Cat Fleas and Ticks

Flea infestations can be not only annoying for both cats and humans, but also very dangerous. Problems caused by fleas may range from mild to severe itching and discomfort to skin problems and infections. Anemia may also result from flea bites in extreme circumstances. Furthermore, fleas can transmit tapeworms and diseases to pets.

Ticks are parasites that feed on the blood of their host, which can be an animal or a human. Ticks are efficient carriers of disease because they attach firmly when sucking blood, feed slowly and may go unnoticed for a considerable time while feeding. Common and serious tick-spread illnesses are:

  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF): a bacterial disease spread through the bite of an infected tick. Most people who get sick with RMSF will have a fever, headache and rash. RMSF can be deadly if not treated early with the right antibiotic.
  • Lyme disease: a bacterial disease caused by Borrelia burgdorferi and rarely, Borrelia mayonii. It is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Typical symptoms include fever, headache fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans.

How to Get a Tick Off a Cat

Supply List:

  • Tweezers or tick-removing tool
  • Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol)
  • Triple-antibiotic ointment
  • Jar or container with a lid
  1. Fill the jar with isopropyl alcohol.
  2. Gently restrain your cat.
  3. Separate the fur.
  4. Grasp the tick with the tweezers as close to your cat’s skin as possible. Do not squeeze the tick.
  5. Use gentle, firm pressure to remove the tick.
  6. Drop the tick into the isopropyl alcohol.
  7. Apply triple-antibiotic ointment on the tick bite area.

Checking for Signs of Fleas on a Cat

If you’re not sure if your cat has fleas, check for these signs:

  • Excessive grooming, making fleas difficult to find
  • Red bumps or scabs, specifically along neck and back
  • Shaking head
  • Restless behavior
  • Losing fur
  • Brown parasites jumping or crawling in fur

Flea Larvae on Cat

What do flea eggs look like? Flea larvae that hatch from flea eggs are off-white in color and look like tiny worms that range from 2-5 millimeters in length. You may not see them because they quickly burrow deep into carpets, cracks and grass.

Flea and Tick Allergy Dermatitis

When a flea bites a cat to consume a blood meal, some of its saliva is injected into the skin. In an allergic cat, just one bite can result in intense itching that can last for days. Cats with flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) do not have to be infested with fleas; a single flea is enough to cause a problem.

How to Prevent and Eliminate Fleas and Ticks

For every parasite you see on your pet, there are hundreds more in the environment. There is no perfect control. By educating yourself on available products, and using the best products for your situation, you can reduce the chances that your pet will be infested with fleas or become a meal for ticks.

Some flea and tick products repel mosquitoes, as well.

When choosing a control product, examine the length of the flea, tick and mosquito season in your area. Fleas and ticks pose a threat to pets year-round, but are most active during the warmer months, starting as early as March in some areas of the United States. Find your state on the map shown here to learn where and when your pets are most at risk for fleas and ticks.

Flea Season Map

Flea & Tick Season, Courtesy of the American Kennel Club


Selecting the Best Flea and Tick Treatment

To select the best flea and tick treatment consider:

  • the severity and stages of the problem
  • the type of external parasites involved
  • the species, age and health of the pet
  • any chemical sensitivities in the household

Many people find that they need to treat the yard and the house, as well as the pets, to achieve adequate control.

Understanding Product Labels and Ingredients

Warning: It is important to understand that more potent products may have an increased risk of side effects. Never use a flea, tick or mosquito product for a cat unless the label specifically states that it is safe for cats. Many dog products are very dangerous for cats.

The product choice is made by balancing safety, efficacy, duration, addition of an insect growth regulator, and whether or not the product can be used on cats or dogs.

Misuse and overdose of insecticide products can significantly increase the chances of side effects. Be aware that individual pets may react to any given insecticide product. If a negative reaction does occur, the product should not be used again. Switching to a different product may solve the problem.

When reading product labels, look for the:

  • active ingredients
  • the species and age of animal that the product is intended
  • types of parasites killed
  • whether the product includes an adulticide, an insect growth regulator, or both

Adulticides are insecticides that kill adult insects. Insect growth regulators are insecticides that help to reduce fleas in the environment by preventing eggs from hatching and larvae from molting. The insect growth regulators (IGRs) are of vital importance to reduce fleas in the environment and eliminate them before they have a chance to jump on your pet. They are a simple, easy method of flea population control and an excellent addition to flea products that kill fleas on your pet.

