors by other animals or crawl through screened windows or porches. Talk to a vet about flea prevention for your indoor cat.

How can I prevent my cat from getting fleas?

Consistent use of vet-recommended flea prevention that is given according to the label directions is the best way to prevent a cat from getting adult fleas. Always use a veterinarian-recommended flea product to ensure the product is safe for your cat. It is important not to share doses between animals and make sure you never dispense dog medication to cats.

Is there a flea vaccine for cats?

There is no vaccine that prevents fleas in dogs or cats. Oral, topical, or collar flea prevention is the best way to safely and effectively prevent flea infestations.