Natural Flea Control for Cats – Surprises and Solutions

Cute cat enjoying himself outdoors

UPDATED MAY 2016

Does your cat hate getting a chemical flea treatment? Do you worry about the safety of flea treatments? You are not alone.

  • Even the product manufacturers will tell you not to use many of the chemical flea treatments on animals who are ill or over 8 years old (what they call “senior”), but so often our cats don’t show they are ill until it’s too late. (This was the case with my cat. It was a terrible experience, and it’s why I became determined to find alternatives.)
  • The flea treatment could cause serious damage if their immune system is already compromised by something else.
  • Only recently has it come to light that a couple of popular natural flea remedies are also toxic to cats in particular. I’m referring to garlic (which may have issues) and especially to essential oils

Why cats have special needs when it comes to flea control

It turns out that cats lack the ability to adequately detoxify many compounds.

  • Cats are deficient in a liver enzyme called glucuronyl tranferases that is essential to a detoxification process called glucuronidation. Glucuronidation is what most animals, including humans, use to safely process things like the terpenes in essential oils.
  • This means that components of essential oils, and many other types of toxins, can rapidly build up in cats bodies and become toxic to them. Essential oils may be toxic to cats through skin and even through breathing.

If cats can’t detoxify essential oils, while almost every other mammal can, I wonder how hard it  must be for cats to detox conventional flea pesticides!

Natural flea prevention basics for cats

I stumbled on the B-vitamin repellent method long ago and, to my surprise, it worked. Many years ago I was giving my cat a B-vitamin tablet made for pets and she didn’t get fleas even though another cat in the house had them.

The product we were using at the time doesn’t exist anymore, but I found a new one that has a money-back guarantee. It’s called Flea Treats and you can order it from Fleatreats.com or get it at holistic pet food stores. (Don’t worry, I am not a sponsor or employee of this company and I’m going to tell you they aren’t perfect…)

Flea Treats are easy to use because most cats love the taste. Just give it to them with their food each day – especially during flea seasons — and the repellent ability usually kicks in about 10-30 days later.

However, Flea Treats don’t always repel all fleas for all cats. For example, if your home or small cat-fenced outdoor area has a constant flea population and those are the only places your cat can roam, then Flea Treats probably won’t be enough. See the next section!

Also, does your cat have a yeast allergy? Flea Treats have yeast in them. A few pets, like people, have allergic reactions to yeast (eg, digestive issues or skin flare-ups). If this is the case with your cat, you can try a simple, clean B-complex instead: Mix a 1/8th capsule of Jarrow B-Right into food daily (divided over 2 meals is ideal), at least during flea seasons. (Just eyeball the amount — B vitamins are water-soluble so any excess will pass out safely in the urine.)

Here’s what we do:

1. Get that B-vitamin method going, as described above.

2. Put a flea trap in one or two infested areas in your home – under furniture is your best bet for this trap!
Flea traps are cheap and easy and they really do catch fleas. You can get a good one for less than $15. My favorite, the one we use, is Springstar Flea Trap.

3. Get a flea comb (inexpensive at pet stores or online) and comb your cat daily until you no longer see fleas or flea eggs on the comb. Each time you catch fleas or flea eggs in the comb, drop them into some warm soapy water (and wipe any of the water off the comb so you don’t get the soap chemicals on your cat).

Flea combs with a “moon” handle, like MiracleCoat Flea Comb, are popular because of their comfy grip and sturdiness.

fleacomb

When you have a flea infestation and need more help…

In outbreaks, these are things I would add to the plan.

Add only one or two of the following at a time.

Then, wait and see if those actions make a difference after a couple of days. If not, add another action from this list.

Make sure you are giving two Flea Treats per day, one in the morning and one in the evening.

And/or try giving a Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar + warm water “rub down” every few days. Mix a couple splashes of the ACV in warm water, dip a wash cloth in it, ring out the wash cloth a little so it’s not completely dripping everywhere, and give your cat a rub down. The ACV is believed to be good for the cat’s urinary tract as well, and will help repel fleas from the inside out even if your cat licks it off.

Wash all sheets, bedding, and blankets – don’t forget the pet bedding.

Vacuum everywhere and toss the vacuum bag in your outdoor trash can afterwards.

