By Jennifer Kvamme, DVM
There are lots of reason to celebrate the arrival of spring and summer, but the return of fleas is not one of them. Not only are these blood-sucking parasites unsightly and creepy, they can also cause some serious diseases. So, how can you keep your cat tick-free this season? Here are a few ideas to consider ...
1. Spot-on Treatments
While spot-on medications seem like they would only work on the spot they are applied to (in the same way a collar works), they are actually very effective at covering the animal’s entire body. The drops work by a process of translocation, by which the medication is spread over the body by way of the oil glands, and by the cat’s natural habit of cleaning itself (i.e., wetting its paws to clean its fur). Spot-ons are not affected by bathing, swimming or rain and will kill and repel fleas for several weeks before reapplication. They may also work to interrupt the flea life cycle while it is in progress. Before choosing a particular spot-on product, read all labels carefully to be sure you are choosing the one most appropriate for your cat’s size and age, and always, only use a product that is expressly labeled for use on cats.
2. Oral Medications
If you need help controlling a recurring flea infestation, using oral medications along with spot-on treatments will help. Once a month flea control pills (in small tablet form) work to disrupt the life cycle of fleas, but do not kill adult fleas on contact. Some are made to be easy to administer, even for pets that are difficult to medicate, with flavor added to make them more like treats so they are accepted gladly -- or at least easier to hide in your cat’s food. With the oral medication, you won’t have to be concerned about small children coming into contact with the cat immediately after administration, as you might with spot-on treatments.
3. Flea Shampoos
Bathing your cat with a special medicated shampoo that kills fleas and/or ticks on contact can be an inexpensive (though labor-intensive) method of protecting your cat during flea season, or year round. You will need to repeat the process more often, about every two weeks, as the effective ingredients in these shampoos don’t last as long as a spot-on or oral medication.
4. Flea Collars
Another option is to use a collar that repels and kill fleas. Their effectiveness may depend on how invasive the fleas are in your pet’s environment, and the collar needs to make contact with your cat’s skin in order to transfer the chemicals onto the fur and skin. When adjusting the collar around your cat’s neck, make sure there is just enough room to fit two fingers under the collar. Cut off any excess length of collar to prevent your cat from chewing on it, and watch for signs of discomfort (e.g., excessive scratching) in case an allergic reaction to the collar occurs. Make sure you read labels carefully when choosing a collar to make sure it is size and age appropriate; this is especially when choosing a collar for cats. If your cat is particularly active or goes outdoors, you should avoid any kind of collar that does not have a quick release latch, since cats are prone to getting collars caught on fences and other objects and suffering choking injuries as a result.
5. Flea Dips
A dip is a concentrated chemical that needs to be diluted in water and applied to the cat’s fur with a sponge, or poured over the back. This is not like a shampoo bath, so you will not rinse your pet off after applying the dip product. These chemical products can be very potent. Misuse can lead to toxic reactions, in both pets and in the people treating them, so they are generally only used for severe infestations, and only infrequently. Make sure to read the labels carefully before use to make sure that it is appropriate for your cat and to make sure that you apply it exactly as stated. Because of the chemical potency of dips, they should not be used on very young animals (under four months) or on pregnant or nursing animals. Ask your veterinarian for advice for treating kittens, and pregnant or nursing pets.