Fleas and flea control in cats, International Cat Care

Fleas and flea control in cats

The most common flea found on cats and dogs is the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis). Occasionally, rabbit, hedgehog and other fleas may be found on cats but these are much less common.
While many cats live with fleas and show minimal signs of infestation, control is advisable for several reasons including:

  • The cat flea can carry the larval stage of the tapeworm Dipylidium caninum and cats become infected by eating (ingesting) fleas during grooming
  • Fleas have the potential to transmit other infectious agents between cats
  • Adult fleas feed on cat blood; in young kittens, this can cause weakness, anaemia and death
  • Fleas are important in the transmission of ‘cat scratch disease’ between cats and to humans. This is an infection with the bacterium Bartonella hensellae and is spread when fleas feed on blood.
  • Some dogs and cats develop an allergy to flea bites, which causes them to scratch excessively or develop skin disease
  • Cat fleas can cause itchy bites on sensitive humans, typically around the ankles .
  • Using modern treatments it is now possible to control cat fleas very effectively, but where the fleas are very common this may require considerable effort.

Does my cat have fleas?

When grooming, cats often ingest (eat) any fleas that they discover, which can make it difficult to find adult fleas in the hair coat. An itchy cat, or insect bites on human ankles, may be the only sign of an infestation.

The best way to demonstrate the presence of fleas is often to comb the cat meticulously with a fine-toothed ‘flea comb’. If you do this over a clean white surface such as a large piece of white paper, any fleas or ‘flea dirt’ (flea excrement consisting of digested blood) will be deposited onto the surface. If there is any debris (for example small black specs), place this on some damp cotton wool – if these are flea dirt, they will slowly dissolve leaving red-brown blood marks. This demonstrates the presence of fleas even if adults cannot be found.

The flea life cycle

Adult fleas spend most of their time on your dog or cat. They can live up to two years and a female will start laying eggs within two days of finding a host. The eggs that are laid by females fall off the cat or dog into the environment along with ‘flea dirt’ (flea excrement). This flea dirt provides a good source of food for flea larvae when they hatch from the eggs.

Larvae may hatch in as little as two days and are typically found wherever cats and dogs spend any length of time (typically in bedding etc). Larvae are photophobic (dislike light) and thus tend to move deep into carpets or soft furnishings so are often not seen.

The larvae grow and develop into pupae (potentially in as little as a week), each encased in a sticky cocoon. An adult flea develops within the cocoon and awaits a sign (vibration, moisture, noise, carbon dioxide levels) that there is an animal or person close by. The new adult flea can emerge and attach to the host within seconds, but fleas can lie waiting in the cocoon for up to two years.

In the right conditions, the whole life cycle of the flea can be completed in as little as 15 days, helping to explain why these parasites are so successful. For effective control, adult fleas on the cat must be killed and re-infestation from the environment prevented.

Tackling fleas in the home – an overview

Frequent vacuum cleaning will help to reduce, but not eliminate, fleas in a house. Vacuum bags should be immediately and carefully disposed of. Anything heavily infested, such as bedding, should be disposed of. Treatments can then be used to prevent re-infestation in a number of ways:

  • Treat all the household pets with an insecticide to kill the adult fleas on them. Only ever use products specifically licensed for the treatment of cats, as some of the dog products can be highly toxic to cats (see later).
  • Treat the house to eradicate fleas at all other stages of their development. Treatment of the whole house is essential, including soft furnishings, carpet pile, gaps between floorboards and other difficult to reach areas. Vacuum clean first and then use an appropriate flea insecticide to kill the immature stages.
  • Cocoons (or pupae) are very resistant to treatment, and therefore repeated treatments of both animals and the household may be needed to completely eliminate all fleas from a home.
  • Products with insect development inhibitors may be used on pets to help prevent immature fleas from maturing or reproducing. For these to be effective all animals in the household must be treated. Some environmental products also target developing fleas in this way.

To be effective, all treatment guidelines from your vet should be followed carefully. Talk to your vet clinic for some helpful advice. In some situations, it may take several weeks or even a few months to fully control a flea problem, but always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines carefully to avoid toxic effects.

Flea treatments available for cats

There is a vast array of flea treatments available from vets, pet shops and supermarkets for use in and on cats. It may not be obvious, but these products vary markedly in their compositions, mode of action, effectiveness and safety.

Many older products contain products that may be less effective or less safe (for the cat or the environment). It is important to always read and follow instructions carefully, and wherever possible, talk to your vet first and seek their advice – they will have access to the best and safest products for use in cats.