If your cat goes outdoors, combat outdoor fleas with flea-eating worms! Beneficial nematodes are worms that eat fleas. They are safe and effective for controlling fleas in shady areas outdoors where animals may nap. Arbico Organics is a good source for learning more about using nematodes and picking the right ones for your soil.

Try “washing-the-car” style cleaning of your cat (bathing without immersion) with warm water that has a little Dr. Bronner’s Unscented Pure Castile Soap. This safe soap with water absolutely does kill fleas. It just doesn’t provide repellant qualities like the Apple Cider Vinegar does.

If desperate, consider distributing 20 Mule Team Borax on carpets or baseboards. Leave it on for about 4 hours, keeping people and pets out of the room. Then vacuum and dispose of the bag in an outside can. Repeat 3 days later, then 3 more days later. See why I don’t like this method? It works, but it’s a lot of work. It’s also not without some safety issues…

Gentle cautions about Borax:It introduces a slight risk of eye irritation, as well as gastrointestinal upset if swallowed. Do not use around any pregnant animals or humans: There is a question of risk – here’s a PDF from Borax with details.

In addition, seriously consider your cat’s immune system. It’s important to understand that the more compromised your cat’s immune system is, the more vulnerable they are to fleas, so doing a few things to improve their health can really improve your flea fighting success.

If you are using the methods offered here and your cat still has fleas, consider these health tips:

  • Try to give your cat an even higher quality diet. Feed less kibble, and more wet food. Avoid cat food that contains grains like rice, corn, wheat, and also gluten and soy. Many cats are weakened by grains in pet food because they didn’t evolve to digest processed grains. Even “holistic” dry food usually has so many carbs that it makes indoor cats overweight. Even if your cat isn’t overweight, check my guidelines for getting them on a better diet: Choosing the Best Cat Food for Your Awesome Cat.
  • Work on reducing your cat’s stress by creating an even more loving, peaceful environment in and around the home, and by getting them a nice cat tree to climb on if they are indoor cats. Research shows that stress is a big factor in a cat’s health.
  • Get your feline buddy a check-up with a good healthcare practitioner – just to be sure of their health

Is there a least toxic chemical option?

(May 2016 update)

A little while after we started allowing our cats to hang out on our large enclosed deck, fleas in the San Francisco Bay Area got SO bad, nothing was working very well anymore. (To my horror, and my cats weren’t happy either. The worst part is that all those fleas can cause little flea tapeworms in the cat digestive tract if your cat ingests them.)

So I did some investigating. I had heard Ihor Basko, a holistic vet, recommend Program (lufenuron) for Cats. And I saw that GreenPaws lists it as one of the least toxic flea chemical options. It stops flea reproduction – it does not kill them. However, since the ONLY way fleas can reproduce is by sucking blood, after a few weeks (and some flea traps around the house)….no more fleas! It’s been working like a charm for several months. (Note: Program for Cats is hard to find, so we get it on Amazon.)

One thing that’s nice is there are no awful-smelling chemicals to put directly onto your cat. It is just a small bit of liquid medicine that you mix in with their food once per month. And, our very picky cat doesn’t mind it!

However, remember that our cats spend time in their large outdoor enclosure. When they were indoor-only, the measures I listed above worked just fine!

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37 Responses to Natural Flea Control for Cats – Surprises and Solutions

  1. Pj Priest August 2, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    This is great, I *must* try these flea treats. One of my cats is allergic to fleas and flea medications. She loses patches of hair and gets welts 🙁 I’ve been looking for something to help her. I hope this works, I’ll be so excited!

    • Liz-cat August 2, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

      Pj, oh good i hope it helps your poor kitty! The only downsides I’ve seen so far with Flea treats are 1) that it can take up to 10 days to take effect and 2) some animals–dogs more than cats–might have a yeast allergy.

      On the off chance your cat reacts to the yeast in Fleas Treats, you can still use the B-vitamin method with Jarrow B-Right B complex: Mix a 1/10th capsule of Jarrow B-Right into food daily (divided over 2 meals is ideal). You need to pull the capsule open and take an approximation of 1/10th of it for each dose.

