What is the best flea and tick treatment for cats? [2020]

LAST UPDATED 2 FEBRUARY 2020

This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Carla Paszkowski

Every year, more and more parasite preventative products for cats are released onto the Australian market. With this increasing number of products, it can be incredibly confusing.

Which products treat which parasites? What flea treatment is actually the most effective, and most importantly - which is the safest?

The truth is, the best flea treatment for cats depends on a number of important factors, and what works for one cat might not be best for another. However, there are certainly some top contenders when it comes to effectiveness, ease of administration, and safety. We've broken it down for you into 4 different points, so you can make the right decision for your cat!

Revolution Plus

A monthly topical which protects against fleas, ticks, intestinal worms and heartworm.

Bravecto

A reliable ectoparasite treatment which protects against fleas and ticks. It is available as a topical spot-on which lasts for 3 months.

Advocate

A convenient monthly topical spot on which protects against fleas, mites, intestinal worms, and heartworm.

Comfortis

Monthly protection for your cat against fleas. A reliable flea killer often recommended for cats currently suffering from fleas.

1. To treat for fleas and ticks, or just fleas?

The first thing to consider is what parasites actually pose a risk to your cat. This depends on whether your cat goes outdoors, and also on your geographical location.

Cats who venture outside may be at a risk of exposure to deadly paralysis ticks, so should receive tick prevention.

Cats who are indoors only most likely will not need tick prevention, but it's still recommended to treat for fleas as they can find their way indoors on you or other animals in the house.

Plus, geographical location matters. Different parts of the Australia are affected by different parasites. While fleas are generally considered to be Australia-wide, paralysis ticks tend to have geographical hot spots, particularly along the Eastern Coast of Australia. While heat maps are helpful, we recommend checking with your local vet clinic. As the first responders during tick season, they will know whether ticks are a problem in your area.

Infographic of tick distribution in Australia. Note: this is a guide only, and can change year on year. Always check with a vet in your local area to clarify your current tick risk.

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2. Topical or oral?

Definitions:

"Topical" refers to 'spot on' treatments - or anything that is applied externally on your cat.

"Oral" refers to chewables or tablets, which are given internally via your cat's mouth.


So which is better, topical or oral treatments?

Thankfully, when used properly, there's no major difference in efficacy between oral or topical products. However, your cat's preference can significantly affect which product is best for you. If you have fussy or grumpy cat who is difficult to tablet, then topical might be the way to go. Likewise, some cats simply detest having a topical liquid applied to their fur, perhaps due to the chemical smell, and may actually prefer to be tableted. True to the individuality of the feline personality, it's usually easiest to find out what your cat's personal preference is (or, rather, which one they 'hate less').

External flea treatments are very popular and there are many options to choose from. External options may come in the form of a collar (such as Seresto), or a pipetted topical liquid (such as Bravecto).

How do topical liquids work? When applied to the skin on the back of the neck, liquid treatments either form crystal matrixes along the coat, disperse through the top lipid layer, or may be absorbed into the bloodstream for full body cover.

Frontline spray is an exception to this; it comes in a pump bottle and is applied by spraying over most areas of your cat's coat. Find out more about how to apply Frontline Spray.

Topical liquid flea treatments for cats include Advantage, Advocate, Bravecto, Revolution, and Revolution Plus.

Oral flea treatments are less common for cats, but can be very convenient if you have small children in the house and worry about them touching your cat's coat after dosing with a topical. Additionally, unlike topical treatments, the efficacy of a tablet will not be affected if your cat becomes wet. Oral flea treatments for cats include Comfortis (a month-long preventative) and Capstar (a 24 hour flea killer intended for one-off use).

