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Are Topical Flea Treatments For Cats Safe?

flea treatment for cats

I’m almost embarrassed to admit this but years ago I used to follow whatever recommendations the vet made whenever we took our cats in for a visit.  This included re-vaccinations and topical flea treatments.  And my cats lived exclusively indoors!  So why didn’t I give this more thought at the time and ask questions? 

Are topical flea treatments for cats safe?

With warmer weather upon us and summer just around the corner it’s likely that your vet is already mentioning flea prevention.  Manufacturers claim these products are safe, but are they really?  In fact, when was the last time you actually read the label on one of these products?  Do you understood what those ingredients do? Oftentimes we can hardly pronounce the words and have no comprehension of how toxic they really are.  With this in mind, here are some things you really need to know.

Ingredients to look out for 

Topical flea treatments for cats are pesticides–neurotoxins actually–and pesticides have been known for decades to cause cancer and other serious health problems. According to an article in, “The active ingredient in the most common topical flea medicine is Imidacloprid.  It is so toxic to fleas that it kills 98% of fleas on the body in about 24 hours.”  Other common chemical neurotoxins used in flea products include:

  • Imidacloprid,  Pyriproxyfen (Advantage II for Cats)
  • Moxidectin, Imidacloprid (Advantage Multi for Cats) 
  • Fipronil (Frontline and Frontline Spray, Frontline Top Spot)
  • Fipronil, Methoprene (Frontline Plus for Cats)
  • Selamectin (Revolution)
  • Nitenpyram (Capstar)
  • Pyrethrin, Methoprene (Bio Spot Flea & Tick Spray for Cats & Kittens)
  • Etofenprox, Methoprene (Bio Spot On for Cats & Kittens)
  • Selamectin (Revolution topical)
  • Dinotefuran (Vectra for Cats & Kittens)

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Buyer beware!  Flea treatments can be deadly

In fact, in 2009, the EPA issued this warning concerning flea topicals:

(Washington, DC – April 16, 2009) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is intensifying its evaluation of spot-on pesticide products for flea and tick control for pets due to recent increases in the number of reported incidents. Adverse reactions reported range from mild effects such as skin irritation to more serious effects such as seizures and, in some cases, the death of pets. 

Incidents with flea and tick products can involve the use of spot-on treatments, sprays, collars and shampoos. However, the majority of the incidents reported to EPA are related to flea and tick treatments with EPA-registered spot-on products. Spot-on products are generally sold in tubes or vials and are applied to one or more localized areas on the body of the pet, such as in between the shoulders or in a stripe along the back. This advisory pertains only to EPA-registered spot-on flea and tick products; these products have an EPA registration number on the label.

Have you read the warning label?

These pesticides are essentially poisons, and manufacturers know this.  That’s why they have warnings on the label like…

“harmful if swallowed”

“avoid contact with eyes, skin and clothing”

“wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water”

“keep away from children” 

And we’re instructed to put this poisonous pesticide on the back of our cat’s neck!  It’s no wonder our cats run away and fight us anytime we try to apply it!  They are certainly smarter than we are in this regard. 

 Flea treatments and adverse reactions

Thanks to pores, everything we put on our cats’ skin is absorbed into their bodies.  The chemicals in flea treatments are no different.  As a result, they are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and can affect organs and the brain.  Common adverse reactions can include:

  • Skin redness, itching, hair loss, sores and ulcers
  • Vomiting, diarrhea and salivation
  • Lethargy, nervousness, ataxia (movement problems), tremors and seizures

Not reading the label has resulted in deadly outcomes for some cats whose owners inadvertently put a product developed for dogs on their cats.  To complicate matters further, cats who come into contact with dogs treated with flea topicals can even develop life-threatening symptoms.  Therefore, if your kitty has any kind of reaction from exposure to a flea product be sure to immediately call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (900) 680-0000 and your local veterinarian or emergency veterinary clinic.

Photo credit: Pixabay

Ways to provide natural flea treatment & prevention

If your cat does enjoy going outside or if there are dogs in the household that may be exposed to fleas, there are several ways to provide natural protection from fleas without putting your cat’s health at risk.

  • Using a flea comb is a great start to remove live fleas, followed by dunking the comb into some soapy water to drown them. 
  • Bathing your cat with a cat-safe shampoo will also kill the fleas.  Lather kitty for 3-4 minutes to ensure the fleas drown.  (I know, this sounds like a fantasy as most cats hate water, much less getting a bath, but if you’re desperate…)
  • Flea eX by Feline Essential, made with non-toxic plant extracts, can be used topically on the cat’s fur as well as bedding, furniture, and other areas fleas and other pests are unwelcome.  There are many other natural herbal/essential oil flea products on the market–make sure you use one that is safe for cats.
  • Anti-flea carpet products containing boric acid or even food grade diatomaceous earth work well for indoor control  Simply sprinkle it on your carpet and vacuum it up.
  • Make your outdoor environments unfriendly to pests.  Add nematodes, which are small flea larvae-eating worms, to the soil around your home and yard.  You can purchase these at local garden centers.

Natural protection using nutrition

Did you know you can actually protect your cat via her diet?  Dr. Wil Falconer, DVM, recommends mixing a small clove of fresh garlic or a teaspoon of nutritional yeast daily in your cat’s food.  Another suggestion is mixing a 1/2 -1 teaspoon of diatomaceous earth in to her food works to kill parasites, too.  In addition, you can dust the DE powder all over the cat’s body.  

Finally, feeding your cat a high quality, balanced, species appropriate diet not only boosts the immune system but makes your cat undesirable to fleas.  A super healthy cat does not attract fleas!  Flea prevention should always be your first goal.  However, if you find fleas on your cat the safest approach is to use a natural, cat-friendly product that will quickly kill them without exposing your cat to poisonous pesticides. 

What has been your experience with natural flea protection for cats?  Share in the comments below!


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