      Some fish oil with her food might help her skin inflammation and ease the allergies too!

      best wishes

      • Terri Tye December 31, 2015 at 7:49 am #

        I have been trying to get the flea treats. Amazon is sold out and when I go on the website, I get no response. I tried to order, no confirmation and have sent numerous emails. I don’t know if they got my order, or what. Do you know where else to get them?
        I recently lost my Jasper cat (17 years old) It has devastated me. I have since gotten a kitten and want to use only natural/safe stuff for him as I am scared to death of losing another.
        Terri

        • donald December 31, 2015 at 8:37 am #

          Keep checking on Amazon (FTI Pets) and they should come back in stock. I ordered and received some last November. It is hit and miss. The company website appears to be defunct. Perhaps the Jarrow approach that is recommended might be easier.

        • Bridgett January 11, 2016 at 9:17 pm #

          Terri, I’ve been ordering off the fleatreat.com website without problem, so not sure why you aren’t having any luck, maybe due to the holidays? I believe this is a mom and pop kind of business. I actually just placed an online order tonight without incident.

  2. Shirley March 20, 2012 at 9:59 pm #

    Thank you so much for answering my question about natural flea treatments that won’t hurt my cats. I’m going to the store tomorrow to pick up what I need. Another question that I meant to ask you last night was about natural treatments for roundworms. Thank you again for your help. Have a nice evening….

    • Liz-cat March 22, 2012 at 11:02 am #

      Hi Shirley, good question about the round worms. Best advice I can find is from Dr. Pitcairn’s book. He says to get FOOD-GRADE Diatomaceous Earth (VERY IMPORTANT: DON’T get the pool-grade kind though!) and, being careful not to get it in anyone’s eyes or lungs, mix about 1/2 – 1 teaspoon to cat’s food daily for 3 – 4 weeks. That should do it, but he says have them checked just to make sure. You can find it at natural food stores. Let me know how it goes for you guys.
      Here’s an article about it in a dog magazine (note – I dont’ recommend DE externally because it can so easily get in eyes and lungs): http://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/benefits-diatomaceous-earth/

  3. Julie (France) May 4, 2012 at 6:15 am #

    Hi!

    I found one of the best all round flea controls for the house is my trusted ‘Steam mop'(the triangular type that gets everywhere) if there is an upsurge I just blast the whole house with it.including cat beds/cat trees etc.The plus is it knocks out the larva as well,with 3 cats & a large hairy dog it’s & definite “must have” for me.
    Easy peasy & non toxic!

    • Liz-cat May 4, 2012 at 3:15 pm #

      Cool tip Julie, I will have to check this Steam mop out. Is there a particular brand name you use?

      • Julie (France) May 5, 2012 at 1:01 am #

        Hi Liz
        the one I bought on E-bay is a generic of the original steam mops,quite cheap & effective, but I dont think the ‘H20-M’ will be available in US.try this link which gives you an idea of prices etc.The triangular ones are great cos they get in the corners.Try & get one that has a ‘glider’ on it this is a detachable plastic thingy which you use to go over carpets (makes it easier to glide)
        Since I started using it the flea population has just kept on decreasing,last year I only found 1 flea all summer!

        http://housekeeping.about.com/od/surfacefloors/tp/topsteammops.htm (or just Google ‘steam mop’)
        Good luck!

      • Brenda December 30, 2014 at 12:57 pm #

        Hi Liz, I use the 5H20 steam mop and it’s wonderful. I have a house of indoor cats in Florida where the fleas thrive year-round. They hop in on us and through the screens. I got my steamer on a tv shop channel, but found it at target.com for less, without all the attachments, so that’s new bec used to have to order it from their web. . One of these is great, two is awesome!! Cleans the house and mattresses, carpets… it’s irreplaceable. and after I spent weeks of months getting up the borax… btw I hear it’s the only answer for bedbugs.
        Good luck.
        Brenda, the Cat Lady

  4. Julie October 5, 2012 at 11:39 am #

    Hi Liz,
    I’m already feeding my cats Daily Best by Pet Naturals: http://www.vitacost.com/pet-naturals-of-vermont-daily-best-multi-vitamin-for-cats-chicken-liver#nutritionFacts
    This product seems to have a fair amount of B vitamins in it and my cats love them. The company has taken out the sodium bisulfate since learning it could be a problem for cats, even though it is still listed on this website as an ingredient (it is not on their current packaging – I called and they reassured me it is no longer in there.) I’m wondering if these treats may already supply enough b vitamins or if I should still supplement with the Jarrow product you recommend in your Natural Flea Control book.
    Thanks so much for all you do to help us keep our “kiddies” healthy!
    Best,
    Julie

