Searching for the best cat flea and tick control can be overwhelming. There are SO many options out there, and it can be difficult to know which to choose. Not only are there different forms of preventatives, they each work for different things. Some work on fleas and ticks, while others only work against fleas. You may be tempted to just forget about it all and hope for the best, but this isn’t an aspect of cat care to overlook.
Both fleas and ticks are not only a nuisance, but they can also transmit diseases and cause other health issues for your cat. Even if your cat doesn’t go outdoors, fleas and ticks can hitch a ride indoors on humans or dogs that come into your home. Protect your cat and find a flea and tick control option that works for you.
Don’t worry, we are here to help with the process!
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Options for Cat Fleas & Cat Ticks
Though small in size, cat fleas can cause big and expensive problems for both you and your cat. If your cat gets fleas, they can develop flea allergy dermatitis, anemia, tapeworms, and other diseases. Getting rid of a flea infestation once it has started is difficult as well and can be quite costly.
As far as cat ticks go, they can transmit unwanted and serious diseases as well. Their bite wounds can also become infected. The best course of action is to prevent a flea and tick problem before it even begins.
Whether your cat has fleas or ticks, or you are looking to prevent them, there are several options, both prescription and over-the-counter. Whichever option you choose, be sure to discuss it with your veterinarian first. They can provide some guidance on which direction to go and recommend specific products.
WARNING: No matter which type of cat flea and tick control you decide on, always read the label and directions thoroughly, research the ingredients, and talk with your veterinarian! Most medications are not safe for kittens, cats under a certain weight, or pregnant cats.
Also, NEVER use a flea or tick treatment that is meant for dogs, as most dog products are toxic to cats. And never use topical preventatives, oral preventatives, and flea and tick collars at the same time.
Topical Medications (aka “Spot-On” Medications)
There are both prescription and over-the-counter topical flea and tick medications available for cats. These are usually administered on a monthly basis and are applied between your cat’s shoulder blades to prevent them from being able to lick it off. Topical flea medications are a great option for those who have a hard time pilling their cat.
When choosing a topical preventative, it’s important to research them so you choose the one that best suits your needs. There are many out there, and they each tend to work differently and do different things. For example, some topical treatments not only kill fleas but also repel them. Some only kill adult fleas, while some will kill adults, eggs, and larvae. Some only prevent and kill fleas, while others will work against fleas, ticks, heartworms, and other parasites as well.
There are a few different active ingredients used in topical medications for cats. They can be found as the only active ingredient or used in combination with one another:
- Fipronil – attacks the nervous system of adult fleas and ticks, ultimately killing them
- Imidacloprid – kills both the adult and larval stages of fleas
- S-methoprene – an insect growth regulator that prevents flea larvae from growing into breeding adults
While effective, topical medications do occasionally come with some unwanted side effects. They can in rare instances cause a skin reaction or hair loss at the site of application. If not applied in the proper spot, your cat may also be able to lick it off, which might upset their stomach while also negating the effectiveness.
Just as with the topical medications, there are both prescription and over-the-counter oral flea and tick preventatives. They come in either a chewable or pill form and can last just a few days or even up to a month.
Just as with the topical medications, read the label to confirm what the specific product does. Some only work to prevent fleas, while some will additionally protect against ticks, heartworms, and other parasites.
Oral treatments tend to be slightly more effective than topicals, however, if your cat is difficult to pill, they might not be the easiest option. They can occasionally cause stomach upset as well.
Flea and Tick Collars
Cat flea collars are worn around your cat’s neck and work by releasing the active ingredient over your cat’s fur and body. Some will work against both fleas and ticks as well. They continue working until they dry out, which can be as long as 7-8 months for some products.
Long-lasting and effective, flea and tick collars do come with their own set of potential issues. For one, the collars contain strong chemicals, so you want to avoid touching them as much as possible. This can be difficult for children, who may be tempted to play with your cat’s collar. Some cats can have an adverse reaction to collars as well, experiencing hair loss and/or rashes around their neck.
