While flea control for cats is important for all felines, outdoor cats are much more susceptible to flea infestations since they are exposed to the elements and other animals more than your typical indoor cat.
In addition to being bothersome, fleas can present a significant risk to your kitty’s health. So, you’ll want to make sure you protect your cat from fleas and the dangers they present.
“Not only are fleas incredibly annoying, they can also carry diseases and parasites, which are harmful for pets and people,” says Dr. Kelly Ryan, DVM, director of the Animal Medical Center of Mid-America in St. Louis, Missouri.
Why Flea Prevention Is So Important
You shouldn’t wait for flea season to protect your cats, especially if they have regular access to the outdoors.
“It is far easier and less expensive to prevent flea infestations than it is to get rid of them, so consistent flea protection for pets should always be a priority,” Dr. Ryan says.
This is particularly important because flea bites can cause a number of health issues, including serious skin infections and anemia.
“There are also other health concerns when it comes to fleas, including tapeworms, allergies and even cat scratch disease,” Dr. Ryan says. “While not as common, cat scratch disease can be attributed to fleas. Infected flea droppings carry the disease, which is transmitted from cats to people by a cat bite, scratch or lick.”
Many cats are allergic to fleas. In fact, flea allergies are one of the most common causes of feline dermatitis.
“Cats can have a reaction from just one flea bite, resulting in excessive grooming, hair loss and skin infections,” Dr. Ryan says.
Fleas Indoors vs. Outdoors
If you have a cat that lives both indoors and outdoors, the risk of a flea infestation in your home is much greater. And if your cats are truly just outdoor cats, chances are they will be living in your yard, garage or even a barn. Fleas will be all around the property, waiting for a chance to get into your home and cause lots of trouble.
“A single flea can get in the house through a window screen or an open door, and they can hitch a ride into your house on other pets, clothes and shoes,” Dr. Ryan says. “Just one female flea can lay 25 eggs every day, so it doesn’t take long for your cat to have fleas and for your house to be infested.”
The bottom line: “Flea control should be the same for indoor and outdoor cats,” Dr. Ryan says.
With outdoor cats, you have the added responsibility of being more vigilant and perhaps using longer-lasting products, but the application program should be very similar to what you would use for your indoor-only cats. For regular treatment for your kitty, using a product like Frontline Plus Flea & Tick treatment for cats or Onguard Flea & Tick treatment for cats might be enough.
Choosing the Right Product
Whenever possible, Dr. Ryan recommends using a veterinary-prescribed flea control for cats. Your veterinarian knows what is best for you and your pet’s unique needs and can give you the best recommendation.
Check to see what other ailments the product can prevent against.
“Some of the topical flea control products, like Revolution or Advantage-Multi, also protect against heartworm disease, which is a risk for cats as well as dogs and can often be life-threatening,” Dr. Ryan says.
When getting a flea treatment for outdoor cats, make sure tick prevention is included as well.
“While all cat lifestyles put them at risk for fleas, outdoor cats often have the additional risk of ticks, so in that case, I would recommend a product labeled flea and tick control,” Dr. Ryan says.
Longer-acting products would definitely be better for outdoor cats that don’t return home consistently, according to Dr. Ryan.
“In that case, the Seresto 8-month cat flea collar would be a good option,” Dr. Ryan says.
While the best flea treatments for cats are usually chemical, you can also try something like the Safari flea comb for cats to find fleas that might be trying to catch a ride indoors.
“Brushing and combing your cat will also help his coat stay healthy and can reduce the number of hairballs––all great benefits to regular grooming,” Dr. Ryan adds.
Flea shampoo for cats is another alternative treatment. If your cat is not fond of baths, check out Vet’s Best waterless flea & tick cat bath foam, a gentle, chemical-free foam that uses a plant-based formula to ward off and kill fleas and ticks.
Treating Your Home
When it comes to fleas, it’s important to remember that they can live for 2-3 months without a host, and they love dark hiding spots.“They can live in the carpet, furniture, closets and even your bed,” Dr. Ryan says. “If your pet has fleas, the first thing to do is get a medicated treatment for the pet from your veterinarian.”
You should vacuum the floors extensively and wash all bedding, including any surfaces your cat uses to sleep. Dr. Ryan recommends reading labels carefully if you’re going to use store-bought treatments for your home.
“Particularly take note if the product is safe to use around cats,” Dr. Ryan says. “Some of the products for cat flea and tick control may be safe around dogs, but they can be toxic to cats.”
If you are having a hard time getting fleas out of your house, Dr. Ryan suggests consulting a pest control company. This might also be a good solution if there are outdoor spaces you need to spray to get rid of fleas.
“Most importantly, don’t forget to keep administering the flea treatment as directed, whether you are actively seeing fleas or not,” Dr. Ryan adds.
Diana Bocco is a full-time writer and adventurer who has written for National Geographic, DiscoveryChannel.com, Yahoo! and Marie Claire. Diana has lived in five countries and taken her rescued dogs along to each one of them.