Many newer products are available as ‘spot on’ preparations that only have to be applied every few weeks. Again, it is important that instructions for use are followed carefully for the products to be both safe and effective. Never be tempted to use a dog product on a cat – some of these can be highly toxic to cats (especially those that contain permethrin).

Some flea treatments are also available as tablets, which may be easier for some owners to give, and some effective flea collars are also available. However, many of the products available from pet shops or supermarkets may have very poor efficacy. These are generally not the same as you would get from your vet, and veterinary advice is always best. Some sprays and powders should not be used near fish tanks because they are toxic to fish.

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Always check if a product is safe to use on kittens, and pregnant or suckling cats if treating such animals.

‘Spot-on’ products

‘Spot on’ products have become widely available, but many different ingredients are now used in spot-ons; some are very good and some are much less effective (or less safe). The product is applied as drops, usually to the skin at the back of the neck. These are generally easy to apply but always follow the instructions, never use a dog product on a cat, and remember that not all ‘spot-ons’ are equally effective.

Again, for the best advice always speak to your vet who will know what is most suitable for your cat. Some products contain substances that kill adult fleas, others work by interrupting the development of fleas, and some do both.

Tablets

Tablets can be useful in some situations, especially if an owner finds these easier to administer than a spot-on, for example. Again, always use a product specifically recommended by your vet and licensed for use in cats.

Powders

Generally, flea powders are only active for as long as they remain on the coat and are not a good choice for treatment

International Cat Care does not recommend the use of flea powders as there are safer and more effective products available.

Collars

Insecticidal collars are impregnated with active ingredients such as permethrin, pyrethroids, organophosphates, or flea growth-inhibiting substances such as methoprene. In general, collars are not very effective, may also cause local skin irritation, and if they do not incorporate a safety snap-open device can lead to injury. However, some newer flea collars (only available from vets) may be far more effective and safer.

International Cat Care does not advocate the use of flea collars unless specifically recommended and purchased from a vet, as there are other much safer and more effective products than those available from pet shops and supermarkets.

Aerosol sprays

Aerosol sprays are problematic with cats as many cats find the ‘hissing’ noise they produce frightening. Additionally, many of these use older less effective and/or less safe products.

International Cat Care believes that there are safer, more effective and easier to give flea control treatment than using aerosol sprays.

Pump action sprays

Pump action sprays containing flea control products may be available and may be suitable for use as the pump action minimises any distress to the cat.

Insect (flea) growth regulators

As well as being present in some spot-on preparations or environmental sprays, flea growth regulators may also be available as an injectable product or as a product that can be given orally. These may be easier solutions for some cats, but should always be combined with a product that kills adult fleas.

Flea control products for use in the home

Sprays

Many environmental sprays for use in the home contain insecticides with or without an insect growth regulator. Never use these in close proximity to a fish tank as some contain products highly toxic to fish. If you have a fish tank, always ensure it is covered with damp towels if using these sprays.

A single application of the spray to the environment can last for six months to a year, depending on the product used. Note that some sprays contain permethrin and great care should be taken not to allow the spray to come in contact with cats. Consider also possible additive effects in cats undergoing treatment should the cat come into contact with other products containing these chemicals.

Foggers and bombs

Various foggers and bombs are available for treating the environment but these are not usually very effective as specific areas of infestation may not be reached. Spray products which allow areas to be targeted specifically are preferable.

‘Alternative’ products

Many so-called ‘natural’ compounds have been suggested to have flea-killing or flea-repellent qualities. These include concentrated eucalyptus oil, neem oil, pennyroyal oil, tea tree oil, citrus oil and D-limonene. Although some of these constituents are used in licensed products, many ‘alternative’ remedies will not have been through the rigorous safety and efficacy evaluation required for veterinary licensed products.

Some of these compounds are potentially toxic to cats and other animals, and none are likely to be anywhere near as effective as a licensed product from your vet. Do not rely on these products, and if you are at all unsure always consult your vet.

Using flea treatments responsibly

NEVER use a flea product on a cat that has been formulated for use on a dog – some of these contain permethrin, or related compounds, that can kill cats. Care should be taken to ensure that cats never have contact with these products, including contact with a recently treated dog as even this can lead to sufficient exposure to cause toxicity and death in cats

Some household pesticides such as wood treatments, ant and other insect killers may contain similar active ingredients to those used in flea treatments. To prevent additive effects, care must be taken to limit exposure to these.

Always read the small print carefully. Keep package inserts as they usually contain more detailed information than the outer packaging concerning any possible toxic hazards. If your pet does become ill after application of a product, always take the package insert with you to the vets. If in doubt, ask your vet.