To summarise, here are the pro's and cons of each:

Type Pros Cons
TOPICAL flea prevention
  • Easier to apply in cats who are difficult to tablet, or who are expert 'crushed tablet in food' detectors.
  • Some brands do not enter the bloodstream
  • Some treatments leave a chemical smell on your pet's fur
  • Can be difficult to apply in some cats who are adverse to the chemical smell
  • Not ideal if you have small children who may touch your cat and then touch their mouth after dosing
  • Open to human error - the full tube must be applied in contact with the skin (not on top of the outer fur layer)
ORAL flea prevention
  • Easier to give in cats who don't notice crushed tablets in their food, or in cats who are vehemently opposed to having a chemical liquid applied to their fur.
  • Doesn't matter if your cat gets wet after administration (won't wash off)
  • No external residue, therefore safer if you have small children that may touch your cat after dosing
  • Some cats may vomit medication back up
  • Harder to give in cats who won't take tablets or who detect crushed pills in food

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3. Frequency - monthly vs 3 monthly

There are now flea and tick prevention products to suit a whole range of schedules:

Every 8 months: Seresto is a collar that provides flea protection for an incredible 8 months. (And keep an eye out - this product may soon have registration for ticks too!).

Every 3 months: Bravecto is a spot-on topical liquid which provides flea and tick prevention for 3 months. This is extremely convenient if you are also giving a 3-monthly wormer. It is generally considered the top recommendation for cats in high-risk paralysis tick areas.

Every month: For almost every other product, monthly administration is required. Comfortis, Advantage and Revolution Plus are examples of monthly flea treatments.

Every 3 weeks: older product Frontline Spray requires administration every 3 weeks in order to provide protection against ticks. Most cat owners generally find this a little irregular and difficult to remember compared to monthly administration, and with newer, more convenient products on the market, Frontline Spray is not used as commonly as it once was.

See the table at the bottom of this article to find out how long each product lasts for.

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4. Should you combine with worming in an 'all-in-one' product?

Which is best - a 'flea only' product, or a 'combination product' which takes care of worming too? Ultimately, either option is sufficient, and the choice depends on your personal scheduling preference.

Giving a flea and tick treatment separate to worming can have its benefits - for example, some people might only wish to give flea treatment in the warmer times of the year but continue worming all year round. But if you require flea treatment all year round, combining everything into one treatment is very convenient indeed.

Which treatments cover everything in an 'all-in-one'?

Now, we should just make something clear - there is no true 'all-in-one' product in existence. (Yet!). The term 'all in one' gets thrown around by manufacturers a lot, but alas no - there is currently no product that protects against absolutely every significant Australian parasite.

However, this is one product which comes close. In mid-2019, Revolution Plus was released. This 'revolutionary' new product (sorry, we couldn't resist!) offers coverage against fleas, intestinal worms, mites, heartworm, and ticks. This sets it apart from other products, such as Revolution and Advocate, which do not offer tick prevention. The only parasite it doesn't cover is tapeworm.

Keep an eye out for Bravecto Plus - this product, soon to be released, will provide similar coverage as Revolution Plus (fleas, ticks, worms, and heartworm).

If we take ticks out of the equation, there are plenty of combination products availalbe. Cat products which protect against fleas, intestinal worms, and heartworm, but which do not provide tick prevention, include Advocate and Revolution. Either of these may be perfect for cats in areas that are unaffected by paralysis ticks, like Perth or Adelaide.

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How to Choose A Parasite Prevention That Suits Your Cat

The easiest way to know which parasite prevention you need is by asking yourself a few questions.

1. Is your cat indoors-only, or do they go outside?

If your cat doesn't go outside, ticks are unlikely to be an issue for them. We still recommend treating against fleas, worms, and heartworm however, as these critters can find their way indoors via various routes. Something like Advocate or Revolution might be perfect for you.

Obviously, if your cat does go outside, you will need to consider giving tick prevention. But this brings us to our next question...

2. Are you in a high-risk tick area?

To determine whether your area is affected by ticks, you can consult relevant heat map images, but the best way to know for sure is to phone your local vet clinic. They will know first-hand whether tick cases are seen in your region.

If you are in a high risk tick area, obviously you will need to keep your cat protected with an effective tick treatment. For complete protection, you may either combine Bravecto with a reliable wormer like Milbemax, or you can go for a combination product such as Revolution Plus.

