The best flea prevention and treatment for cats
- Fleas can pose serious risks to your cat's health, but with the right flea treatment for cats, you can keep your cat or kitten safe from fleas.
- Effective flea control products are available in the form of topical preventives, oral preventives, and collars.
- The best prescription topical flea control product for cats is Revolution Plus Topical Solution for Cats, a monthly preventive that guards against fleas in all life stages, is highly effective, easy to apply, and completely waterproof.
- Before starting your cat on any flea treatment or prevention, you should consult your veterinarian.
- This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Karie Johnson, veterinarian and co-founder of VIP Vet Visit, a mobile vet service in the south suburbs of Chicago.
If your cat has fleas, you want them gone and fast. Decades ago, options for killing fleas were limited — and toxic. Today, many different safe and effective flea control products are available, both prescription and over the counter. Not all flea control products are created equal though.
Choosing safe and effective products for cats can be tricky. Thanks to my background, I'm very familiar with the various flea control products available today. I spent eight years working as a veterinary assistant in animal hospitals followed by two more decades as an editor for magazines in the pet and veterinary fields. I've helped treat countless cats for fleas, including my own cats.
For this guide, I conducted research using the quick product reference guide published by the independent, nonprofit Companion Animal Parasite Council. I selected products based on safety, the number of parasites targeted, and products' ease of use. Jump to the end of this guide to read more about selection criteria.
For additional expertise on treating and preventing fleas in cats, I consulted with three veterinarians: Dr. Herman Jeffer, a veterinarian with Cornwallis Animal Hospital in Durham, North Carolina; Dr. Ashley Bourgeois, a board-certified veterinary dermatologist with the Animal Dermatology Clinic in Portland, Oregon; and Dr. Colleen Sawyer, a veterinarian with Rolesville Veterinary Hospital in Rolesville, North Carolina.
Before choosing a flea preventive for your cat, talk to your veterinarian, who can advise you on what might be best depending on your cat's temperament and lifestyle, and what parasites your cat is most at risk for contracting in your area.
A word of caution: Read labels very carefully before using any flea control product on your cat. No matter what product you choose for your cat, never use one that is labeled for dogs. Flea control products made for dogs and cats are not interchangeable, and a product made for dogs can make cats extremely sick. In some cases, it can even be deadly.
Here are the best flea prevention products and treatments for cats:
- Best topical flea preventive for cats: Revolution Plus Topical Solution
- Best OTC topical flea product for cats: Frontline Plus
- Best fast-acting flea control product for cats: Comfortis Chewable Tablets for Cats and Dogs
- Best flea control product for young kittens: Capstar Flea Control Tablets
- Best flea collar for cats: Seresto Flea and Tick Collar
Prices and links are current as of 11/20/20. We rewrote this guide and selected new products after doing extensive research and conducting expert interviews.
The best topical flea preventive overall
With just one simple monthly application, Revolution Plus Topical Solution not only kills fleas and ticks, it also prevents heartworms and treats and controls roundworms, hookworms, and ear mites.
Pros: Kills and prevents six types of parasites, including deadly heartworm; once-monthly treatment; easy to administer; safe for use in kittens 8 weeks or older and weighing at least 2.8 pounds
Cons: Does not kill tapeworms; caution required in cats with a history of neurologic disorders; not labeled for use in kittens younger than 8 weeks or breeding, pregnant, or nursing cats
Revolution Plus Topical Solution is hands down the most complete parasite preventive available for cats. Revolution Plus not only treats and prevents flea infestations by killing adult fleas before they can lay eggs, it also prevents heartworms and treats and controls ear mites, roundworms, hookworms, and infestations of three different tick species (black-legged or deer tick, Gulf Coast tick, and American dog tick).
"The really exciting thing about flea control is there are always new developments in how we can make them better and safer and more effective," Bourgeois said. "My preference is Revolution Plus."
According to Bourgeois, the active ingredients in Revolution Plus — selamectin and sarolaner — are newer flea controls that are very effective and well-tolerated by cats. Another preventive, Bravecto, contains fluralaner, which is in the same drug class as selamectin and sarolaner, and is also very effective and well-tolerated by cats. However, Bravecto doesn't control as many parasites as Revolution Plus, and it can't be used in kittens under 6 months of age.