If your cat is prone to chewing on their collar, you probably want to avoid using flea and tick collars, as they can be toxic if ingested. They can also be risky because not all of them have a quick-release or breakaway feature – meaning, if your cat’s collar gets caught on something, the collar won’t unlatch. This can lead to injury if your cat gets hung up on something.
An ultrasonic flea and tick repeller is a chemical-free and long-lasting preventative option for cats. It is usually attached to your cat’s regular collar and works by emitting a series of ultrasonic pulses that are imperceptible to humans and pets but interfere with the ability of ticks and fleas to orient themselves, keeping them away from your cat. They come with a rechargeable battery, which means they can last for quite a long time – until the battery finally won’t hold a charge anymore.
If your cat already has fleas or ticks, bathing them in a flea and tick shampoo or soap will help to kill them off. However, shampoos do not have any lasting effect and should not be used as a preventative. After bathing your cat, you’ll want to also be sure to use one of the cat flea and tick control options mentioned above.
Be sure to always check the shampoo labels to make sure the product is safe for cats. Some, particularly those designed for dogs, contain toxic chemicals.
Powder products can be effective at preventing and killing fleas. Some can be sprinkled directly into your cat’s fur, while others should only be used on furniture and carpets. A few are effective at killing adults, eggs, and larvae, as well as ticks and other insects.
The only possible downside to powder preventatives is that some can cause respiratory issues if inhaled or are unsafe if ingested. It’s especially important to read the label and directions on these products so you don’t accidentally sprinkle a product into your cat’s fur that might make them ill.
A flea comb is a small, metal, fine-toothed comb. When brushed through cat fur, it will pick up fleas and remove them. While a comb won’t directly kill the fleas, you can use it to check your cat for any signs of a flea problem. Think of it as a detection system.
Flea and Tick Preventatives for Your Home and Yard
Cat flea and tick control products are not just for your cat! There are things you can do to help prevent fleas and ticks in your home and yard, which will then minimize the chances of your cat picking them up.
- Keep your grass mowed and shrubs trimmed back
- Don’t leave food bowls outside that might attract flea and tick-carrying wildlife
- Spray your home and yard with a pet-safe insecticide
- Regularly vacuum your home
- Regularly wash your cat’s bedding in hot water
- Sprinkle food-grade diatomaceous earth along the entryways to your home
Cat Flea & Tick Symptoms
If you’re wondering if your cat might have fleas, there are some tell-tale signs you can look out for:
- Frequent scratching or biting
- Excessive grooming and hair loss
- Scab-like bumps – usually found on their neck, the base of their tail, and under their chin
- “Flea dirt” (actually flea feces) – dark brown specks in your cat’s fur or left behind on their beds. Turns red when wet
- Pale gums and lethargy – indicates anemia, which can occur with very serious flea infestations
Cat tick symptoms also include frequent scratching or biting and excessive grooming or hair loss.
The best way to identify a flea and/or tick problem is to do a regular body scan on your cat. It just takes a few minutes to run your hands over their body and through their fur, checking for anything amiss. If you feel a lump or bump, inspect it further to determine what it might be – could be a tick!
As you can see, there are so many options and so many things to consider when choosing a cat flea and tick preventative. In addition to the types of preventatives and their pros and cons, you’ll need to take your cat’s age, weight, and health status into consideration, as well as your geographic location. Some places are more prone to flea and tick problems, after all. It’s incredibly important to do your research and talk with your veterinarian for help and guidance.
Which cat flea and tick control options do you use (or have you used) with your cat(s)?
About the Author: Emily is “mom” to seven cats, one dog, and two sugar gliders. She has been writing in the pet industry for over 8 years, with a focus on cats, rescue, and adventuring. When she isn’t writing, playing music, crocheting, or working on her own entrepreneurial pursuits, Emily and her husband enjoy hiking, road-tripping, camping, and canoeing with their three cat adventurers. Follow her on her blog, KittyCatGo.