The goals of treating cats infested with fleas are to eliminate the flea population on the cats and from their immediate living environment, and to provide as much relief, as quickly possible, from the itchiness, pain and discomfort that accompany flea bites.
While prevention is the best cure for fleas, there are a number of good available treatment options. Determined owners should adopt an integrated flea management program that treats not only the cat, but also its immediate environment. The affected cat and all other animals in the household must be treated. Pets can be treated with topical pesticides in the form of shampoos, liquids, foams, sprays, powders, dusts and dips. Some of these only kill adult fleas after they bite the cat, while others kill fleas by direct contact. Some prevent eggs from maturing and hatching, while others kill the eggs, larvae and adults. Some flea treatments even control other parasites, including lice, mites, ticks, roundworms, hookworms, whipworms and/or heartworms. Oral medications are also available to kill fleas. A flea comb can be used to remove adult fleas, especially from short-haired cats; the fleas should be killed immediately by putting them into a sealable container with a bit of liquid detergent or rubbing alcohol. Corticosteroids and antihistamines may be prescribed to help relieve the itchiness and other bothersome symptoms that accompany a heavy flea burden. These can be given orally or, if necessary, by injection. Organic flea treatments may benefit some cats live in cool, dry climates. These treatments include essential oil applications and dietary supplements.
Cat owners should consult a veterinarian before using flea-control products, because they vary widely in safety, method of action and effectiveness. Some should not be used on kittens or pregnant queens. Some are toxic if ingested in large amounts, which can happen when a cat grooms itself after the products are applied.
Another critical aspect of flea control is to eliminate the reservoir of fleas maturing in a cat’s house and yard. Over 90% of the flea population is free in the environment in the form of tiny eggs, larvae and pupae at any given time. Thorough mechanical cleaning of all floor surfaces by sweeping, mopping and/or vacuuming is a good place to start. Insecticidal carpet shampoos, sprays, powders and foggers are widely available over-the-counter. Bedding and housing should be cleaned or replaced. Several different insect growth regulators are available in liquid spray or powder dust forms. These essentially prevent eggs, larvae and pupae from maturing into adults. Professional exterminators offer a number of services to eliminate fleas and may be especially helpful in cases of heavy infestation. The yard should be treated as well, including any kennels, runs, pens, dog houses, cat houses, patio furniture, decks, carpeted cat furniture, kitty climbing towers and all preferred pet napping spots.
The outlook for cats infested with fleas is quite good, as long as effective flea control is established and maintained. This requires patience and tenacity on the part of cat owners. Kittens, older cats and cats with underlying medical conditions have an increased chance of developing life-threatening anemia and secondary bacterial infections from severe flea infestations.
Products that contain permethrins are toxic to cats. They can cause seizures, tremors and other severe neurological disorders. Many anti-flea products for dogs, including over-the-counter products, contain permethrin and should not be used on cats. Some cats have developed toxicity just from snuggling up to a dog that has been treated with a product containing permethrin.