Revolution Plus Topical Solution for Cats is easily applied every 30 days in one spot to the cat's skin at the base of the neck between the shoulder blades. The liquid medication is a small volume that is absorbed and dries quickly, leaving no residue behind. Unlike with some of the other topical preventives, you do not need to wear gloves to apply Revolution Plus, and you don't have to avoid touching your cat after application. If you get the product on your hands, simply wash them with soap and water.
You must obtain a prescription from your veterinarian to purchase Revolution Plus. As with all medications that prevent heartworm, your cat will need a heartworm test prior starting this medication and every year afterward. Revolution Plus should be used with caution in cats with a history of neurologic disorders such as seizures.
The best OTC topical flea preventive
Available without a prescription, Frontline Plus kills adult fleas, flea eggs, flea larvae, ticks, and chewing lice.
Pros: Kills adult fleas, flea eggs, flea larvae, ticks, and chewing lice for one month; safe for use in cats and kittens at least 8 weeks of age that weigh at least 1.5 pounds; safe for use in breeding, pregnant, and nursing cats; fleas don't have to bite for it to work
Cons: Not recommended for kittens younger than 8 weeks of age; does not prevent any parasites other than fleas, ticks, and chewing lice
We recommend Frontline Plus because it not only kills fleas and controls flea infestations, but it also kills ticks and chewing lice. Used and trusted by pet owners for more than 20 years, Frontline Plus protects for 30 days with one application. Fleas do not have to bite your cat for Frontline Plus to work — they die on contact.
Frontline Plus has active two ingredients, fipronil and S-methoprene, which work together to kill parasites and break the flea life cycle. Fipronil kills adult fleas and ticks, while S-methoprene is an insect growth regulator that prevents the development of immature flea stages (eggs, larvae, and pupae). However, it can sometimes take a little time of consistent use before all fleas are completely gone, especially if your cat was heavily infested, since flea eggs can be present in your home but not on your cat.
"In flea-infested environments, when they do studies looking at the efficacy of these products, sometimes it takes a few months of consistent, high-quality flea prevention to even see that population completely eradicate because there's four different stages to the flea life cycle," said Bourgeois.
Frontline Plus is easy to use. Squeeze the entire contents of the tube onto one spot on the cat's skin between the shoulder blades. The liquid medication spreads across your cat's skin and is stored in the oil glands. It self-distributes continuously through the hair follicles for one month. Frontline Plus for Cats may be used on cats and kittens 8 weeks or older, weighing 1.5 pounds or more. It is labeled as safe for use in breeding, pregnant, and nursing cats.
The best oral flea control product
Comfortis Chewable Tablets start killing fleas within 30 minutes and offer a full month of protection with one easy-to-give flavored pill.
Pros: Fast-acting treatment starts killing adult fleas within 30 minutes, safe for cats and kittens 14 weeks of age or older weighing at least 4.1 pounds, easy to give alone or in food
Cons: Does not kill flea eggs or larvae, does not prevent any parasites other than fleas, not labeled for use in kittens younger than 14 weeks or breeding, pregnant, or nursing cats
Our top choice for an oral flea control product for cats, Comfortis Chewable Tablets, is fast-acting and good for cats that can't tolerate topical flea preventives. Its active ingredient, spinosad, starts to work within 30 minutes and kills 98% of adult fleas on cats within four hours.
Although topical flea control products are typically easier to use (no need to convince your cat to swallow a pill), there are some cases when an oral preventive is a better choice. For instance, some cats with sensitive skin can't tolerate a spot-on treatment. "An oral flea preventive product is better if a cat has had focal hair loss related to the application of a topical product or if it has a severe flea-related allergy," said Sawyer.