Long-term flea control

Once adult and immature fleas have been completely removed from a household environment, further controls can be reappraised. In a household where none of the pets go outside, no further treatment may be necessary. However, if pets venture outside further treatment will invariably be needed to prevent re-infestation, probably in the form of a single product applied regularly. An ‘on-off’ approach to flea control (treating intermittently) is not recommended as this provides ideal conditions for the development of flea allergic skin disease in animals and will not provide good flea control.

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The Best Cat Flea Sprays For Home

If you’re tackling a flea infestation, you’ve likely been focusing most of your attention on ridding your cat of fleas rather than your house.

With the help of one of the best cat flea sprays for home use, you can reduce the chances of fleas laying dormant in linens and carpets while you’re in the process of ridding your cat of them. These effective flea sprays completely remove fleas from your home.

We recommend.. 3 items

Best All Round Spray

Virbac Knockout E.S. Area Flea Treatment Spray

Best Value For Money

Sentry Home Flea-Free Breeze Home & Carpet Spray

Best Direct Application Spray

Adams Plus Flea & Tick Pet Spray

The best flea spray for home is one that can be sprayed around the home regularly, without risk to you or your cat’s health when used appropriately.

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Here’s a list of the best cat flea sprays that work effectively to remove fleas from your home.

The Best Cat Flea Sprays For Home

1. Virbac Knockout E.S. Area Flea Treatment Spray

Virbac Knockout E.S. Area Flea Treatment Spray is one of the most effective flea and tick sprays for home use available today.

Using a combination of pyrethrins and permethrin to kill active flea and ticks, it also contains pyriproxyfen (an insect growth regulator ) which stops fleas developing for up to 7 months after application. A single 16oz can will cover up to 2100 square feet of your home.

When using the spray, you’ll need to remove all pets and humans (including you when you’re finished!) from the area treated for a short period as per the instructions provided.

Features of the Virbac Knockout E.S. Area Flea Treatment Spray include:

  • Kills fleas on contact
  • Prevents reinfestation for up to 7 months
  • One 16oz can covers 2,100 square feet
  • No odor or residue even on bedding

We’d highly recommend Virbac Knockout E.S. as one of the best flea sprays for home use given its effectiveness and longevity.

2. Sentry Home Flea-Free Breeze Home & Carpet Spray

Sentry’s Home Flea Spray uses a combination of permethrin and pyriproxyfen to kill fleas and ticks at every life stage, and prevent reinfestation for up to 7 months.

The spray also releases a fresh, light scent that eliminates pet odors from fabrics and leaves the room smelling lovely.

Features of the Sentry Home Flea-Free Breeze Home & Carpet Spray include:

  • Up to 7 months of protection from fleas and ticks
  • Doubles as a deodorizer to eliminate smells
  • Kills all flea and tick lifestages
  • 24oz bottle offers incredible value for money

We’re recommending Sentry Home Spray as our best budget flea spray option due to the astoundingly low cost when compared to other options this effective.

3. Adams Plus Flea and Tick Spray

Adams Plus Flea and Tick spray is designed for direct application to your cat. Adams Plus uses a combination of active ingredients to kill fleas, eggs, larvae, and ticks. The combination is as follows; Etofenprox (0.5%), Methoprene (0.27%) and Piperonyl Butoxide (1.75%).

While those might sound a little frightening, they’re perfectly harmless to most cats. Make sure your cat is over 12 weeks of age before using this product and check with a vet that your cat doesn’t have any reactions to the active ingredients.

In our experience, Adams Plus is one of the most effective flea killing sprays out there today. It offers the fastest relief from biting and itching for cats, and makes short work of fleas that are dormant in carpets and upholstery.

Features of the Adams Plus Flea and Tick Spray include:

  • Effective direct application for removing fleas
  • Repels mosquitoes and prevents reinfestation
  • Breaks the flea lifecycle for up to 2 months
  • Provides instant relief from biting fleas

The recommended dosage is around 4 trigger squeezes per pound of body weight, but always check the instructions before treatment, as they are subject to change.

It kills fleas immediately, which I’m sure you’ll be relieved to hear since it’s what these products are meant to do. Given its very low price tag, it’s no surprise we rate it so highly.

4. Vet’s Best Flea Home Spray

Vet’s Best Flea and Tick spray for your home is the perfect answer for those who prefer something more natural.

Its entirely natural formula uses plant-based alternatives to chemicals used in other flea sprays to produce a product that seems just as effective at removing fleas from bedding and linen.

