How to Get Rid of Fleas on Cats

By Susan Leisure

Fleas are annoying little bugs that can make both you and your feline friend uncomfortable. Severe flea infestations can cause serious health problems for your cat, including anemia and tapeworms. Even mild flea problems can cause skin irritations or infections for both you and your cat. Working with your veterinarian to control fleas on your cat will improve your cat's health and keep her itch-free.

Flea Comb

A flea comb, which has fine teeth spaced very close together, is a chemical free method of flea removal, though it has its drawbacks. As you comb your cat, fleas are trapped by the teeth of the comb. Once you remove the fleas, be sure to kill them quickly, so they don't jump back on your cat. The easiest way to kill them is to dunk the comb in soapy water. Controlling a large flea infestation is impossible using just a flea comb, as the comb does not remove flea eggs or larvae from the environment.

Flea Bath

If your cat will tolerate a bath, you might consider using a safe flea shampoo on a regular basis. As with a flea comb, a bath is a quick method to remove fleas from your cat. Fleas are also less attracted to some smells, so consider using a shampoo with clove or cinnamon oil, as these will kill existing fleas and repel new ones. Unlike a flea comb, a bath will eliminate adult fleas and wash away eggs and larvae on the cat. A bath with a medicated or soothing shampoo may help your cat feel better. Keep in mind that just like the comb, a flea bath is not an effective solution if you have a large flea problem. The bath does not eliminate any fleas, eggs or larvae in the environment and may not prevent fleas from jumping back on your cat.

Diatomaceous Earth

Another safe way to kill adult fleas is applying diatomaceous earth. This powdery substance is made from fossilized algae. While most home supply stores carry the pool or agricultural grade diatomaceous earth, you want to make sure you buy only food grade diatomaceous earth for use on your pets. You can apply diatomaceous earth directly to your cat, and the tiny particles in the powder will dry out the waxy shells on the fleas and they eventually will die. Using diatomaceous earth may take up to three days to kill the adult fleas. You can use diatomaceous earth in your home and yard for not only flea control, but also to control any insect with an exoskeleton, including ants.

Monthly Topical Treatments

One of the most common ways to get rid of fleas is by using a monthly topical treatment. Many products are available at veterinarian's offices and pet supply stores. Be sure that you are using products specifically designed for cats, as some dog products are not safe to use on cats. Before using any topical flea treatment, consult your veterinarian on what product would be most appropriate for your cat's age and health.

Oral Flea Treatments

Nitenpyram is an oral medication that starts killing fleas within 30 minutes, and will kill all adult fleas on a cat within 12 to 24 hours. It is a safe medication to use, as it only stays in the cat's system for 24 hours. The main brand of nitenpyram is Capstar, although several generic versions are available. Most veterinarians and many pet supply stores carry nitenpyram. Longer lasting oral treatments are also available, and many will control fleas for up to a month.

Environment Control

No matter which flea treatment you choose, it's a must to control fleas in the environment. Only 5 percent of fleas in an environment are adult fleas, while the rest are eggs, larvae and pupae. The best way to remove these from your home is with regular vacuuming. Be sure to empty your vacuum outside into a sealed garbage bag, so you don't let any fleas back into the house. If you are able to remove your cats and all people and other pets from the house for at least 24 hours, you might consider a flea bomb or whole house spray. While these are often more toxic than other methods, they are effective in destroying adults fleas, eggs, larvae and pupae. While you are trying to get the fleas under control, you’ll also need to wash your cat’s bedding and other fabrics such as bedding or blankets at least every three days.