Comfortis is one of two oral flea control products available for cats; the other is Capstar Flea Control Tablets. Unlike Capstar, which kills fleas for only 24 hours, Comfortis protects cats against fleas for a full month. However, Comfortis is not safe for kittens younger than 14 weeks old. Capstar is safe for kittens as young as 4 weeks, so it's our choice for best flea control product for kittens (read more about Capstar in our slide for the best flea control product for young kittens). In order to purchase Comfortis, you will need a prescription from your veterinarian.
The beef-flavored flavored tablets should be given with food once a month. You can offer them alone just before or after feeding your cat, or hide them in a small amount of food. Kittens must be at least 14 weeks of age and weigh at least 4.1 pounds.
The best flea control for young kittens
Capstar Flea Control Tablets are safe for kittens as young as 4 weeks old and start killing fleas within 30 minutes.
Pros: Safe for kittens 4 weeks of age or older weighing at least 2 pounds, safe for pregnant and nursing cats, fast-acting treatment starts killing adult fleas within 30 minutes, easy to give alone or in food, can be used with other flea control products, available without a prescription
Cons: Does not offer long-term protection, does not kill flea eggs or larvae, does not prevent any parasites other than fleas
Available without a prescription, Capstar is the only flea control product safe for kittens as young as 4 weeks and weighing at least 2 pounds. With other flea control products, whether topical or oral, kittens must be at least 8 weeks old, and sometimes older.
Fleas should be eliminated as quickly as possible for heavily infested cats, especially young kittens. The active ingredient in Capstar, nitenpyram, works within 30 minutes and kills greater than 90% of adult fleas in as little as six hours.
Capstar only protects against fleas for 24 hours, but it is safe to give daily if necessary. Since giving a cat a pill every day can be inconvenient, pet owners should follow up with a long-term flea control product (a spot-on or oral preventive that lasts a month or longer) once the kitten is old enough.
The best flea collar
The Seresto Flea and Tick Collar offers eight months of protection against fleas and ticks in all life stages.
Pros: Eight months of protection against adult fleas, flea larvae, and ticks; sustained release technology for continuous protection; lightweight and easy to wear; adjustable for cats of all sizes; fleas don't have to bite for it to work
Cons: Not recommended for kittens younger than 10 weeks of age, children should not play with the collar or put it in their mouth, adjusting size can be tricky
Although flea collars were once a standard option for flea control, these days they take a back seat to topical and oral preventives. However, one standout in the flea collar category is the Seresto Flea and Tick Collar, which uses patented sustained-release technology to provide eight months of continuous protection against adult fleas, flea larvae, and ticks.
In general, topical spot-on preventives and oral preventives are the easiest and most effective form of flea control for cats, but there are instances when the Seresto collar might be a good option. "It would be a better choice if compliance is an issue, as you do not need to remember to apply it monthly," Sawyer said. "Additionally, it is a better choice if the cat does not tolerate topical flea products and/or it is difficult to administer pills."
Bourgeois said that the Seresto collar might also be a good choice for cats that roam outside a lot. "We have some people who have truly outdoor cats," she said. "They might not see them reliably all the time to give them a monthly product. [The Seresto collar] would be the only collar that I would be trusting of."
The collar is nongreasy, odor-free, lightweight, and adjustable for cats of all sizes. It can be worn alongside your cat's existing collar and is designed with a two-step safety system to ensure your cat will not be harmed if the collar becomes snagged on something.
The Seresto Flea and Tick Collar contains imidacloprid and flumethrin, which are released in low concentrations over your cat's skin and coat to kill fleas on contact before they even have the chance to bite. It kills 100% of fleas within 24 hours of placing the collar on your cat. The collar is water-resistant and can remain on the cat even when bathing.
What else we considered
- Advantage II: Advantage II is a topical spot-on product that uses imidacloprid and pyripoxyfen to kill fleas, eggs, and larvae for one month. Available without a prescription, it's safe for adult cats and kittens 8 weeks or older weighing at least 2 pounds. It is also labeled safe for use in pregnant and nursing cats. Advantage II lost out to Frontline Plus because it does not kill ticks, and unlike Frontline Plus, its product label states that severe infestation may require more frequent applications, as often as every 14 days for kittens and every seven days for adult cats.
