Fleas are the most common cat parasite, so chances are you and your feline friend will encounter them at some point. If your cat is scratching more than usual, and you notice itchy bites on your own body, you are very likely dealing with fleas. Fortunately, there are a whole host of cat flea treatments available, as well as preventative measures. Which method is right for you will depend on your cat’s medical history, so it’s a good idea to consult your vet when you encounter these ubiquitous parasites. The cat flea, Ctenocephalides felix, is the most likely to latch onto your pet, but all kinds of fleas can, luckily, be treated.
One option for treating fleas is to bathe your cat with a shampoo which kills the insects. These shampoos can also be used on a regular basis to make sure the fleas don’t return to bother your household. Anti-flea shampoos can be an effective alternative to treating your cat with oral medication, too. When choosing a flea shampoo for cats, we recommend one of our top picks:
Best Flea Shampoo for Cats Buying Guide & FAQ
Flea and tick shampoo can be a great solution for treating cats with fleas, and there are clearly a lot of options to choose from. Below we discuss how to properly use flea shampoos, and answer some common questions about fleas and how to treat them.
What to Look for When Buying Cat Flea Shampoo
Every cat is different, and which flea shampoo you choose to purchase will depend on a few factors, including their medical history, and tolerance for bath time. These shampoos come in three main categories:
Natural flea and tick shampoos usually have a chemical called d-limonene as their active ingredient. This chemical is extracted from citrus peel, and kills fleas and ticks by attacking their nervous system. D-limonene is safe for humans, cats, and dogs, but deadly to fleas and ticks, making it a great alternative to the harsh insecticides which were used in flea shampoos of the past.
Organic shampoos help to combat fleas and ticks through their use of essential oils – usually peppermint, clove, neem, or cedar. These oils won’t usually kill the insects, but do repel them. Organic flea shampoos are a great preventative solution which will also keep your pet’s coat in top condition.
Chemical shampoos contain flea-busting components which have been synthesised in a lab. These shampoos will contain either pyrethrins or pyrethroids. Pyerthrins are extracted from chrysanthemum flowers, and kill insects by interfering with their nervous systems (much like the d-limonene of natural flea shampoos). Pyerthroids, on the other hand, are synthesised from scratch rather than extracted. These too kill insects through interfering with their nervous system.
Which of these categories is right for your cat will depend upon the state of the flea infestation and the sensitivity of their skin.
If your cat does not currently have fleas, but you want to take pre-emptive action, an organic shampoo is probably your best option – especially if your cat has sensitive skin. Although fleas can survive all year long thanks to modern central heating, you might wish to use these shampoos during the summer months when they are the most active, to keep your cat bite-free.
If your cat seems to have picked up a few fleas, but does not have a major infestation, a natural flea shampoo may be the best way to go. Regular bathing will eliminate the fleas and ticks on their bodies, as well as deterring new ones from attaching themselves.
For more severe flea problems, you might be better off choosing a pyrethrin or pyrethroid based flea shampoo. These chemicals are a bit harsher on the skin, and should be used less frequently, but they’re tough on fleas too! In a severe infestation, you should also treat your home as far as possible. Wash fabrics at 140˚ Fahrenheit, vacuum regularly, and consider using a flea spray designed for your home.
How to Properly Use Cat Flea Shampoo
Before using a flea shampoo, be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions. Each shampoo will have a slightly different chemical makeup, and its packaging should guide you on how much to use. To achieve the best results when using flea shampoo for cats, try the following tips:
- Work from Top to Bottom
When rubbing the lather into your cat’s coat, start at their head (be careful not to get the product in their eyes as it can be irritating) before moving down their back, sides, stomach, and legs, finishing with their paws and tail. Working downwards will ensure that fleas and ticks cannot simply crawl up and away from the water. Make sure to thoroughly shampoo nooks and crannies where fleas are prone to hide such as behind the ears.