    • Liz-cat October 21, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

      Hi Julie,
      The good news is that the Daily Best does have enough thiamin in it, and the other B amounts look like they might be enough to repel fleas too, though not exactly the same amounts as trusted Flea Treats. The only complaint I have is that Daily Best includes Menadione, which is considered synthetic vitamin K shown to cause problems in high doses, so TruthAboutPetFood advises against Menadione in general.

      • Julie October 21, 2012 at 4:58 pm #

        Hi Liz, thanks for your insights. I looked at the package of Daily Best and I don’t see that ingredient on it. I wonder if the seller just hasn’t updated the ingredients list? It is so hard to stay current on all of these products!

  5. Rie January 21, 2013 at 12:11 am #

    Hi Liz,
    The Little Big Cat website brought me here and I’m very interested in your book. Since the ebook is not available in Asia & Pacific, I’m gonna order the paperback version.
    One quick question, can lice and fleas on cats be treated/killed in the same way? Someone told me my cat has lice but when I look at my cat’s fur and skin, I couldn’t tell the difference.

  6. stargeo January 22, 2013 at 4:09 am #

    The treatment for flea control cats is necessary for the persons who are having pet animals in their home because fleas are very dangerous as they cant control without necessary treatment.

  7. John Decker July 3, 2013 at 8:38 am #

    This is a great article. I have been looking for products that help flea prevention for cats. I have a certain spray that I use for my dog that works but I am not sure if is safe for my cat.

  8. Dottie Perkins July 9, 2013 at 8:55 am #

    I was wondering if human b-vitamins can be used on my cat or dog . We are taking a b-
    complex vitamin and we are not able to pay for
    extra vitamins for the animals riggt away. I know that they are much smaller then us so can we give them a small percentage of the b vitamin?

    • Liz-cat March 16, 2014 at 10:34 am #

      Dottie, about your question on using human B-vitamins. The only ones I feel safe using with cats are Jarrow B-Right. Mix 1/10th – 1/8th capsule of Jarrow B-Right into food daily (divided over 2 meals is ideal), at least during flea seasons. I just “eyeball” it – B vitamins are water soluble so excess will be passed in urine instead of being toxic.

  9. Amanda March 14, 2014 at 6:58 am #

    Hello there,

    I just want to say that I have been using Flea Treats for the past year and half and they overall work great. We haven’t really had flea problems (no infestations, no flea bites on myself), HOWEVER, I have noticed that there is always one or 2 fleas on my cat. They hide in his neck fur where he is unable to get them. They don’t really seem to bother him too much, he’s not excessively itchy. When I comb him there is little to no flea poop. When I can I pick the fleas out (really hard to catch them!) and flush them, but always when I look I find at least one. I’m wondering if anyone else has experienced this and whether or not it’s a problem? I’d rather not use chemicals on my baby and as he doesn’t seem overly bothered by the flea(s) I feel like it’s probably fine. I’d rather he had absolutely no fleas, but considering this is all natural it seems pretty good.

    Any thoughts?

    Thanks!

    • Liz-cat March 16, 2014 at 10:29 am #

      Hi Amanda, yes it does happen in some cases that flea treats alone help yet cannot repel ALL fleas. In this case, I would supplement the flea treats with a flea trap or two in the house and flea combing (about once per week). Still beats using chemicals!

      • Amanda March 16, 2014 at 4:16 pm #

        Thanks, Liz! 🙂 Love your blog 🙂

  10. Sage June 2, 2014 at 10:26 am #

    To repel fleas and ticks, we have been using Quantum 100% Natural Tick and Flea spray. The herbs in this are safe for cats from my own research and verifying with our cats’ holistic vet. Unfortunately, they are closing down so we will have to find an alternative.

    To kill fleas and tick Buck Mountain Parasite Dust is just incredible! The powder kills ticks and fleas at both pre-adult stages as well as adult stage. It’s got organic neem, organic yarrow, and DE. Tiny amounts go a long way and it is all non-toxic to cats.