- Bravecto Plus Topical Solution for Cats: Bravecto Plus is a topical product that uses fluralaner and moxidectin to kill fleas and ticks, prevent heartworm, and treat roundworms and hookworms. One application of Bravecto Plus kills fleas and other parasites for two months, unlike most topical preventives, which must be applied monthly. One downside to Bravetco is it cannot be used in kittens younger than 6 months old. Our best overall pick, Revolution Plus, is safe for kittens 8 weeks or older, and also treats and controls ear mites, which Bravecto Plus does not. Additionally, Bravecto Plus's label states that children should not touch the application site for two hours after application; Revolution Plus has no such warning. Bravecto Plus requires a prescription from your veterinarian as well as a current negative heartworm test. It should be used with caution in cats with a history of neurologic disorders such as seizures.
- Advantage Multi Topical Solution for Cats: Advantage Multi uses imidacloprid and moxidectin to prevent heartworm; kill fleas; and treat and control roundworms, hookworms and ear mites. Unlike Revolution Plus Topical Solution, Advantage Multi does not kill ticks. Its label states that children should not touch the application site for 30 minutes after it's applied, and treated cats should be kept separated from other pets that might lick it; Revolution Plus has no such warning. Advantage Multi requires a prescription from your veterinarian as well as a current negative heartworm test. It is safe for use in kittens 8 weeks or older and weighing at least 2 pounds.
How we selected products
We consulted two veterinarians who work at two different Certified Cat Friendly animal hospitals and a board-certified veterinary dermatologist for advice regarding the treatment and prevention of fleas in cats. Although this information guided us in our product selection, our veterinary experts did not specifically endorse any of the products included in this guide unless explicitly mentioned in direct quotes.
We also conducted research using the quick product reference guide published by the independent, nonprofit Companion Animal Parasite Council. This handy reference, which includes all FDA and EPA-approved parasite control products for small animals, lists each product's active ingredients, how the product is used, and which parasites it controls.
Here are the main attributes we looked for:
Safety and efficacy: Only FDA or EPA-approved products were considered for this guide.
Number of parasites treated: We gave higher ratings to preventives that treat more parasites than just fleas. In general, the more parasites a preventive product covers, the higher it was rated. The exceptions are Capstar, which is the only treatment available for kittens younger than 8 weeks, and our over-the-counter pick, Frontline Plus, which treats fleas, ticks, and lice.
Ease of use: Products were rated lower if they were more complicated to use than a similar product. For instance, products ranked lower if the pet owner must wear gloves to apply the treatment or if children and pets need to be kept away from the treated animal for a specified amount of time.
Types of flea control products
Here are the most common flea control products for cats and how they work:
- Topical preventives: Also called "spot-on" products, topical preventives are great for both killing fleas and preventing flea infestations. As they dry, they spread across the entire body, leaving no residue behind. They are usually applied to the skin in one spot on the back of the neck once a month.
- Oral flea control: Oral flea control products, or "flea pills," are given to your cat by mouth to kill fleas. Some oral flea control products kill fleas for up to a month; others must be given more frequently to continue killing fleas, as often as once a day.
- Flea collars: Flea collars are worn around the neck, where they deliver flea preventive medication to a cat's skin and coat. Some flea collars deliver preventive medication for a longer period than topical applications, making them a good choice for cat owners who don't want to have to apply something every 30 days.
- Flea shampoos: Flea shampoos kill fleas that are currently on your cat. We do not recommend them since topical spot-ons and oral products are easier to use and more effective. Read more about this in our slide on "What to consider when shopping for flea control products."
- Flea spray: Flea sprays are applied to the skin and coat. Like shampoos, we do not recommend them since topical spot-ons and oral products are easier to use and more effective. Read more in our slide on "What to consider when purchasing flea control products."
What you should know about fleas in cats
If your cat has fleas, you want to get rid of them as quickly as possible. Cats that go outside are more likely to pick up fleas, but even indoor cats can get them, either from the family dog or when they go to the veterinarian or a boarding facility. Fleas can even hitchhike indoors on your clothes or shoes.
What are the health risks to a cat?
