How to treat a cat for fleas

LAST UPDATED 26 August 2019

This article is written by our veterinarian, Dr Teagan Lever BVSc (Hons)

Cats tend to be quite thorough in grooming themselves, which may result in flea infestations going unnoticed and untreated. Fleas are not only irritating to your prized feline, they can also cause flea dermatitis resulting in hair loss, sores and crusty bumps.

While failing to keep your cat's flea treatment up to date is likely to result in an unhappy, itchy kitty, it can also result in an infestation breaking out in your home. If this has happened to your house, do not fret. You can be rid of the fleas yourself without the need for calling in the exterminators.

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Break the flea lifecycle

95% of the flea lifecycle actually occurs off your pet, which means that any adult fleas you are seeing are just the tip of the iceberg. Essentially what happens is, adult fleas live on the dog or cat, feeding on blood and laying eggs in the fur. These eggs drop off in areas where your pet sits or sleeps and hatch into a larval stage. The larval stage then burrows down and encases itself in a cocoon to become the pupal stage, which can lie dormant for up to 6 months! Once stimulated by vibrations and movement nearby, the baby flea hatches from the cocoon and jumps onto a nearby pet, completing the whole annoying cycle.

When a female flea lays up to 50 eggs a day, it means that one flea can become one million fleas in as little as 6 weeks! Feeling itchy yet?

Use a long acting flea preventative year round to break the flea lifecycle

There are loads of super effective flea treatments for cats which can be used to both treat pre existing flea infestations and prevent them from recurring. Depending on where you live and the other preventative products you use, you may want to go with a flea only product or a combined product which covers ticks or worms as well.

I've used a treatment and I'm still seeing fleas!

This is not an uncommon problem, but understandably it can be super frustrating to still see pesky fleas on your cat after you have given them a flea treatment. The most common reason for this is to do with that 95% of the flea lifecycle which are living in the environment your cat lives in. While adult fleas are being killed by the treatment, there are likely to be new juvenile adult fleas jumping on and hitching a ride all the time. Depending on the product you are using, it can take some time for these fleas to die.

Over time, as your cat acts as a flea killing machine killing all adult fleas in its path, the levels of flea larvae and pupae in the environment will drop off and there will be less reinfestation. So it pays to be persistent and keep up with those monthly doses! If your cat is particularly sensitive to the fleas or there is a heavy infestation in the environment, you can add Capstar, a short acting treatment which kills fleas super fast, when needed for quick relief.

Basically if you are still seeing fleas on your cat, they are most likely still picking up fleas from the environment. Although you've broken the lifecycle of the fleas with an effective treatment, treating the environment and treating all your other pets will help to speed up the flea eradication process.

Treat the environment around you

Flea eggs, larvae, pupae and adult fleas will drop off your pet into other areas of your home. Materials like bedding, toys and carpet are ideal living areas for the flea family. If your cat is suffering from fleas, about 95% of the total flea problem is likely to be in your house rather than on your cat.

Treating the environment, as well as your pet, will wipe out the infestation much quicker. Gather all of your pet's bedding and material toys and place them in your washing machine on a hot wash (60℃) with washing detergent. If you have a dryer, putting them on a hot drying cycle is also recommended. Carpets can also be vacuumed with a flea powder or steam cleaned.

Alternatively you can use flea bombs to kill the parasitic visitors in your home. Fidos flea bomb kills the fleas in your home and offers protection for the following nine months. When using any flea bomb or spray product always be cautious to follow the directions closely and remove your cat from the area being treated for at least the minimum recommended time. Many environmental flea treatments, including flea bombs, can be highly toxic to cats.

Treat all of your pets

If you own multiple pets, each pet should be given a flea treatment, preferably one with a monthly or longer protection.

Cheaper alternatives such as flea baths or temporary treatments may be enticing, however they may end up being more costly and ineffective in the long run. These types of treatments will generally only treat the adult fleas on your pet at the time of use, without any ongoing protection. This means that the larvae and pupae in the environment eventually cause another infestation when they develop into adult fleas.

Treating all year round is important, even in the colder months. While fleas are less active through winter, they can lay dormant. Lack of treatment over this time can result in more extreme infestations come summer.

Safety first

While treating your cat for fleas is important, there are some safety aspects you should keep in mind before you administer any medications:

  • Never use dog medications on your cat! Using dog specific medications on your cat can kill them or cause severe health concerns requiring hospitalisation
  • If you have both dogs and cats in your house, do not treat your dogs with Advantix. This product is toxic to cats and contact with the pesticides in Advantix may result in death
  • When applying a topical treatment to your cat, do not allow them or another cat to groom the area until the fur is completely dry
  • Weigh your cat so that you can choose the right sized dose

Top Flea Treatments for Cats

A quick recap

Keep your cat healthy and happy by keeping their flea treatments up to date all year around. Your family, and household, will benefit immensely from diligently treating against this common bloodsucking parasite, which has the potential to make everyone's life miserable.

Remember to always follow the label as directed when it comes to medication and flea bombs. For example, you must never use a dog flea medication on your cat unless it is approved by the manufacturer for use in both species.

For best results, treat the environment and any other pets you own. Using a flea treatment on your cat will eventually rid your house of fleas however depending on the severity of the infestation, this could take a couple of months.

Further Reading

Why is my cat itchy?

Your guide to flea, tick and worming treatments for cats

Tick paralysis in dogs and cats

Heartworm facts every pet owner should know

Adverse reactions to flea and worming products: The facts

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