Flea and Tick Prevention and Treatment Methods

Natural Flea and Tick Treatments for Cats

Many cat owners want natural products that are safe for use around all pets and children. Consider the Vetality Naturals brand which uses a powerful, yet gentle botanical blend of essential oils proven to kill and repel fleas, ticks and mosquitoes. This all-natural product line includes sprays, shampoos, collars and topicals that safely protect your cat and prevent flea infestations, skin reactions and flea bite dermatitis.

Flea and Tick Collars for Cats

Flea collars are a safe and effective way to control fleas on cats. While they start working immediately, the active ingredients in flea collars spread over time to cover the entire body for maximum protection. They are a long-lasting form of flea control.

Flea collars work by either emitting a pesticide into the area around your pet or releasing one that is absorbed by your pet's skin. While some are effective, many, unfortunately, only protect a very small portion of the animal, generally around the neck area. Additionally, prolonged use is more likely to cause a localized skin reaction where the collar is worn. Flea collars can be quite handy in the event of a flea infestation; simply toss in your vacuum canister or bag for a more effective vacuuming experience.

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Flea and Tick Shampoos and Sprays for Cats

Traditional methods of flea control for pets include flea and tick bathing, shampoos and sprays. Although effective, these products often only kill the adult parasites and have little or no residual activity. So, new ticks or fleas can re-infest your pet in a matter of days. Traditional methods are time consuming and often messy.


Flea shampoos contain additional ingredients that repel or kill fleas. There are also flea shampoos that contain natural ingredients, however many of these products may not provide the same levels of efficacy as medicated products. While flea shampoos can help, they are not effective as your only flea prevention strategy.

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There are a variety of sprays on the market, and which you select will be based on your level of flea infestation. Some sprays are designed to be sprayed directly onto your pet. Others are designed to be sprayed on furniture, bedding or carpet. Still others are exclusively for use outdoors. Be sure to read the manufacturer's guidelines for application directions.

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Flea Pills and Oral Treatments for Cats

Flea pills are oral insecticides that help control, treat and prevent flea infestations in cats. There are several different types of flea pills commonly prescribed by veterinarians.

Each has a different active chemical ingredient that targets fleas in a unique way. Some flea pills kill adult fleas, others kill larvae, and some inhibit a flea’s ability to lay eggs. Knowing which part of the flea life cycle the pill targets is essential for effective flea control.

When you have a flea infestation, you need to kill fleas fast. Capstar is available without a prescription and starts killing fleas within 30 minutes so you don’t have to wait. Unlike topicals, shampoos and sprays, Capstar is an oral tablet that starts working from the inside out. It is safe to administer daily to kill new fleas as they appear on your pet. If your pet gets re-infested with fleas, it is safe to administer another dose as often as once a day.

Capstar kills adult fleas and are indicated for the treatment of flea infestations on cats and kittens 2 pounds of body weight or greater and 4 weeks of age and older.

Treat all infested pets in the household. Fleas can reproduce on untreated pets and allow infestations to persist.

Capstar can be used daily, as needed, for fast-acting relief from an existing flea infestation. A monthly flea infestation preventive is recommended for long-term treatment and prevention of flea infestations.

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Flea and Tick Spot-on Treatments for Cats

Spot-on treatments have the advantage of becoming active quickly and staying active for a specified period of time. Spot-on treatments are a liquid medication applied directly to your cat’s skin, in an area that your cat cannot lick. Once applied, the ingredients are absorbed into the oil glands and are spread out and begin to kill fleas all over your pet's body.

Advantage Cat Flea Treatment

Advantage II is an easy-to-apply topical that kills fleas through contact so that they don't have to bite your pet to die. Advantage II effectively treats existing flea infestations and prevents further infestations by killing adult fleas, flea larvae and flea eggs to break the flea life cycle. Reinfesting fleas are killed within 2 hours, and protection against further flea infestation lasts for up to a month.

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Flea and Tick Home Sprays and Fogger Treatment

Help protect your home and family from parasitic pests with flea and tick home sprays. Home spray works to kill fleas, bed bugs, dust mites, brown dog ticks and other household pests on contact for up to two weeks.

Adams Plus Flea & Tick Indoor Fogger kills today's fleas and prevents tomorrow's fleas from growing up to bite. It effectively breaks the flea life cycle and inhibits flea reinfestation for up to 7 months.

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Updated May 20, 2021