It’s suitable for kittens and cats aged 12 weeks or more, and their special formula not only kills fleas, eggs, and ticks on contact, it also repels mosquitoes! Made entirely in the USA, they’ve created a product that uses certified natural oils to kill fleas while smelling great.

Features of the Vet’s Best Flea Home Spray include:

  • Natural formula with no harsh chemicals
  • Safe for use on any and all linens and fabrics
  • Pesticide-free and safe for use around plants
  • Leaves no stains or residue

It smells lovely, much better than flea sprays that use chemicals and insecticides to tackle fleas (though they probably remain more effective than natural solutions).

The most impressive thing for us is that a natural flea spray can live up to the standards set by insecticide sprays and is even cheaper than them! Natural and cheap are not usually two characteristics you find together in a product.

5. Frontline Flea Spray Treatment

Frontline are well known for their topical treatments and other insect battling products. Their spray may be one of the lesser-known products in their range.

Admittedly, it’s a little more expensive than the other sprays on our list considering you only get an 8 and a half-ounce bottle. But what you do get for your money is a very powerful flea spray for cats in the home. It uses Fiprinol as its main active ingredient, and it really does work.

It has the advantage of being safe for cats and kittens over 8 weeks of age, making it the most suitable flea spray for use on kittens. It protects against the whole flea life cycle for up to 30 days in total and protects against re-infestation better than any other product available.

Features of the Frontline Flea Spray Treatment include:

  • Fast-acting control of fleas
  • Safe for kittens over 8 weeks
  • Fiprinol active ingredient is effective
  • Requires very little spray to work

The exact dosage recommendations are on the bottle and differ depending on the weight of your cat, but rest assured that you need to use significantly less of this product to see the same effects as you would with the other cheaper alternative. So perhaps the price does balance out over time.

6. VetriScience Vetri-Repel Environmental Health Flea & Tick Spray

VetriScience’s Vetri-Repel flea and tick home spray uses a natural formula that includes Lemongrass oil and Cinnamon Oil to make your home a place where fleas can’t thrive.

Because of its natural ingredients and essential oils, Vetri-Repel can be used daily on beds, carpets, linens, and even pet collars. VetriScience’s instructions are well detailed and describe how to apply the spray directly to your cat, so be sure to take careful note of them before starting.

Features of the VetriScience Vetri-Repel Flea & Tick Spray include:

  • Natural ingredients make daily application safe
  • Uses Brazilian oils derived from certified forests
  • Safe for use on beddings and collars
  • Repels mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks all year round

Vetri-Repel is an effective, affordable flea spray for home that works well with natural ingredients.

7. Hartz UltraGuard Plus Flea & Tick Home Spray

Hartz UltraGuard takes care of fleas and ticks at home using a combination of Phenothrin, Pyriproxyfen, and Piperonyl butoxide. These ingredients work to kill fleas and other insects on contact and they are extremely effective.

UltraGuard is safe to use on rugs, carpets, bedding, and furniture, leaving no stains or residue while removing odors in the process. Protection lasts around 7 months after applying which is as good as you’ll find from a flea spray designed for home use!

Features of the Hartz UltraGuard Plus Flea & Tick Home Spray include:

  • Powerful active ingredients work effectively
  • 7 months of protection from fleas
  • Safe for use on all fabrics and bedding
  • Odor eliminating with a fresh light scent

If natural flea sprays haven’t been doing the job, and you need something with a bit more kick – then try UltraGuard. It is hands-down worthy of being considered one of the best flea sprays around.

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8. Advantage Flea Treatment Spray for Cats

Advantage has a great reputation when it comes to pest management, and their flea treatment spray is one of the best flea and tick sprays we’ve ever used.

It uses common insecticides such as Pyrethrins and Piperonyl Butoxide to kill fleas on contact and protect for up to 7 months. The highly effective formula lasts for as long as 100 days, and can be used safely around cats and kittens over 7 months of age.

Features of the Advantage Flea Treatment Spray for Cats include:

  • Can be used directly on your pet
  • Uses an insect growth regulator to stop fleas reproducing
  • Kills effectively on contact
  • Easy to use spray mechanism to get to hard-to-reach places

Advantage flea and tick spray is one of our top picks for a reason; it works.

9. Natural Care Flea and Tick Spray

Let’s step away from the insecticide sprays and look at another viable natural flea spray solution from Natural Care.

Safe for cats over 12 weeks of age, it’s entirely natural plant extract formula works by combining peppermint oil and clove extract to kill fleas on contact and leave your home smelling great afterward.

