How to Get Rid of Cat Fleas (Or Not)

When my cat, Rajah, brought home a flea infestation, we tried numerous ways to kill the nasty little buggers, but they kept coming back. To get rid of fleas we tried organic and chemical methods. Here are the flea-killing methods that did not work, and the one that did.

Rajah

Rajah is a fourteen-year-old Maine Coon brown tabby mix. He was a “rescue” cat, recovered from an abusive home when he was a year old. He adopted me shortly thereafter.

(above: Rajah)

Rajah stays close to home, but loves to go outside several times a day. Most outdoor cats will develop a flea infestation at least once.

About Fleas

The cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis) infests cats as well as dogs and other mammals such as the Virginia possum. Cat fleas will bite humans, but prefer to live on cats and dogs. Fleas can quickly infest a home. Fleas can carry bacteria, infections and parasites such as tapeworm larvae.

See: Signs and Symptoms of Fleas on Cats

How to Get Rid of Fleas

Here’s the run-down on various natural and chemical methods of flea control.

(above: adult cat flea, about 2.5 mm in size)

Natural Herbal Cures for Flea Infestation

Natural herbal products reputed to kill fleas include:

  • cloves
  • sweet basil
  • chrysanthemum (pyrethrum)
  • cinnamon
  • garlic

Cloves and sweet basil contain eugenol, an essential oil known for its natural bug-repellent and pesticidal properties. Bay leaves also contain eugenol, but may be toxic to cats. Pyrethrum is a popular organic pesticide extracted from the crushed seed pods of the chrysanthemum flower.

Cinnamon for Flea Control

Cinnamon is generally safe for cats. From personal experience: a liberal sprinkling of cassia cinnamon on floors, nooks and crannies seems to keep the flea population down, but won’t work to kill or eradicate fleas on the cat.

The pesticide in cassia cinnamon is coumarin. In large doses over a prolonged period of time, coumarin can have toxic effects on humans and pets, but is otherwise safe unless someone has an allergy.

Rajah didn’t mind a light dusting of cassia cinnamon on his fur and skin, and it did seem to reduce the resident flea population somewhat. If cinnamon works to kill fleas, the required dose is much higher than one would want to use around pets.

Garlic for Flea Control

Garlic seems to attract fleas more than repel them, at least in my experience. We rubbed copious quantities of garlic on floors and furniture (but not on the cat). We ate a big garlic-laced meal.

No sooner did I sit down that evening than I felt stinging on my ankle and discovered a flea happily guzzling my blood. Up til then, we hadn’t been bitten. So, while garlic has many virtues, flea control doesn’t seem to be one of them.

Other natural remedies for fleas include:

  • diatomaceous earth
  • flea traps
  • flea comb
  • elbow grease

Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous earth is made from tiny fossilized water plants. Diatomaceous earth breaks up the exoskeleton of an insect and is often used as an organic alternative to pesticide treatments. We didn’t try this product, but it’s recommended by many organic gardeners as an effective insect control method. The diatomaceous earth found in pool filters is a different product, and is not recommended for pest control.

Flea Traps

To make a flea trap, fill a shallow dish with water plus a few drops of liquid soap. Place the dish on the floor or wherever fleas might dwell. Suspend a light source (lamp or light bulb) above the dish. Wait.

Fleas are attracted to heat. They’ll try to jump on the light source, then fall in the water and drown. Water has a natural “skin”, and fleas can hop on the water’s surface to escape. The few drops of soap added to the water breaks down the surface, thus dooming the fleas to death by drowning.

Flea traps won’t eradicate fleas, but can help kill a few of them before they reach the cat. Also, the number of trapped fleas can indicate the extent of infestation in the home.

Flea Comb

A flea comb captures fleas and flea eggs on the cat, and is effective for some felines. I tried a flea comb but couldn’t get it through Rajah’s thick fur without considerable distress to the cat. You may have better luck if your cat is short-haired.

Elbow Grease

No type of flea control is effective without a complete cleaning of the premises. Even if you’re a good housekeeper, there are countless nooks and crannies ideal for fleas. Fleas, eggs, larvae and cocoons hide in and under carpets, in dust, in flowerpots, under kitchen tiles and in forgotten corners. To get rid of fleas, you have to kill the eggs as well as the adults.

Fleas and flea eggs can tolerate cold, but can’t survive hot water. Move furniture away from walls and wash baseboard and floor areas with hot water and bleach. Vacuum and steam-clean carpets. Sprinkle salt on a carpet before vacuuming to drive fleas to the surface.

Scour all areas the cat frequents, including around his/her food, bedding, litterbox and favorite hideaways. Clean these areas daily until the fleas are gone. Wash cat bedding and human laundry in hot water, and tumble dry.

A good dose of elbow grease will eradicate most flea eggs, larvae and flea cocoons. Flea cocoons are very tough compared to eggs, larvae and adults. Vacuum daily and empty the vacuum cleaner bag each time.

Store-Bought Flea Control for Cat Fleas (Chemical)

Natural methods can keep fleas away, or eliminate fleas in the home, but in cases of re-infestation or a stubborn flea problem, some chemical help may be necessary. Store-bought chemical flea prevention and control includes:

  • flea collar
  • flea powder
  • flea shampoo
  • insecticide spray (do not apply to pet)
  • spot-on flea killer

Flea collars work well to repel fleas, but won’t get rid of fleas already on the cat. Many cats hate collars. Several years ago, Rajah discovered the trick of taking off his breakaway flea collar by snagging it on branch, and that was the end of that.

