Grey cat scratching

Cats need treating regularly for fleas.

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What is the best flea treatment for cats?

By Dr. Liz Barton MA, VetMB, MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

Your cat will surely get fleas at some point, but whether they get them again and again, and for how long, depends on how you treat the itchy insects.

The best flea treatment for cats depends on the level of infestation and symptoms that your cat is showing. The fastest way to get rid of live fleas on a cat is to give a Comfortis tablet. These are very effective at killing fleas quickly, but they do not have lasting action so your cat can get re-infested straight away. Spot-ons, such as Frontline and Advantage, kill fleas after they bite your cat and usually last a few weeks. Some cats do not tolerate spot-ons and so injections are a better option.

Cats who are very allergic to fleas and have sore skin, or where over-the-counter products do not seem to be effective, may need veterinary flea products containing more advanced types of drug.

What are the signs of fleas in cats?

If your cat has picked up the occasional flea, you may not notice anything. You may see a flea as you’re grooming them or more commonly you may see little specks of black in their coat, which are flea droppings. You can tell these apart from specks of mud or dirt by brushing them onto some paper and wetting them. Flea droppings will then dissolve and leave a red streak, as they consist of dried blood. If your cat has lots of fleas, or if they have an allergy to flea bites (flea allergic dermatitis or FAD), symptoms include scratching or rubbing, often around the head and tail region. With FAD there is often hair loss, scabs, red skin and pimples, and can result in secondary skin infection. Cats with FAD need veterinary treatment to reduce the itching, and prevent or treat secondary skin infection.

What should I do if my cat has fleas?

If you notice one or two fleas, you should treat your cat as soon as possible before the fleas lay eggs and multiply. The fastest way to get rid of fleas is to brush them out. This can help to reduce the number of fleas, but treatment is recommended as the one or two fleas you see can be the tip of the iceberg. You should treat all the animals in your household, as the fleas can move between them. You may also need to treat your home.

What flea treatment do vets use for cats?

Vets use more advanced classes of drugs to treat fleas. These are prescription-only medications, so can only be given to cats under veterinary supervision. These products tend to be more effective at killing fleas and may have longer duration. Vets can also prescribe tablets to kill fleas and give injections, which have long residual action. A vet will discuss the best course of treatment depending on whether or not your cat is allergic, the level of infestation in your home and other pets that you may have in your household.

Can cats still get fleas after being treated?

Cats can still get fleas after treatment, but depending on the type of treatment they may not be able to survive on your cat. Some treatments are designed to result in a rapid kill of all the live fleas on your cat, but have no lasting effect. Spot-on treatments usually last for several weeks, and if a flea bites your cat during this period it will be killed. Flea treatment injections can last six months, but do not kill the fleas. Instead, they sterilise the fleas so they are not able to lay any eggs. As such, your cat may have still one or two live fleas, but they will not multiply to cause an infestation.

Can I treat my cat for fleas twice?

Cats need treating regularly for fleas and the product you use will tell you how often to treat your cat (usually every 1 to 3 months). You can treat your cat for fleas with more than one product at the same time, but you must use a different type of flea treatment. Flea treatments can be toxic – they work by paralysing the flea and can cause neurological signs in cats. If you have used one type of flea treatment and it has not worked, contact a vet as they will be able to advise on a different, more effective treatment. Never use dog flea treatments on your cat, as these can kill your cat. 

Can I catch fleas from my cat?

Fleas can indeed jump from a cat to a human and then bite. Flea bites will cause small, red, itchy skin pimples, but nothing worse. Yet, cat fleas cannot survive on humans, so will die or jump off after biting.

Can fleas live in your bed?

Fleas cannot survive off their host animal, so they cannot survive in your bed, soft furnishings or on you. Having said that, they can lay eggs, which are sticky and can end up in your bed and on your clothes and soft furnishings. If you have a flea infestation, it is important to treat the house to kill eggs and larvae, as well as treating the live fleas on all the animals in your house.

Do fleas die in winter?

Unfortunately, thanks to centrally heated, warm homes, fleas can survive in winter. Their numbers increase in the warmer months as their life cycle speeds up and our pets are generally more active and so spread them more readily.

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