If you're not in a tick area, it's still perfectly safe to use a product that prevents ticks (such as Revolution Plus or Bravecto). However you may wish to opt for a product without tick prevention, such as Revolution, Comfortis, or Advocate, depending on whether your cat is currently battling a flea burden. This brings us to our final question...

3. Does your cat currently have fleas?

If your cat is currently struggling with a flea burden, we recommend a product that kills fleas quickly, rather than a product that interrupts the flea breeding cycle. Our top recommendations for strong flea killers include Bravecto, Revolution Plus, and Comfortis. Please also note that in order to effectively eradicate fleas, you may need to do a full flea clean of your house and bedding to eliminate pesky eggs in the environment.

Want a clear-cut recommendation? See our flowchart below. Please note that each recommendation is just one option of many. For more options, please feel free to Ask a Pet Circle Vet.

Still confused? See our Flea and Tick Quiz which interactively takes you through relevant steps and picks a combination for you!


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Top Recommendations from our Vet Team

After an educated review of flea and tick products? We asked our in-house vets what they personally recommend...

Dr Teagan

"I use and recommend Revolution for cats as it includes protection against heartworm and intestinal worms in addition to fleas. For cats in tick paralysis areas I find the safest tick preventative is to keep them indoors! If they must go outside then I recommend using Revolution Plus."

Dr Carla

"My recommendation depends on the cat's exposure to ticks, and how easily they can be medicated. For example, my cat Smudge is indoors-only, and she is actually much easier to tablet than apply a topical to (I think she can't stand the smell of the chemicals on her). So for her, I use Comfortis flea tablets monthly and Drontal wormers every three months."

Dr Elise

"For indoor cats I still recommend Advocate, however if they head outside when ticks are around I recommend adding in Frontline spray every 3 weeks."

Dr Antonella

"For cats, I recommend a combination topical treatment such as Advocate combined with either a Seresto collar or Bravecto Spot On for tick prevention. Of course, this depends on how frequently the cat ventures outside, and whether the cat lives in a tick area or not."

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Which flea product is the best value?

Here we have it - the million dollar question. Which is the cheapest flea treatment? As you may have realised, it's difficult to directly compare the cost and value of different flea and tick treatments, as they differ in how frequently they need to be given, and what they cover for. So we've taken the hard work out for you and done a bit of a comparison table based on their value per month.

For the purpose of this comparison, we've given the cost for a 4kg cat, at a dose recommended for monthly flea prevention.

Note - for a comparison of parasite coverage for every parasite preventative product on the market, see table at the end of this article.

Product Name Coverage Frequency Pack Size Cost Per Pack Cost Per Month

Activyl

Fleas Every month 6 pipettes $61.95 $10.32

Advantage

Fleas Every month 6 pipettes $59.35 $9.89

Advocate

Fleas, mites, intestinal worms, heartworm Every month 6 pipettes $72.95 $12.16

Bravecto

Ticks, fleas, mites Every 3 months 4 pipettes $115 $9.50

Capstar*

Fleas 24 hours 6 tablets $22.83 $114.15

Comfortis

Fleas Every month 6 tablets $78.84 $13.10

Frontline Spray

Fleas, ticks Every 3 weeks 1 bottle (approx. 10-20 doses per 500ml bottle) $104.08 $6.00-11.00

Revolution

Fleas, mites, intestinal worms, heartworm Every month 6 pipettes $62.99 $10.50

Revolution

Ticks, fleas, mites, intestinal worms, and heartworm Every month 6 pipettes $78.50 $13.05

Seresto

Every 8 months Fleas 1 collar

$43.30

$5.41

*Capstar is intended as a once-off 24-hour flea killer, rather than a daily treatment.

Note: The prices above were accurate at time of publication. Prices may fluctuate; please consult links above to see current prices of any specific products.

See a complete breakdown of all available flea and tick products below. This table provides an unbiased comparison of feline parasite prevention products, what parasites they each cover, and for how long.

Further Reading

How to get rid of fleas on your cat once and for all

Know Your Parasites: Fleas, Ticks, and Worms

Complete Guide to Cat Flea and Worming Treatments

What is feline acne?

Yeast infections in pets