Totally stain and grease-free, meaning you can spray it over beds, curtains, carpets, and cushions without worrying about leaving any marks. It also repels mosquitoes and since it’s manufactured in the USA, you know the ingredients are of high quality.

Features of the Natural Care Flea and Tick Spray include:

  • Natural ingredients and essential oils
  • Repels mosquitoes too
  • Safe to use all throughout the home
  • Smells wonderful

We actually got a chance to spray this directly on a flea and can speak for its ability to paralyze and kill adult fleas pretty effectively. Really impressive stuff for a great price.

10. Dr. GreenPet All Natural Flea Spray

Last up we have another natural flea and tick spray, but this time from Dr. GreenPet.

It also uses 100% natural ingredients that are much the same as other natural flea sprays. Peppermint oil is a natural flea repellent, so it’s inclusion is something of an industry standard for holistic approaches to flea removal.

Suitable for use on cats and kittens over 12 weeks of age, it kills fleas quickly and leaves behind a scent that is pleasant and subtle. Good for bedding too, since the last thing you want is a potent smelling spray on your pillows! It also protects against ticks, mosquitoes and other insects.

Features of the Dr. GreenPet All Natural Flea Spray include:

  • All-natural approach to killing fleas
  • Premium essential oils and extracts
  • Manufactured in the USA
  • Easy to use spray

Natural options are great for those with children around the house, and give you peace of mind that your child or cat isn’t ingesting anything that can do them any lasting damage.

Do cat flea sprays actually work?

It depends entirely on the one you buy, of course! You won’t go far wrong when purchasing one of the bottles from our list above, but it’s still important to manage your expectations when it comes to the effectiveness of a multi-purpose tool.

These can be sprayed everywhere and as a result need to be safe for use around children. Their ingredients aren’t as strong as traditional flea treatments that rely on insecticides.

Remember that sprays remain one of the most cost-effective flea treatments around, but we definitely wouldn’t rely on a spray alone to kill fleas that live in your cats’ fur.

You should aim to use a flea spray to help stop fleas residing in certain places in your home, while another more suitable (stronger) flea treatment gets to work on ridding your cat of them.

If you make use of shampoo to rid your cats of fleas, then there’s definitely a chance fleas residing in their surroundings can jump back on. This depends on the type of shampoo you’re using, since flea shampoos usually leave some sort of flea repellent in your cats’ coat for a while after application.

So in conclusion, yes, an effective cat flea spray for your home will remove fleas, but you shouldn’t rely solely on them to solve all infestations.

Can I use a flea spray on my cat?

Most sprays are safe for use on a cat’s coat directly, but it’s super important that you read the packaging carefully before doing so.

We’d also strongly recommend you visit a professional vet to get an opinion on the product you purchase before you go covering your cat in it. Better safe than sorry!

Flea sprays aren’t going to be as effective at killing fleas on your cat as a topical treatment would be, they also probably won’t repel fleas as well as collars do while your cat is outdoors.

The reason they aren’t as effective is the same reason they’re safe to use around children and spray over every inch of your home. They don’t contain the same strong insecticides that the more powerful flea treatments do.

How do I get the most out of a cat flea spray?

Remember that a flea spray for cat fleas will provide much better results if used alongside other effective methods to remove fleas from your home. You want to create an environment that fleas cannot survive in.

Use a combination of frequent combing using our recommended best flea comb for cats, regular hoovering of surfaces where fleas can remain dormant (hoovers that pick up cat hair are great for this) and an effective flea treatment to use on your cat itself.

Flea sprays can be a great help in removing fleas from bedding and linen, along with curtains or cushions that your cat is often near.

What to look for in a good flea spray for your house?

The primary factor you should look for is safety. There’s no point at all purchasing a spray to use on beds and linen if it’s going to pose a risk to your own or your cats’ safety. Read ingredients lists carefully and search up any ones you aren’t familiar with to be sure they’re safe for use around the home.

The most important thing with any treatment is to read the instructions carefully.

Thankfully, most respectable manufacturers have the sense not to put harsh insecticides in spray bottles that they’re intending on selling to the general public, but that still depends on them being used as per the instructions.

On a less serious note, you’ll want to look for a spray that doesn’t stain any surfaces, isn’t greasy to touch and that smells nice. You’re far less likely to commit to regularly spraying your home with something that lacks any of the above traits.

As always you’ll be wanting to get a good deal on a flea spray. Most have similar natural ingredients and as such, you can probably get a much better deal by comparing the natural oils used in two competing products and opting for the cheaper brand if they’re the same.

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