    • Liz-cat June 2, 2014 at 11:20 am #

      Sage, I’m sure those products work, and appreciate you sharing what works HOWEVER I would never use a product with essentials oils on a cat — and Quantum 100% Natural Tick and Flea spray is all about essential oils. See what I wrote above or http://www.naturalcatcareblog.com/2012/05/cats-and-essential-oils-perfectly-safe-now-exploring-the-controversy/
      DE is another one that does work, but if it gets in eyes or lungs it can be hazardous to humans and cats. I had a eye ulceration from it – it got on my pillow from my cat then I put on my contacts over the ulceration which made it worse. So i’m cautious with DE products.

      • Sage June 2, 2014 at 1:50 pm #

        Thanks for your reply. I realize that there is some controversy about EOs and I do err on the side of not using any. However, our kitties are quite out-going and leash trained so they take long walks, travel, go car camping, and hiking everywhere with us. And it is interesting that our holistic vet and I discussed every ingredient on Quantum and she had no hesitation about their safety, which is another example of how scarily little we yet know about EOs impact on cats.

        We have tried the the flea treats for almost a year and that did not work at all…We have tried the ACV and trust me, that may work for regions with minimal flea and tick infestation but does not work well where that is not the case. I would really like to be able to find something for leash trained kitties who go everywhere such as ours so if you have any other suggestions they would be much appreciated!

  11. Debbie July 25, 2014 at 2:33 am #

    Hello:
    I have a question. For the ACV warm water rub down. Does the Apple Cider Vinegar absolutely have to be the Bragg’s brand?

    • Liz-cat July 25, 2014 at 10:25 am #

      Debbie, good question. I use Bragg’s for two reasons – I suspect the ACV is most effective if it’s unpasteurized (like Bragg’s) because then the enzymes + probiotics are still active… which may repel better and I believe that’s better for the cat (who will lick a lot of it off) – the pH will be healthiest for his urinary tract if it’s unpasteurized and the probiotics + enzymes will be good for his digestive tract.

      • Debbie July 26, 2014 at 6:10 pm #

        Thank you for your info I really appreciate your reply and your cat information all around.

  12. Carolyn July 28, 2014 at 9:33 am #

    This is a great article! My cats don’t seem to have a flea problem anymore but 2 of my cats go for walks regularly and both are seniors. I don’t like giving them the chemicals, but we had a flea infestation some years ago and it was not pretty! So I feel forced into using something. Thanks for the ideas!

  13. donald August 18, 2014 at 7:14 pm #

    The two links you leave for Flea Treats lead to a website that hasn’t been updated since 2006 or to Amazon that say the product is not available and the don’t know when/if it will be. ?

  14. Kim February 1, 2015 at 4:52 pm #

    Hi Liz – What do you recommend to help prevent heart worms in cats? I have unfortunately been using Advantage Multi for fleas, ticks, ear mites and heart worm prevention, but as of late I have been educating myself about all-natural approaches to everything cat-related after losing 1 cat to cancer and one to kidney disease. Thank you in advance!

  15. Christina February 27, 2015 at 6:19 am #

    I have a question regarding ticks. Is there a more natural way to deal with ticks on cats?

  16. Laura Noel March 19, 2015 at 2:45 pm #

    I really enjoyed your post and have discovered lots of valuable and helpful information. I never knew that essential oils were harmful to cats. I am glad I read your post before trying that method. Right now we use chemical flea medications, but I want to switch to something more natural as soon as possible, because I know it isn’t healthy for my pet. What is the best method that you would recommend? I have recently discovered your blog and I absolutely love it. I will definitely stop by again.

    Thank you,
    Laura Noel

  17. Kathy McNally January 21, 2016 at 8:28 pm #

    On my post just a bit ago, I missed checking the box for notify my by email on comments, pls ck that for me, I’m happy to have found this page, so much good info, thanks.

  18. liz k April 15, 2016 at 9:52 am #

    Hi im wondering how to treat eat mites in feral cats? They are tame enough i can pet them but not enough that i can put anything in their ears. Thanks.

  19. sam anto March 3, 2017 at 3:18 am #

    The presence of antiseptic & antibacterial properties of raw honey works the best in treating ear mites in cats and also well known home remedies.

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