UPDATED JAN 2023 (see last section)
Does your cat hate getting a chemical flea treatment? Do you worry about the safety of flea treatments? You are not alone.
- Even the product manufacturers will tell you not to use many of the chemical flea treatments on animals who are ill or over 8 years old (what they call “senior”), but so often our cats don’t show they are ill until it’s too late. (This was the case with my cat. It was a terrible experience, and it’s why I became determined to find alternatives.)
- The flea treatment could cause serious damage if their immune system is already compromised by something else.
- Only recently has it come to light that a couple of popular natural flea remedies are also toxic to cats in particular. I’m referring to garlic (which may have issues) and especially to essential oils…
Why cats have special needs when it comes to flea control
It turns out that cats lack the ability to adequately detoxify many compounds.
- Cats are deficient in a liver enzyme called glucuronyl tranferases that is essential to a detoxification process called glucuronidation. Glucuronidation is what most animals, including humans, use to safely process things like the terpenes in essential oils.
- This means that components of essential oils, and many other types of toxins, can rapidly build up in cats bodies and become toxic to them. Essential oils may be toxic to cats through skin and even through breathing.
If cats can’t detoxify essential oils, while almost every other mammal can, I wonder how hard it must be for cats to detox conventional flea pesticides!
Natural flea prevention basics for cats
I stumbled on the B-vitamin repellent method long ago and, to my surprise, it worked. Many years ago I was giving my cat a B-vitamin tablet made for pets and she didn’t get fleas even though another cat in the house had them.
The product we were using at the time doesn’t exist anymore, but I found a new one that has a money-back guarantee. It’s called Flea Treats and you can order it from Fleatreats.com or get it at holistic pet food stores. (Don’t worry, I am not a sponsor or employee of this company and I’m going to tell you they aren’t perfect…)
Flea Treats are easy to use because most cats love the taste. Just give it to them with their food each day – especially during flea seasons — and the repellent ability usually kicks in about 10-30 days later.
However, Flea Treats don’t always repel all fleas for all cats. For example, if your home or small cat-fenced outdoor area has a constant flea population and those are the only places your cat can roam, then Flea Treats probably won’t be enough. See the next section!
Also, does your cat have a yeast allergy? Flea Treats have yeast in them. A few pets, like people, have allergic reactions to yeast (eg, digestive issues or skin flare-ups). If this is the case with your cat, you can try a simple, clean B-complex instead: Mix a 1/8th capsule of Jarrow B-Right into food daily (divided over 2 meals is ideal), at least during flea seasons. (Just eyeball the amount — B vitamins are water-soluble so any excess will pass out safely in the urine.)
Here’s what we do:
1. Get that B-vitamin method going, as described above.
2. Put a flea trap in one or two infested areas in your home – under furniture is your best bet for this trap!
Flea traps are cheap and easy and they really do catch fleas. You can get a good one for less than $15. My favorite, the one we use, is Springstar Flea Trap.
3. Get a flea comb (inexpensive at pet stores or online) and comb your cat daily until you no longer see fleas or flea eggs on the comb. Each time you catch fleas or flea eggs in the comb, drop them into some warm soapy water (and wipe any of the water off the comb so you don’t get the soap chemicals on your cat).
Flea combs with a “moon” handle, like PrimaPets Flea Comb, are popular because of their comfy grip and sturdiness.
When you have a flea infestation and need more help…
Add only one or two of the following at a time.
Then, wait and see if those actions make a difference after a couple of days. If not, add another action from this list.
– Make sure you are giving two Flea Treats per day, one in the morning and one in the evening.
– And/or try giving a Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar + warm water “rub down” every few days. Mix a couple splashes of the ACV in warm water, dip a wash cloth in it, ring out the wash cloth a little so it’s not completely dripping everywhere, and give your cat a rub down. The ACV is believed to be good for the cat’s urinary tract as well, and will help repel fleas from the inside out even if your cat licks it off.
– Wash all sheets, bedding, and blankets – don’t forget the pet bedding.
– Vacuum everywhere and toss the vacuum bag in your outdoor trash can afterwards.
– If your cat goes outdoors, combat outdoor fleas with flea-eating worms! Beneficial nematodes are worms that eat fleas. They are safe and effective for controlling fleas in shady areas outdoors where animals may nap. Arbico Organics is a good source for learning more about using nematodes and picking the right ones for your soil.
– Try “washing-the-car” style cleaning of your cat (bathing without immersion) with warm water that has a little Dr. Bronner’s Unscented Pure Castile Soap. This safe soap with water absolutely does kill fleas. It just doesn’t provide repellant qualities like the Apple Cider Vinegar does.
– If desperate, consider distributing 20 Mule Team Borax on carpets or baseboards. Leave it on for about 4 hours, keeping people and pets out of the room. Then vacuum and dispose of the bag in an outside can. Repeat 3 days later, then 3 more days later. See why I don’t like this method? It works, but it’s a lot of work. It’s also not without some safety issues…
Gentle cautions about Borax:It introduces a slight risk of eye irritation, as well as gastrointestinal upset if swallowed. Do not use around any pregnant animals or humans: There is a question of risk – here’s a PDF from Borax with details.
In addition, seriously consider your cat’s immune system. It’s important to understand that the more compromised your cat’s immune system is, the more vulnerable they are to fleas, so doing a few things to improve their health can really improve your flea fighting success.
If you are using the methods offered here and your cat still has fleas, consider these health tips:
- Try to give your cat an even higher quality diet. Feed less kibble, and more wet food. Avoid cat food that contains grains like rice, corn, wheat, and also gluten and soy. Many cats are weakened by grains in pet food because they didn’t evolve to digest processed grains. Even “holistic” dry food usually has so many carbs that it makes indoor cats overweight. Even if your cat isn’t overweight, check my guidelines for getting them on a better diet: Choosing the Best Cat Food for Your Awesome Cat.
- Work on reducing your cat’s stress by creating an even more loving, peaceful environment in and around the home, and by getting them a nice cat tree to climb on if they are indoor cats. Research shows that stress is a big factor in a cat’s health.
- Get your feline buddy a check-up with a good healthcare practitioner – just to be sure of their health
Is there a least toxic chemical option? Yes
A little while after we started allowing our cats to hang out on our large enclosed deck, fleas in the San Francisco area got SO bad, nothing was working anymore. (To my horror, the worst part is our cats ingested some fleas, which caused little flea tapeworms in their digestive tract!)
So I did some investigating. I had heard Dr. Ihor Basko, a holistic vet, recommend Program (Lufenuron) for Cats. And I saw that NRDC rates it as one of the least toxic flea chemical options. It stops flea reproduction. It does not kill them directly, but since the ONLY way fleas can reproduce is by sucking blood, after a few weeks (and some flea traps around the house)… the fleas die off and no more fleas! It’s been working like a charm.
2023 Update: Program for Cats is no longer available! Instead, you can get generic Lufenuron here. I know their online shop looks like a small-time operation, but ScamAdvisor confirms it’s a trusted site.
One thing that’s nice is there are no awful-smelling chemicals to put directly onto your cat. It is just a small pill you open and mix in with their food once per month.
However, remember that our cats spend time in their large outdoor enclosure. When they were indoor-only, the other measures I listed above worked just fine!