Fleas carry pathogens and diseases that can be transmitted to your cat. By choosing the right flea treatment, you can spare your cat from the itching and irritation that comes with a flea infestation. You’ll also protect them from some of the more serious consequences of being a host to fleas.
Flea treatments can be dangerous if you choose the wrong one or use it improperly. In this guide, we’ll cover the different types of cat flea treatments, discovering which ones are safe and which are toxic to your cat. You’ll also learn how to choose the best option for your unique situation.
At a Glance: 11 Best Cat Flea Treatments To Buy
- Kills adult fleas, eggs, and larvae on contact
- Contains skin-soothing ingredients
- Insect growth regulator may kill fleas for up to 28 days
Top Picks Explained
The Flea Life Cycle
In order to effectively eradicate a flea infestation, you first need to know what you’re dealing with. Understanding the flea life cycle is central to your flea treatment plan.
Cats are usually affected by Ctenocephalides felis, also known as the cat flea. This species is a member of the Siphonaptera order of insects, a name meaning “wingless siphon.” The name is an accurate description of the flea – this parasitic blood-siphoning insect is a master jumper that doesn’t need wings to fly. Instead, they use their powerful back legs to jump up to 160 times their body length—the equivalent of a 6-foot-tall human leaping 960 feet.
Fleas thrive in warm, humid environments. In balmy regions, they may be active all year. In climates that experience cold winters and warm summers, fleas remain dormant until the weather warms.
Photo credit: TodaysHomeOwner.com
A few days after taking up residence on your cat’s skin, the adult females start releasing tiny white or cream-colored eggs. These eggs usually drop off your cat and will start hatching wherever they land. After hatching, the larvae mature into pupae and can remain in a cocoon for up to a year before re-emerging as bloodthirsty adults.
By the time you’ve gotten rid of the adult fleas on your cat’s skin, another generation of fleas is likely already growing in your home, ready to latch onto the host again. A single female flea can release 50 eggs every day! Immature fleas represent 95% of the flea population, while adult fleas, which are the easiest to see as they crawl about, represent a measly 5%.
If your cat picked up fleas outside of the home and you catch the infestation early, you may be able to remove or kill the adult fleas before they’ve laid any eggs. In most cases, however, the fleas on your cat’s body are a tiny fraction of the total infestation.
Treat Cat Fleas in 5 Steps
You’ll need to destroy the eggs, larvae, and pupae (life stage before adult) in order to prevent the next generation of fleas from making themselves at home on your cat’s body. You can work with your veterinarian to establish a treatment plan appropriate for your cat. The following is a general guide.
- Identify the infestation: Confirm a flea infestation by combing your cat with a fine-toothed flea comb. You may find live fleas, flea dirt (flea droppings), eggs, or any combination of the three. Flea dirt appears as tiny black or dark brown particles that turn red when you smear them on a white surface.
- Consider gently bathing your cat in non-toxic dish soap: Especially if your cat is a small kitten who’s sensitive to chemical insecticides, this is a gentle way to remove adult fleas and flea dirt from your cat’s body. If you know your cat will go ballistic in the bath, skip this step. There’s no need to make this experience traumatic.
- Treat your cat with an appropriate flea treatment: This is typically a topical spot-on or oral medication. Pay attention to whether the treatment kills adult fleas only or all life stages.
- Treat your home: Perform a thorough cleaning of your home, concentrating on carpeting and upholstered surfaces. Make sure to treat your home and surrounding areas to destroy eggs, larvae, and pupating fleas.
- Rinse and Repeat: Re-apply flea treatments as necessary.
Cat flea treatments take many forms, from topical spot-on and oral preventatives to medicated shampoos, sprays, and combs. The best cat flea treatment may vary depending on your cat’s age, the severity of the infestation, and other factors that impact safety.
Why Trust Cats.com
To understand exactly what it takes to get rid of your cat’s fleas, our research began with learning about the flea life cycle, studying how these parasites live, reproduce, and use their hosts. Armed with an understanding of how flea infestations work, we read dozens of expert guides to find the best techniques and products for getting rid of them.
We put hours into identifying which products are safe for cats, reading papers on the efficacy of various insecticides and learning about safety concerns. Based on this research, we selected a few products with strong safety records and a history of effectiveness.
Finally, we asked a veterinarian to review the entire article to make sure that all our guidance was accurate and responsible from a vet’s perspective.
The 11 Best Cat Flea Treatments
Our rankings are determined by a variety of factors. Each cat will have different needs and preferences, so while Revolution Plus Topical Solution is our top choice, it may not be ideal for your unique cat. To help you choose the right flea treatment for your cat, we’ve categorized our recommendations according to product type, life stage, and other key considerations.