- Allow the Shampoo time to Work
Your cat may not enjoy bath time, but it’s important that you leave the shampoo on their coat for about five minutes, giving it time to do its work. This can be challenging for many cats, but in the long run giving the shampoo time to work properly will mean your pet needs to be given a flea bath less often!
- Try using a Flea Comb
Working a fine-toothed flea comb through your cat’s fur whilst they are lathered up ensures that any fleas trying to flee (pun intended) are removed. Drop them into a container besides the bath to make sure no living specimens escape back onto your cat.
- Rinse thoroughly
Once you have worked in the flea shampoo and used a flea comb, make sure to rinse off all of the shampoo. Being exposed to certain flea shampoos for long periods of time can irritate your cat’s skin – the exact opposite of what you’re hoping to achieve with flea treatment!
If you are currently using any other hair or skin products on your cat, it’s a good idea to speak with your vet about how they might mix with a flea shampoo. In some cases, other products can lower the efficacy of flea shampoos.
Benefits of Using Flea Shampoo for Cats
Using a flea shampoo to treat your cat’s infestation comes with a number of benefits:
- Flea shampoos treat the hair and skin more thoroughly than alternatives such as a powder or flea spray for cats would.
- Some types of flea shampoo are mild enough on the skin and hair to be used regularly.
- Flea and tick shampoos can be used to both prevent and treat flea problems.
- Some shampoos continue to repel fleas and ticks for weeks after use.
- Flea shampoos help to sooth irritated skin as well as killing the fleas themselves.
- Many flea shampoos can be used on both cats and dogs.
However, flea shampoos should not be thought of as a cure-all for fleas. These insects are resilient and insidious; they can survive by hiding in spots around the house as well as on your pet’s body. Female fleas lay their eggs on cats’ skin, but because they aren’t sticky, unlike other parasite eggs, they tumble off – often straight into your house. Eggs can survive in your home for about six months, so the critters can easily return if not treated thoroughly. For this reason, it’s important to treat your home for fleas as well as your cat, to ensure they are completely eradicated.
Q: How does flea shampoo for Cats work?
A: Flea shampoos contain active ingredients which act to kill fleas on your cat’s body. These ingredients can be naturally occurring chemicals, or synthesized in a lab. They kill fleas by either coating and suffocating them, or attacking the insect’s nervous system. Fleas can then be picked or combed out of the affected animal’s coat. Some shampoos leave a residue on your pet’s coat which repels fleas, helping to prevent future infestations.
Q: How do I check my cat for fleas?
A: Knowing how to spot fleas can be tricky, but there are plenty of tell-tale signs to watch out for:
- Excessive grooming
It’s normal for cats to meticulously groom themselves, but if you notice that your cat is grooming more than often, worrying a particular area again and again, or constantly scratching, this could be a sign that they’re being troubled by fleas. Each cat will have different grooming habits, so knowing what’s normal for your feline friend will help to determine whether their behavior is concerning.
- Skin Abnormalities
If you notice scabs, bumps, hair loss, or other skin abnormalities, this could be a sign that your cat has fleas.
- The presence of Tapeworms
Fleas can do more damage than just biting – they actually carry tapeworm eggs too! If your cat passes tapeworms in their stool, this could be a sign that fleas are in town. Tapeworms appear as short crawling segments in the cat’s feces.
- Behavioral Changes
A cat with fleas will often appear restless and aggressive. They may also avoid certain rooms, which could be an indication that fleas are harbored there, especially if the room is carpeted or full of soft furnishings. As with any case of changed behavior, consulting with a veterinary professional is a good idea.
In extreme cases, fleas can trigger anemia in cats. This means their blood does not have a healthy amount of oxygen carrying red-blood cells, and can cause lethargy or extreme tiredness. Pale gums are a typical sign of anemia to watch out for.
