Print Treating Cats with Fleas

Fleas can make the life of any dog or cat miserable. Just one flea bite for an animal who is allergic to fleas can put him in agony from constant rubbing and scratching of the irritated skin. Also called "pruritus," this unpleasant itching sensation can become so intense that the animal will actually scratch until the skin bleeds. This is why swiftly treating cats with fleas to stop the flea life cycle is important.

Fleas live on animal species around the world and cause a variety of health problems, particularly in areas with warm climates.

The Flea Cycle

Fleas spend most of their lifetime off the pet. They go through a life cycle that includes egg and cocoon stages. While adult fleas are relatively easy to kill with available insecticides, the egg and cocoon stages are very resistant.

The entire life cycle of the flea (from egg to larva, from larva to cocoon, from cocoon to adult) can vary from 14 days during warm, moist weather, to several weeks or months under extremes of climatic conditions.

The adult flea is dependent on blood meals from your pet to survive. Fleas can jump from 16 to 36 inches! For their size, this is equivalent to a human jumping over the Washington Monument!

  • Any attempts to control fleas must be directed at both the pet and the environment in order to ensure success.
  • Equally important is to always coordinate treatments to break the life cycle of the flea and to treat the environment and pet at the same time.

Flea Bite Allergies in Cats

Fleas can cause a condition known as allergic dermatitis. Because some cats are allergic to flea saliva, a single fleabite causes the animal to chew and scratch the area where the flea has bitten. This can cause redness, sores, and hair loss. One or two fleas on an allergic animal may trigger the same response as a hundred flea bites.

Some animals may require medication to control the scratching and chewing until a flea control program can be started. Animals with severe allergic dermatitis may require intermittent use of prescription medications during those periods when fleas are most active, during hot, humid months.

Remember…use of these medications is not a substitute for a flea control program.

Medical Problems Associated with Fleas

  • Skin Infections—"Hot spots" are frequently seen in animals with flea infestations. Hot spots can occur secondary to the intense scratching and licking that can occur. Hot spots can also be found on nonallergic animals as the result of problems unrelated to fleas.
  • Tapeworms—Fleas are an essential link in the life cycle of the tapeworm in the cat. A good flea control program should accompany the treatment of your pet for tapeworms. The tapeworm is a segmented worm that is only occasionally passed whole. Instead, you will usually only see a number of individual white segments passed in the stool. These may have the appearance of rice grains.
  • Anemia—A pet heavily infested with fleas can lose a significant portion of its circulating blood. This may lead to decreased resistance to other disorders and cause your pet to act lethargic.

Flea-Control Myths

  • Feeding brewer's yeast repels fleas. There is no evidence that feeding brewer's yeast repels fleas
  • Feeding garlic or onion repels fleas. Although feeding garlic or onion will give your pet bad breath, it will have absolutely no affect on fleas. In fact, feeding large amounts of onion to dogs or cats can actually be toxic

Flea-Prevention Products

In recent years some new and extremely effective flea prevention products have been introduced. These products work by either preventing fleas from reproducing or preventing fleas from biting.

Available by prescription only from your veterinarian, these products are administered in either oral or topical (external) treatments once each month.

The oral treatment will not kill adult fleas already present on the animal, but usually within 60 days of initiating treatments, the fleas do not reappear. The topical treatments will kill adult fleas and provide almost immediate relief.

These products are the flea control methods of choice and when used faithfully as directed, most pet owners report dramatic improvements in their pets' condition.

Flea Control Products

  • Flea collars—Flea collars can be effective on cats weighing less than 20 pounds. They are typically not as effective on larger cats, or on pets who are allergic.
  • Powders—Effective if used frequently and worked thoroughly into the coat. They also work well for spot treating your pet's bed and any small area he may frequent.
  • Dips—These products are concentrates that are intended to be diluted and sponged onto the pet, rather than actually dipping the pet into a solution. The pet should be thoroughly wet before the dip is applied. Sponge it on and let it dry; do not towel it off. Depending on the brand, this procedure may be repeated every 7 to 21 days. Always be sure to follow the manufacturer's dilution instructions exactly.
  • Shampoos—These are excellent products that work quite well when used as directed. They typically do not have residual action, however, and should be followed by a topical dip, application of flea powder or use of a flea collar.
  • Foggers—These are aerosol bombs that are set off inside the home to eliminate fleas and eggs that may be in the carpet or furniture. Some foggers are available in a spray form to spray underneath furniture and on carpets. Be certain to follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully.
  • Yard sprays—These concentrates can be diluted and sprayed in outdoor areas where flea control is desired. Malathion is one of the safer products available and application every six weeks following the initial two applications is usually sufficient. Again, follow manufacturer's directions for proper dilution and application.


  • Follow all directions carefully.
  • Do not use flea collars at the same time that dips, powders or sprays are used, unless specifically approved by your veterinarian.
  • Do not store the dip once it has been diluted. Safely discard any unused portions.
  • If you are not certain a particular product is safe for your pet or home, consult your veterinarian before using it.

Sample Schedule for a Flea Control and Prevention Program

Day 1

  • Treat pets.
  • Fog house.
  • Spray yard.
  • Start flea prevention program.

Day 15

Repeat outdoor applications above, or as directed.

Day 30

Repeat topical and oral treatment of pets, or as directed.

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