7 Types of Insecticides Used in Cat Flea Treatments
Treating a flea infestation requires a multi-pronged approach. In addition to killing or removing fleas from your cat’s body with an insecticide-based product, you also need to eliminate them from your home. A long-lasting flea preventive will help protect your cat against future infestations.
Topical and oral flea treatments typically contain one of two types of insecticide: adulticides or insect growth regulators. Adulticides kill only adult fleas, which account for roughly 5% of the infesting flea population. Although adulticides are sometimes used on their own, particularly in oral medications, they’re often combined with insect growth regulators which slow the infestation by preventing the fleas from reproducing.
The most common insecticides used in flea treatments are:
- Pyrethrins: Derived from the Chrysanthemum cinerariaefolium plant and other pyrethrum-related plant species, pyrethrins are commonly used in flea powders and shampoos. Pyrethrins can be toxic to cats in large amounts or if used incorrectly.
- Nitenpyram: Commonly sold under the trade name Capstar, this adulticide has the ability to destroy a large flea population in under 30 minutes. Nitenpyram is generally considered safe for kittens at least 4 weeks of age and weighing at least 2 lbs.
- Imidacloprid: The active ingredient in Advantage and Advocate, imidacloprid is considered very safe and works quickly to destroy large adult flea populations. It’s recommended for cats and kittens 8 weeks and older.
- Fipronil: The active ingredient in Frontline products, this adulticide is often used in spot-on treatments. It’s considered quite safe and can wipe out a large flea population within 24 hours.
- Selamectin: This adulticide treats heartworms and hookworms in addition to fleas and ticks. It’s the active ingredient in spot-on Revolution products. Ingestion may cause vomiting and drooling, so it should be applied only in areas your cat can’t groom.
- Pyriproxyfen: This insect growth regulator mimics natural hormones and stops fleas from reaching adulthood, preventing reproduction.
- S-methoprene: Like pyriproxyfen, this chemical mimics natural hormones, preventing the fleas from ever growing up and making eggs of their own.
Remember that all chemical flea treatments are inherently toxic on some level – they’re poisons and formulated to kill. Most of these treatments are only deadly to insects and, when administered correctly, won’t harm your cat. For useful information on flea treatment safety, check out this tool provided by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
4 Toxic Insecticides to Avoid
Disturbingly, flea treatments have been connected to toxicity in cats thousands of times over the years. Some flea treatments have remained on the market while presenting a risk to both cats and humans. And even if you choose an insecticide with a great reputation, it’s hard to predict whether your cat will have a bad reaction.
The top four insecticides to avoid in cat flea treatments are:
Synthetic Pyrethrins or Pyrethroids
These synthetic insecticides are more powerful and longer-lasting than naturally occurring pyrethrin. They’re toxic to cats and are never a good flea treatment choice. Pyrethroid chemicals include allethrin, cypermethrin, deltamethrin, fenvalerate, fluvalinate, permethrin, phenothrin, tetramethrin, and etofenprox.
In most mammals, the liver quickly filters out this toxin. Cats, however, lack the glucuronidase enzyme that helps to detoxify permethrin. Any contact with permethrin could be toxic or even fatal for cats. While permethrin is rare in cat flea medication, it’s commonly used in dog flea treatments. Never use dog flea treatments on a cat.
Sometimes abbreviated to TCVP, this chemical is a neurotoxin that affects fleas. It’s particularly common in flea collars. TCVP is classified as a possible human carcinogen and could also be harmful to your cat.
This chemical is a neurotoxin that causes overexcitement of the flea’s nervous system, eventually causing death. Because of its potential for toxicity in both cats and humans, it’s not recommended for use as a flea treatment for cats.
Do Natural Flea Treatments and Home Remedies Work?
There are numerous natural treatments that can deter fleas, but very few can eliminate a flea infestation. David J. Shuman, DVM says, “I’ve tried—or have had clients try—eucalyptus oil, peppermint soap, garlic powders, B12, brewer’s yeast, essential oils, and a long list of other ingredients. This is a well-worn path that often leads to futility.”
While some veterinarians, like Melissa Shelton, DVM, believe essential oils like peppermint oil and clove oil are safe flea treatments for cats, the argument against them has more weight. Cats lack the liver enzyme needed to process these oils. Whether given orally, topically, or inhaled, concentrated essential oils can seriously harm your cat.
Diatomaceous earth, a natural powder made from the fossilized remains of ancient sea creatures, looks like shards of glass under a microscope. The particles lodge in the fleas’ bodies and shred or dehydrate them to death. Food-grade diatomaceous earth is a safe treatment for fleas in the environment, but shouldn’t be applied directly to your cat. It could dry out your cat’s skin or, because it’s primarily silica, harm their respiratory health.