How to get rid of fleas on cats
|Siamese cat who was given spot treatment|
behind the head (see spiky fur)
Photo by terriem (Flickr)
I explain how to get rid of fleas on cats. The cat flea is probably the most common cat health problem that we have to deal with. It is certainly the most common parasite on the cat's skin. An understanding of the life cycle of the cat flea helps us get rid of them. If you open the link a new page will open too so you can read it while you read this page. As you can see from the life cycle a holistic approach has to be taken to defeat the horrible cat flea. By holistic I mean that the flea needs to be killed both on the cat and on the ground in the areas inhabited by the cat. There is no point just killing fleas that are currently on the cat and ignoring the larvae and fleas that are off the cat and which will jump on him or her. At any one time, one percent of fleas are adults while the remaining 99 percent are at the larval and pupal stages. The fleas on the cat are the tip of the iceberg. This page: The Cat Flea: biology, ecology and control, provides detailed information about the cat flea.
A byproduct of getting rid of fleas on cats is that you will also cut the life cycle of the tapeworm as fleas are an intermediate host of the tapeworm.
Some cats are allergic to flea saliva, which can cause inflammation and intense itching. See feline allergies for a full list and description. Read about a visitor's cat, a Ragdoll, who is allergic to fleas.
You can tell when you cat has fleas. He or she will probably be scratching around the neck area. This area of the cat's body and the rear at the base of the tail are in my experience the two prime areas to focus on.
To confirm that there are fleas on your cat you have to have a 32 prongs to the inch flea comb. Please don't use a human nit comb as these have less prongs to the inch an are ineffective for fleas. This is an essential piece of kit and it should be used regularly. I would say daily but it depends on the circumstances. If you are getting rid of fleas on a cat the flea comb should be used at least once daily and more often if needs be.
For a normal level or mild infestation of fleas the flea comb combined with an environmental clean up will probably control the flea problem. I always start by combing around the head, neck and shoulders and then the area at the base of the tail where it joins the spine. You will find that live, mobile fleas are up front and black specks, which are flea feces and salt-like material (flea eggs) are at the rear.
Fleas are very athletic and extremely robust. When you have combed out a flea or two they will be on the comb. They will be moving and they will not stay on the comb for more than a few seconds. You have to move fast to kill them before they jump off the comb back onto the cat. Sometimes they will jump onto the surrounding area. Cat fleas can bite humans incidentally.
There are various ways to kill the live, jumping, dastardly robust flea. I crush them on the comb with my thumb nail against the ridge where the prongs are attached to the base. They go pop when the exoskeleton is crushed (see photo). You know then that it is killed. But watch them afterward to check. They are great survivors. Some people dip the comb in water or alcohol. I prefer my way because it is very satisfying and very positive. Whatever you do, do it fast!
Flea combing is a mechanical method of getting rid of fleas on cats. There are countless numbers of chemical methods (see Cat Flea Treatments for a full discussion). For a medium to bad or persistent flea infestation I use Frontline spot treatment (there are others) in conjunction with flea combing. Flea combing not only allows you to find and kill cat fleas it also allows you to check whether there are fleas and cats will nearly always like it especially if done regularly. Which leads nicely to the fact that if we flea comb regularly, the fur will be thoroughly untangled and in fine condition allowing the comb to pass through the fur easily. Flea combing gives the fur a nice glossy appearance.
If flea combing pulls on the fur our cat won't like it. We need our cat to like being combed as it makes the whole process of getting rid of fleas on cats much easier and even a pleasant experience for our cat. I can comb the entire body of my cat who has a dense double coat if I flea comb regularly.
Chemical treatments can be effective but as far as I am concerned they are a last resort as they are insecticides and they can have cat health consequences. Treating cats with dog flea control products and over-treating kittens can seriously hurt or kill the cat. Please read the instructions and follow them to the letter. Click on the following link for a post by a visitor; an example of how cat caretakers can hurt their cats while trying to help them: Are my cats suffering? How may I stop it?
Chemical treatments include: shampoos, powders and dusts, sprays and foams and insecticide dips. I used a foam once and my cat licked it off and started foaming at the mouth. I had to take her to the vet. I have never used these sorts of chemicals again. These products can cause toxic reactions in cats. Dips are the most effective and have the longest residual action but please take care, don't use them on kittens under four months of age and dilute the product per the instructions. These are toxic products.
Two other products can be used to kill fleas on cats (a) cat flea pill (use with caution) and (b) a cat flea collar. These have chemical treatments inside them providing protection for a good time. Collars are potentially dangerous to the cat - chocking is one hazard. Cat collars can kill. And please don't use collars that use amitraz, permethrin or organophosphates for cats. Extreme care needs to be taken when using insecticides on cats.
|Flea Bathed Kitten - bedraggled but flea free - Photo by psiconauta|
I will assume that the cat has been properly and consistently treated. The environment needs to treated as well, as mentioned. There are three types of environment (a) the ordinary home where there might be a mild infestation (b) the home that is a complete mess where there will be a severe infestation and (c) the multi-cat breeder type environment. The breeder will know how to control fleas so I am just going to refer to the typical home. In multi-cat and multi-animal households or facilities all the animals (ferrets, rabbits and dogs) must be treated.
One obvious aspect of environmental flea control is whether your cat goes outside. Mine do go outside and there are foxes in this part of London. You can see how fleas can be picked up outside: flea larvae drops of fox, cat lies in grass, adult flea jumps on cat. You can't rid the garden of fleas so that is a source of re-infestation.
Keeping the home thoroughly clean and regularly hoovered will, I believe, control fleas on cats sufficiently even if they do go outside. Carpets should be cleaned professionally on a regular basis but not to the point where the cost becomes prohibitive. Cat bedding should be cleaned routinely.
One non-chemical environment flea killer is food grade diatomaceous earth. It is actually used to kill parasites inside cattle. It can be added to livestock food. But it can also be sprinkled on the ground where your cat sleeps or the area where he or she frequents. It works by cutting the flea's exoskeleton, which is the hard body of the flea. Fleas don't have internal skeletons like us.
This post is based on my personal experience. A very good resource to learn about how to get rid of fleas on cats is the Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook which at about £20+ is no more than the cost of some flea treatments.
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