Fleas on Cats: Symptoms, Natural Treatment, and Prevention
Cats are often associated with hairballs, internet memes and a general laissez-faire attitude towards life, but never fleas. Fleas are just a problem for those mangy mutts, right? Wrong. Your posh, well-kept, indoor kitty is just as susceptible to those tiny, wingless parasites as their doggo brethren. Yes, unfortunately your cat can has cheezburger AND fleas.
Without treatment, the fleas lay eggs and multiply. They can easily jump from your cat to you, and even infest your furniture, bedding, and carpet. If your cat has fleas, you need an effective solution, fast. You may think your best option is the most potent chemical flea treatment you can find on pet store shelves. But the pesticides and strong artificial fragrances contained in these products can irritate sensitive feline skin, exacerbating existing symptoms. Some have even been known to cause neurological side effects.
Flea remedies derived from 100% natural sources are just as effective — without the harmful side effects!
The first step to treating your cat for fleas is making sure you've identified them correctly. Pet allergies are more and more commonly diagnosed by veterinarians, so keep in mind that not every incidence of skin itching and redness means fleas.
So how do you identify them? Fleas are brownish, wingless insects with an impressive penchant for jumping a distance of 50 times their body length. They mainly thrive when the outdoor temperature is between 60-85 degrees fahrenheit and humidity is at 75-85%. Unlike mites, fleas are visible to the naked eye, as are the black flecks of feces they leave behind, called "flea dirt." They often hide in warm areas such as the armpit or groin.
If your cat has a thick coat, the best way to spot fleas is to take a flea comb or a regular fine-toothed comb and thoroughly comb through the hair from back to front. Sometimes you can see them moving across the skin without having to look, but a comb will help you get rid of at least some of the fleas.
Other symptoms of feline fleas include:
Anemia and lethargy from loss of blood
Sometimes the incessant licking, scratching, and chewing can lead to open sores. Be prepared to treat secondary bacterial infections as well as fleas, and visit your veterinarian if symptoms seem severe.
Flea bite hypersensitivity, or flea allergy dermatitis, is an allergic reaction to flea saliva. A cat with flea bite hypersensitivity will experience severe itching (pruritus) in reaction to flea bites. Just one or two bites can cause this severe reaction; in fact, you may not even find fleas.
In the absence of fleas, you may want to consider other possibilities, including mites, bacterial infection, and allergies. Again, if you're not sure and/or your cat's symptoms are moderate to severe, consider making an appointment with a holistic veterinarian to get some answers and guidance.
On the other hand, if you're pretty confident your cat has fleas, it's time to attack. Here's how to make sure you get rid of every trace of the infestation, without exposing your cat (or yourself) to harmful chemicals:
Step One: Get Rid of the Fleas on Your Cat
Choose a remedy that's gentle on your cat's skin, but lethal to the pests living on it. This Flea & Tick Control spray uses the natural power of cedar oil to kill fleas. Cedar oil affects octopamine, a compound responsible for regulating heart rate and keeping fleas alive. Fleas suffocate and die on contact, while mammals — who do not have octopamine neurotransmitters — remain completely unharmed. With therapeutic-grade essential oils and 100% naturally-derived ingredients, this formula is safe for kittens and nursing mothers. If your cat doesn't like spray bottles, you can spray on your hands and rub it on your cat's haircoat.
Even though the formula is non-toxic, it's a good idea to test the product on your cat's skin before applying all over; cats can have sensitivities to even natural ingredients. Wait an hour to see if there's a reaction. If no reaction occurs, continue applying by rubbing coat in opposite direction of growth and working through coat as close to the skin as possible. Cover the body, belly, legs, tail, face, and ears, but don't soak.
The Pet Parent Pack comes with two types of flea control plus soothing Skin Tonic spray that helps relieve itchy and irritated skin. Getting rid of the fleas doesn't automatically soothe the symptoms, so be sure to care for your cat's skin with naturally antibacterial neem oil.
If your treatment efforts are ineffective or your cat's symptoms worsen rather than improve, be sure to consult a trusted holistic veterinarian. There might be another issue besides fleas or a secondary infection.
Step Two: Get Rid of the Fleas in Your Home
Fleas migrate easily from one host to another. A female flea can lay 50 eggs in a single day, and the eggs can fall off the host and onto flooring and furniture. That means you have to look at your whole house and everyone in it as a flea battleground.
If your cat has spent any time indoors, there could be eggs or adult fleas anywhere she's been inside your home. Launder bedding and clothes that may have come into contact with fleas. Thoroughly vacuum your carpet, rugs, and fabric furnishings. Anything that offers a warm place to hide is fair game for fleas. Be sure to wash cat accessories like toys, collar, etc., as well.
Step Three: Treat Your Yard
Whether your cat lives outdoors full-time or sashays in and out throughout the day, you'll want to use Flea & Tick Control for Yard + Garden to make sure the pests you've worked so hard to get rid of in your home don't become a problem again. You'll need to apply the flea treatment twice within 7-10 days to eliminate the pest life cycle.
It's easy to be thorough about eradicating fleas when they're an active problem. But unless you want all that time and effort to be a waste, a little maintenance and willpower is required to keep them away. Outdoor prevention should be applied every 30-45 days during flea season, or after heavy rain. Indoor prevention can be applied once or twice a week, or as often as needed.
Here are a few other tips for preventing fleas — because blocking fleas is much easier (and less itchy) than having to cleanse your pets, home, and yard to get rid of them. It's also more cost-effective.
Cats can contract fleas from other domestic animals. Anytime your cat visits the vet, a boarding facility, or someone else's house, be sure to spray it down as soon as you return it home. Wash any belongings that made the trip, too.
Feed your cat a healthy diet. Fleas lay more eggs and survive better on hosts that lack strong immune systems. Plus, if your cat eats a nutritious diet and has a healthy immune system, hypersensitivity to flea saliva and secondary infections will be less likely. A diet rich in protein and nutrients will help bolster immunity, as will a neem bark powder supplement, which promotes detoxification.
Choose healthy treats. All-meat jerky treats ensure that your cat isn't filling up on carbs that don't provide vital nutrients.
If your cat spends significant time outdoors, do a round of flea spray every time it comes back inside, especially during flea season.
Bathing a cat isn't always easy, but if your cat is amenable to it, use warm water and a gentle Flea & Tick Shampoo Bar. The citronella and geranium gently repel insects.
Vacuum your rugs and carpet often. Launder your bedding and blankets, and your cat's bedding and blankets, at least once per week.
Use a dehumidifier. As we mentioned, fleas flourish in humid environments. If you can keep the humidity in your home below 50%, it will kill fleas at all life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.
While you wait for the treatments to work and ease the itching, provide your cat with a new toy or tower to keep her from harming her skin with excessive licking and chewing.
We all know cats love grooming themselves, which is why Wondercide flea control is non-toxic; but it's not intended for internal use, so discourage your cat from licking as much as possible.
If you have more than one pet, treat all of them. You may only notice them on one pet, but it's best to be safe in close quarters.
Consider keeping an outdoor cat indoors instead. You have a lot more control of your indoor environment, and your cat is far less likely to contract fleas inside (unless you have other pets that go in and out).
Keep your yard mowed and neat. Fleas and ticks like warm, dark, brushy areas. Don't give them a safe hideout in your own yard!
Keeping your cat well-groomed and on a healthy diet can go a long way toward preventing the hassle of a flea infestation. But unfortunately that's not all it takes! Many loving pet parents find themselves in this conundrum. It's not hard to kill fleas — it just takes a little determination and a holistic approach.