Flea powder makes a mess and is only moderately effective in getting rid of fleas. Most flea powders work best when used with other methods of flea control.

A vet-approved flea shampoo can kill fleas on cats. Together with elbow grease, flea shampoo is effective for dealing with a mild flea problem. It may not prevent re-infestation, especially if your pet is bringing the fleas in from outside. Using flea shampoo to kill cat fleas depends on the pet’s temperament. Some cats will not tolerate a bath, while others don’t mind at all.

Insecticide Spray

In my experience, Raid House and Garden Bug Killer works well to kill fleas. Pesticide or insecticide sprays are toxic to animals, and can be toxic to humans, so be careful when using these products. Never spray a pet directly.

Raid does indeed “kill bugs dead”, but can also take the finish off furniture or damage fabrics and floors. Before spraying indoors, cover furniture and be sure there are no pets, children or sensitive adults in the area. Wear a mask to avoid inhaling the fumes.

Spray floors, corners, nooks and crannies liberally. Raid House and Garden is safe to spray on/around plants, but some spray bug killers can harm plants, so read labels before using. Raid has recently developed a line of organic bug-killing products containing pyrethrum and other natural ingredients.

Organic Alternatives to Chemical Sprays

Pyrethrum has been popularized by the A&E television series Billy the Exterminator. Billy and family run a pest control company called Vexcon, Inc., and are fond of organic solutions such as eugenol oil and pyrethrum. According to a spokesperson at Vexcon Inc., the best place to buy organic pest control products online is Ecosmart (www.ecosmart.com).

Spot-On Flea Treatments: Store Bought

Store-bought spot-on flea treatments claim to kill fleas and flea eggs to get rid of fleas and prevent re-infestation. Store-bought spot-on flea treatments include:

  • Hartz One Spot
  • Bio Spot
  • Sergeant’s
  • Etofenprox Squeeze-On

Apply the spot-on medication between the cat’s shoulder blades. The spot-on flea killer we used was Hartz One-Spot. I had been using this product regularly after Rajah learned the trick of escaping the flea collar (and got fleas). He hates the spot-on meds as much as he hates the flea collar, but the product seemed to work to repel fleas, and Rajah was flea-free until our recent infestation.

I gave Rajah a dose of Hartz One-Spot to kill the fleas, but it had little effect. The fleas kept chomping merrily. I thought perhaps the old package had expired. I bought a new package, waited a couple of weeks and re-applied. According to the manufacturer’s directions, one should wait at least three weeks before re-applying the product, but I was getting desperate, and the first batch was obviously a dud.

This time, fleas died. Rajah’s fur began to regain its luster, but within a week the fleas were back. At this point I searched the internet and discovered many consumer complaints about Hartz One-Spot, including general lack of effectiveness and toxic effects to some cats.

There are also a number of compaints about other store-bought spot-on treatments including Sergeant’s and Bio Spot.  According to pet owners, Etofenprox has had fatal or near-fatal complications in some cats. Store-bought spot-on cat meds are not recommended.

Veterinary Spot-On Treatments

So far, nothing had worked to kill the fleas on Rajah and prevent re-infestation. Fortunately, the cat wasn’t suffering ill effects, except for some dry skin and occasional bouts of itching. I was more distressed than he was, and also worried about complications.

I took a trip to the vet, but the clinic wouldn’t sell me flea meds without first giving the cat a complete checkup to the tune of a couple hundred dollars. I did some online searching for the Big Daddies of Spot-On Flea Control, the veterinary-strength cat meds Frontline and Advantage.

The Flea Control Product that Worked

According to independent users, both Frontline Plus and Advantage work well. Frontline Plus kills fleas and flea larvae, sterilizes/kills the eggs, and also works for ticks.

Advantage doesn’t work for ticks, but works faster than Frontline for fleas. Advantage works almost immediately, while Frontline Plus can take 18-24 hours to work.

A new spot-on treatment, Revolution, is reputed to kill fleas as well are other cat parasites. All three treatments are more gentle to cats than the store-bought cheaper stuff.

The product I used was Frontline Plus. After 24 hours, I found dead fleas in Rajah’s bedding. After two days, there were almost no flea droppings left. After weeks of doing battle with the nasty biting things, we were flea-free within a few days of using Frontline, and everyone was purring happily.

I would definitely recommend Frontline Plus. Not only is it effective against fleas, but Rajah tolerates the application extremely well. Frontline comes with a non-needle syringe for easy application. Use the product between the cat’s shoulder blades, and around the hindquarters if desired.

You must be careful to rub the product into the cat’s skin; do not apply to the fur. Spot-on treatments are absorbed through the skin and enter the cat’s hair follicles to prevent flea infestation for at least one month. Read and follow the directions when using any flea control product.

My recommendation for getting rid of cat fleas: don’t mess around with products that may or may not work. Even if you’re on a budget, you can easily purchase vet-strength medication online for a reasonable price. You can waste a lot of money on cheap flea control methods that don’t work in the long run.

Based on personal experience and according to numerous user reviews, vet meds such as Advantage, Frontline and Revolution are the best and quickest way to get rid of cat fleas and prevent re-infestation.

See also: Signs and Symptoms of Fleas on Cats

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