Cat scratchingFleas are the most common external parasite in the world. The cat flea is the most common species in the UK and affects all mammals, not just cats. It likes warm, humid conditions – our centrally heated homes are great for this little beast. Fleas can jump 150 times their own height. They suck blood and can transmit a number of different diseases, from myxomatosis and plague through biting, to tapeworm when the cat ingests some fleas during grooming.

Fleas cause itching (although not all cats are affected as badly as others) and irritation. In young kittens, the amount of blood they suck out can lead to severe anaemia and even death. Some cats have a severe allergy to fleas which can lead to severe itching, with hair loss and scabs from the bites, and also from the cat’s own claws during scratching.

The majority of the flea life-cycle takes place away from the host animal, in the environment. Carpets and soft furnishings are particularly suitable for fleas. The flea eggs are laid on the cat and then fall off when it moves, the larvae then hatch and burrow down to somewhere dark and warm. They then become pupae which they can remain for 2 years, waiting for a new host animal to come by. When they are ready and sense a new host, they will hatch and then jump on, completing the cycle. In the presence of a flea infestation treatment must, therefore, include an environmental component. To prevent a flea infestation, you may be able to get away with breaking one part of the life-cycle, however if you have a cat with a flea allergy, regular treatment with a product that kills the adults is vital.

Treatments for cats

Below is some information about the different products available from your vet or SQP (suitably qualified person). Most of the flea products available from supermarkets or pet shop shelves are not effective. Some of the combination products will also control worms and/or ticks – these are only available with a veterinary prescription.

Active ingredient Brand names Formulation Life-cycle Prescription required
Dinotefuran Vectra felis (combination product) Spot-on (monthly) Adults Yes
Fipronil Frontline, Frontline Plus (combination product), Broadline (combination product), Effipro, Fiprospot,Flevox,… Spot-on or Spray (monthly) Adults Yes for some combination products
Flurolaner Bravecto Spot-on (3-monthly) Adults Yes
Imidacloprid Advantage, Advocate (combination product), Seresto (combination product), Prinovox (combination product) Spot-on (monthly) or Collar (7-8-monthly) Adults and larvae Yes for combination products
Indoxacarb Activyl Spot-on (monthly) Adults and larvae Yes
Lotilaner Credelio Tablet (monthly) Adults Yes
Lufenuron Program Injection (6-monthly) or Oral suspension (monthly) Eggs, larvae, pupae Injection has to be administered by the vet
Nitenpyram Capstar Tablet (one-off) Adults (very fast acting but doesn't last) No
Pyriproxifen Vectra felis (combination product) Spot-on (monthly) Larvae Yes
Selamectin Stronghold Spot-on (monthly) Adults, eggs, larvae Yes
S-methoprene Frontline Plus (combination product), Broadline (combination product) Spot-on (monthly) Eggs, larvae, pupae Yes for some
Spinosad Comfortis Tablet (monthly) Adults Yes

Environmental control

If you have a flea infestation, or you only use a product which kills adult fleas, you will need to treat the rest of the house with an environmental spray. The two best ones to use are Indorex and RIP Fleas. These must not be applied to the animal. Always read the instructions carefully. Animals should be removed from the home during application of the product. The product is toxic to fish so great care should be taken if you have an aquarium.

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