If you notice one or more of these symptoms in your cat, you should check them for fleas. Place them on a white towel, sheet, or pillowcase, before combing their coat from top to bottom with a fine toothed comb. Doing this over a white fabric allows you to see any fleas, eggs, or flea dirt which might otherwise be missed. As you comb, pay close attention to the skin you expose, for any signs of bites or scabs. Fleas are particularly fond of the back of the neck, the base of the tail, and the inside of the legs, so be sure to focus plenty of attention on these areas.
You are looking for dark brown insects, three to four millimeters in length, eggs (which are similar in appearance to salt and pepper), flea excrement. This flea waste is best found by wiping the comb on the white towel, before sprinkling a little water onto it. Flea waste turns dark red when wet, because of the insect’s blood-based diet.
Q: Can I use dog flea shampoo on my cat?
A: This will depend on the brand of flea shampoo in question. Some shampoos (many included in the list above), are suitable for both cats and dogs, but others are designed for dogs specifically. Never use a flea shampoo on your cat unless the packaging explicitly states that it is suitable for cats. Certain chemicals which are safe for dogs are not necessarily safe for their kitty counterparts, so it’s important to always check the label carefully.
Q: How often should I use cat flea shampoo?
A: How often you should use flea shampoo will depend upon the type of shampoo as well as the condition of your cat’s skin. Some tougher flea shampoos are only designed to be used once a month, whereas others are safe to use every week or more. Always check the label, and follow the manufacturer’s advice for how often their product can be used. If your cat has sensitive skin, it is a good idea to leave longer stretches between applications of flea shampoo, since some ingredients can be irritating or drying. Just like humans, some cats can also be allergic to certain shampoo ingredients. If you notice any indications of an allergic reaction in your cat, such as a skin rash, you should consult with your vet to find an alternative solution.
Q: Is flea shampoo for cats effective?
A: Flea shampoo is an effective preventative measure, and can be a highly effective flea treatment when used in conjunction with other solutions. It should not be considered a complete flea treatment for cats by itself, but rather one weapon in your arsenal against these pesky insects. It bears repeating that fleas are incredibly hardy, and treatment can take some time to be entirely effective. A flea shampoo should usually be your first line of defense when fleas invade, followed up with treating your home for fleas, and possibly giving your cat an oral flea treatment.
Q: How old does a cat need to be to use flea and tick shampoo?
A: The vast majority of flea shampoos are not suitable for kittens under the age of 12 weeks. This is because some of the chemicals which are tough on fleas are also tough on their sensitive skin, and their bodies are not yet equipped to safely metabolize them. This is unfortunate since kittens are especially vulnerable to flea-related anemia due to their small size.
Although there isn’t currently a flea shampoo for kittens of this age, they can still be treated for fleas using gentler methods. They will need to be bathed with a mild cat shampoo, before being thoroughly combed with a fine toothed flea comb. Any living fleas which scramble for the kitten’s head can be plucked off with tweezers. You might want to keep a cup of hot water near-by, as dropping a flea into this will quickly kill them. This method of flea removal is more time consuming, but safe for very young kittens. Bear in mind that newborn kittens should not be bathed at all. If you suspect fleas in a newborn, they will need to be picked off manually with a pair of tweezers until they are old enough to be treated with a topical flea treatment. Remember to combine this method with eliminating fleas in the house by vacuuming regularly and washing fabrics (including the kitten’s bedding and toys) at a high temperature.
Our Top Pick
We think the best flea shampoo for cats has to be Adams Plus flea and tick shampoo. It treats fleas and ticks incredibly thoroughly, killing eggs and larvae as well as adults, and keeps repelling insects for up to 28 days.
The soothing coconut and aloe extracts act to calm your pet’s skin, whilst the pyrethrins get to work dealing with the pests themselves. This shampoo is a great all-rounder, which can be used on both cats and dogs – perfect for a home with multiple pets. On top of this, Adams’ formula is one of the most cost-effective on the market, meaning you can afford to use it regularly, and keep your home flea free for years to come.