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What is the best tick and flea treatment for cats?

What to do in an emergency
June 21, 2021
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What is the best tick and flea treatment for cats?

The 5 best flea preventives and treatments for cats in 2021

  • Effective tick and flea treatment for cats are available as topical preventives, oral preventives, and collars.
  • We did extensive research to select the best cat flea control products.
  • Before starting your cat on any flea treatment or prevention, you should consult your veterinarian.

If your cat has fleas, you want them gone and fast. Decades ago, options for killing fleas were limited — and toxic. Today, more than one safe and effective tick and flea treatment for cats control products are available, both prescription and over-the-counter. 

Choosing safe and effective products for cats can be tricky. Before choosing a flea preventive for your cat, talk to your veterinarian. She can advise you on what might be best depending on your cat’s temperament and lifestyle. As well as what parasites your cat is most at risk for contracting in your area.

A word of caution: Read product labels very carefully. 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. A product made for dogs can make cats extremely sick. In some cases, it can even be fatal.

Here are the best tick and flea treatment and prevention products for cats in 2021

  • Best topical flea preventive for cats: Revolution Plus Topical Solution
  • OTC topical flea treatment for cats: Frontline Plus
  • Fast-acting flea control product for cats: Comfortis Chewable Tablets for Cats and Dogs
  • Flea control product for young kittens: Capstar Flea Control Tablets
  • Flea collar for cats: Seresto Flea and Tick Collar

The best topical flea preventive overall

Revolution Plus The Vets at 66
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

Cons: Does not kill tapeworms; caution required in cats with a history of neurologic disorders; not labeled for use in breeding, pregnant, or nursing cats

Parasites prevented: Fleas, heartworms, roundworms, hookworms, ear mites, three tick species

Duration of effectiveness: 30 days

Safe for: Cats and kittens 8 weeks and older, weighing at least 2.8 pounds

Not labeled for use: Kittens under 8 weeks old; breeding, pregnant, and nursing cats

Prescription: Yes

Revolution Plus Topical Solution is hands down the most complete parasite preventive available for cats. It not only treats and prevents flea infestations by killing adult fleas before they can lay eggs. But, it prevents heartworms. Revolution also treats and controls ear mites, roundworms, hookworms. As well as infestations of black-legged (deer), African Bont Tick, and African dog ticks.

The really exciting thing about tick and flea treatment for cats is there are always new developments in how we can make them better and safer and more effective. My preference is Revolution Plus.

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, and it can’t be used in kittens under 6 months of age.

Revolution Plus application

Revolution Plus 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 before 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

Frontline Plus for cats The Vets@66
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; safe for use in kittens at least 8 weeks of age and 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

Parasites prevented: Adult fleas, flea eggs, flea larvae, ticks, chewing lice

Duration of effectiveness: 30 days

Safe for: Cats and kittens 8 weeks and older, weighing at least 1.5 pounds; breeding, pregnant, and nursing cats

Prescription: No

We recommend Frontline Plus as a tick and flea treatment for cats because it not only kills fleas and controls flea infestations but 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.

Studies have shown

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 are four different stages to the flea life cycle.

Frontline Plus is easy to use as a tick and flea treatment for cats. 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. 

The best oral flea control product

The best oral flea control product Comfortis Chewable Tablets
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 kittens 14 weeks or older, easy to give alone or in food

Cons: Does not kill flea eggs or larvae or prevent parasites other than fleas, not labeled for use in kittens younger than 14 weeks or breeding, pregnant, or nursing cats

Parasites prevented: Adult fleas

Duration of effectiveness: 30 days

Safe for: Cats and kittens 14 weeks and older, weighing at least 4.1 pounds

Not labeled for use: Breeding, pregnant, and nursing cats

Prescription: Yes

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.

Comfortis versus Capstar

Comfortis is one of two oral flea control products available as a tick and flea treatment 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 the 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. 

The best flea control for young kittens

Capstar Flea Control Tablets 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, safe for pregnant and nursing cats, fast-acting treatment, 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

Parasites prevented: Adult fleas

Duration of effectiveness: 24 hours

Safe for: Cats and kittens 4 weeks and older, weighing at least 2 pounds; pregnant and nursing cats

Prescription: No

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

Seresto Flea and Tick Collar The best tick and flea treatment for cats
The Seresto Flea and Tick Collar offers eight months of protection against fleas and ticks in all life stages.

March 2021 investigation by USA Today reported 1,700 animal deaths and other adverse reactions linked to Seresto flea collars. It’s unknown if the EPA-approved pesticides used in the collar caused these incidents and this story is still developing. Always speak to your veterinarian if you have concerns before using a product and only purchase Seresto collars from authorized retailers.

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

Parasites prevented: Adult fleas, flea larvae, ticks

Duration of effectiveness: 8 months

Safe for: Cats and kittens 10 weeks of age and older

Prescription: No

Although flea collars were once a standard option for tick and flea treatment for cats, 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 tick and flea treatment for cats or 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. Additionally, it is a better choice if the cat does not tolerate topical flea products and/or it is difficult to administer pills.

Cats that roam

The Seresto collar might also be a good choice for cats that roam outside a lot. Some people have truly outdoor cats. 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. Your cat can wear this collar alongside its existing collar. The manufacturers designed a two-step safety system to ensure that the collar will not harm your cat if the collar becomes snagged on something.

The “Seresto Flea and Tick Collar” contains imidacloprid and flumethrin. The collar releases 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.

Types of flea control products

person applying topical tick and flea treatment for cats

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. You usually apply them to the skin in one spot on the back of the neck once a month.
  • Oral flea control: Give oral flea control products, or “flea pills,” 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: Wear flea collars 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: Apply flea sprays 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

person combing a cat for fleas as a tick and flea treatment for 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. 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. “Flea dirt” are these specks, about the size of grains of black pepper, 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

Cat lying on a couch with tick and flea treatment for cats

Prescription vs. over-the-counter flea prevention and control

Some flea control products are sold over the counter. So, 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.

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 the 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 choices 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.

Never use products labeled for use in dogs only on a cat. Some ingredients that are well-tolerated by dogs can be toxic to cats. Never use anything with permethrin, also known as pyrethrin on a cat. 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 a bath.

Nowadays, flea shampoos are rarely if ever needed because topical and oral flea products are much more effective and safer. 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.

Most veterinarians 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. The biggest concern with natural products is, even if they’re safe, if they’re not effective, that’s not helping your pets. Rather be more concerned about the secondary ramifications for the pet. Especially if you are using something that hasn’t been proven to be effective. Rather opt for products that have been proven to be effective and well-tolerated.