Some cats were born to be wild, living their best lives in the great outdoors. It’s a given that they’d need flea medicine for outdoor cats. But your favorite indoor feline who occasionally steps outside needs flea control medicine, too, says Dr. Kelly Ryan, DVM, director of the Animal Medical Center of Mid-America in St. Louis, Missouri.
“Not only are fleas incredibly annoying, they also carry diseases and parasites, which are harmful for pets and people,” Dr. Ryan says.
If you have a cat who lives both indoors and outdoors, the risk of a flea infestation in your home is much greater, she says. And if your cats live exclusively outside, they’re susceptible to fleas wherever they go, including garages, barns, and anyplace they interact with other animals.
Basically, no matter how much time your cat spends outside, they need flea medicine for outdoor cats.
“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.
OK, But What Should I Use?
You’ve got an overwhelming number of flea control options at your fingertips. Here’s how to pick the right one for your cat.
Pick a Prescription
The first step, Dr. Ryan says, is to talk to your veterinarian. Using veterinary-prescribed flea control for cats, such as Comfortis Chewable Tablets or Bravecto Topical Solution, ensures that the medicine you’re using is both safe and effective, she says. Each animal is different, after all, so only your veterinarian can tell you what’s best for you and your cat’s unique needs.
Max Out Your Benefits
Fleas may be your main concern, but many flea medicines for outdoor cats also protect against other pests.
“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. (Did you know cats can get heartworms from mosquitoes? Read more about heartworms in cats here.)
One fringe benefit parents of outdoor cats should look for in their flea meds is tick prevention.
“While all cat lifestyles put them at risk for fleas, outdoor cats often have [a greater] risk of ticks,” Dr. Ryan says.
Consider Your Deadline
Some outdoor cats return to the same home every night. But if your cat’s more of a “see you when I see you” kind of pet, coming and going as they please, you’ll want to make sure they’re protected for the long haul. Look for a longer-acting product for cats who don’t return home consistently, Dr. Ryan says: “In that case, the Seresto 8-month cat flea collar would be a good option.”
While the best flea treatments for cats are usually chemical, Dr. Ryan says, you can also battle fleas with the Safari flea comb for cats. It’s especially effective for finding fleas that might be trying to catch a ride indoors. And the benefits don’t stop there. “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.
If your cat does bring fleas into your home, they can be difficult to eliminate. Fleas can live for 2-3 months without a host, and they love dark hiding spots like carpets, furniture, closets and even your bed, Dr. Ryan says.
In addition to using a medicated flea preventative on your cat, Dr. Ryan says, you should vacuum all floors extensively and wash all bedding, including any surfaces your cat uses to sleep. You can also use a flea-killing spray on spaces where they’re likely to hide out—but be sure to read the label first, Dr. Ryan warns.
“Particularly take note if the product is safe to use around cats,” Dr. Ryan says. “Some of the products for [home] flea and tick control may be safe around dogs, but they can be toxic to cats.”
Vet’s Best Cat Flea & Tick Home Spray, for example, is safe to use around cats. In fact, you can even spray it directly on your cat to kill pests, too.
The bottom line? Your cat needs flea protection, period.
“Don’t forget to keep administering the flea treatment as directed,” Dr. Ryan says, “whether you are actively seeing fleas or not.”