Fleas are more than just a nuisance. These parasites can pose a threat to your cat's health. A severe flea infestation can seriously damage a cat's skin, induce an allergic reaction, or cause them to become anemic from blood loss. Fleas are also responsible for cats contracting parasites like tapeworms and may transmit diseases.
"Fleas can pass on diseases to cats, which can then be passed on to people," Jeffer said. "The most common one that we see is cat scratch fever (Bartonella henselae bacteria), which can cause all kinds of issues in people, but in cats, it can make them very sick."
How to check a cat for fleas
Signs of fleas in cats include scratching, skin irritation, and the presence of dark red or black specks on your cat's skin, fur, bedding, or furniture. These specks, about the size of grains of black pepper, are called "flea dirt" and are flea feces (or digested blood). Back when I worked in the veterinary hospital, I learned a handy trick to help find out if those little specks are regular dirt or flea dirt. Scoop some onto a damp paper towel. If the paper towel turns red, it's flea dirt.
To check your cat for fleas or flea dirt, run a flea comb (a small, very fine-toothed comb) through your cat's coat or part the hair with your fingers to examine the skin. If you find any live or dead fleas or flea dirt, your cat has a flea infestation.
What to consider when shopping for flea control products
Prescription vs. over-the-counter flea prevention and control
Some flea control products are sold over the counter, which means you can buy them without a prescription. Other flea control products require your veterinarian to write a prescription. You can purchase prescription products directly from your veterinarian or buy them from online pet pharmacies and stores like Chewy, Petco, and Petsmart.
Most prescription flea control products also prevent heartworms and sometimes other parasites like roundworms, hookworms, mites, and ticks. Any product with a heartworm component requires a prescription. Pets must test negative for heartworms before starting one of these products because giving a heartworm-positive pet this type of medication can cause rare but potentially very serious and sometimes fatal complications. You also want to know if your pet has adult heartworms because preventive medication will not kill them — it only kills the larval stages.
Prescription flea control products cost more than over-the-counter options because they protect against more parasites, most importantly, deadly heartworms. There is no treatment for cats with adult heartworms, and they will eventually die from the infection. This is why veterinarians recommend using a year-round heartworm preventive for all cats, whether they live indoors or out. They also recommend year-round intestinal parasite prevention.
For these reasons, prescription flea control products that also prevent heartworms and other parasites are the best choice for your cat. The more parasites you can prevent with one treatment, the better off your cat will be.
Some flea products are dangerous to cats.
Products labeled for use in dogs only should never be used on a cat. Some ingredients that are well-tolerated by dogs can be toxic to cats. "Anything with a permethrin, also known as pyrethrin, should never be used on a cat," Sawyer said. "[Cats] are very sensitive to pyrethrins and can have significant neurologic side effects, even death. Never use a product labeled for a dog on a cat as it may have pyrethrins in it even if not exclusively mentioned on the label."
Flea shampoos are unnecessary.
Decades ago, people might have used a flea shampoo containing pesticides to kill fleas quickly, but these shampoos are no longer the gold standard. Veterinarian-recommended topical and oral flea control products are far more effective. Some flea shampoos are even harmful to cats since many contain pyrethrins. Plus, most cats really dislike being bathed.
"Nowadays, flea shampoos are rarely if ever needed because the topical and oral flea products are much more effective and safer," Sawyer said. "For flea-infested animals, we typically give a fast-acting oral product such as nitenpyram [Capstar] and follow with a bath in Dawn dish detergent or another mild cat shampoo. You can use a flea comb to assist in removing dead fleas and flea dirt [flea feces]."
Avoid natural flea control products.
If you're considering using natural flea control products that contain essential oils, exercise caution. Some essential oils can be toxic to cats.
All three veterinarians we consulted do not recommend natural products, which do not work nearly as well as veterinarian-recommended topical and oral flea control products. "They are just not proven to be really effective," Bourgeois said. "My biggest concern with natural products is, even if they're safe, if they're not effective, that's not helping our pets. I get more concerned about the secondary ramifications for the pet if we're using something that hasn't been proven to be effective, versus products that have been proven to be effective and well tolerated."
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