Independent as they may seem, our fabulous feline companions can’t do everything on their own-and this includes fighting off fleas. Being too sensitive to essential oils, and the fact they lick themselves so much, makes natural flea repellents for cats trickier than it is for dogs. Many natural methods deal with prevention (vacuuming, regularly washing bedding, and so on) but there are a few that you can take immediate action with.
1. Flea Comb
This is very similar to the flea comb for dogs, and while some cats may find the scent of citrus unappealing, the way this is prepared can lessen the intensity of the smell to their sensitive noses (but not to the fleas) because you don’t use straight lemon juice. Fleas hate the overwhelming smell of lemon, and it seems to help deter them. Combining the lemon with a flea comb-it can be either a regular comb, although the super fine toothed ones sold in stores are optimum-does twice as good a job. You get the pests out with the comb, while leaving a lingering scent of lemon that will keep them from coming back.
You will need…
-A fine toothed comb or flea comb
-3 cups of water
-A spray bottle
Pour 3 cups of water into a pot and add in 3 lemons that have been chopped up. Bring this to a boil, and then remove from heat before letting the lemons steep in the water for 3 hours (3 is the magic number here it seems.) After it is done steeping strain the lemons and their particles from the liquid and pour into a spray bottle. You can than lightly mist your cat and go through their fur with the comb. Alternatively you can pour the liquid into a bowl and soak your flea comb directly in the solution and then go over your cat. Do this at least twice a day. You can also mist their bedding down, if they don’t seem to mind the smell. Remember, if your cat seems to think the lemon is unpleasant, try something else. You wouldn’t want to have to live covered in a smell you didn’t like either.
Personally: I have started using glass spray bottles when it comes to anything acidic like lemon juice, vinegar, etc., rather than plastic. Whether or not there is anything to chemicals leaching from the plastic, it puts my mind at ease.
2. Apple Cider Vinegar Bath or Spray
Would you want to chomp onto something that smelled overwhelmingly foul to you? Probably not. The same thing is true of fleas and vinegar-even apple cider vinegar, which I actually like the smell of. Applying this during a bath or as a spray does not change a cats internal Ph. levels, and is a good way to naturally remove fleas, especially on kittens.
You will need…
-A spray bottle
-Several cups of Apple Cider Vinegar
-Some very mild shampoo that is safe for cats (optional)
Fill a spray bottle with apple cider vinegar, apply directly to coat, and leave on. Alternatively you can carefully bathe your cat, either with just ACV or ACV and mild shampoo mixed together. If you are using just ACV spray a generous amount onto the fur and let it sit on your cat for 5 minutes before rinsing it off and following the bath with a flea comb. I prefer the shampoo route personally. If you do use it, use a half and half shampoo to vinegar ratio, and suds the cats head first-when you place the cat in water, the first thing fleas will do is run up to the head. Work the shampoo blend into their fur well and let it sit for 5 minutes, rinsing out thoroughly and follow treatment with a flea comb. If your cat will not tolerate a bath, use the spray bottle option, or gently pour cups of water of it instead of setting it in standing water (submersion may make the experience that much more scary to your cat.)
3. Dry D.E. Shampoo
Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a naturally occurring rock that is made up of the fossilized remains of ancient hard shelled algae (called diatoms, hence the name.) Easily crumbled into a fine powder, DE is an effective and safe means of repelling fleas. While harmless to humans or pets, it is lethal to fleas because of its tiny but incredibly sharp edges that can slice right through the pest’s tough, waxy, exoskeleton. The fleas then die of dehydration. It is important that you only use food grade diatomaceous earth-any other kind is not approved for use on animals or humans, not to mention it will be too finely ground to kill the fleas. Food grade can be safely used externally and internally in both humans and animals, which means that when your cat goes to lick itself off, DE won’t hurt it.
The biggest thing you want to avoid is breathing it in-you don’t want those little particles in your throat. This can be avoided by wearing a mask when using it in large quantities (if you are dusting the cats bedding down, for example) and by not going overboard when putting it on your pet.
You will need…
-Food grade Diatomaceous Earth
Wearing gloves so as not to pick up fleas yourself, dust your hands with DE, or take a small handful. Pat or sprinkle onto your cats fur and rub it in so it’s not just sitting on the surface, also avoiding getting too close to their nose. Follow this by dusting your pets bedding (after you’ve washed it) and rubbing it in well so there aren’t a bunch of loose particles floating around to inhale. You can do this treatment on your cat once a day, and on the bedding once a week.
4. Biological warfare
Beneficial nematodes are insect-parasitic, which means that these small microscopic “worms” are safe for pets, people, and plants, but not pests. There are many different kinds of nematodes, but the ones marketed for flea control and pest control in gardens are not one of the nasty ones. These little guys have a unique mission, seek out pests (they love flea larvae) and destroy them. It’s a little gross how they go about it-basically they kill the flea from the inside out and then feed on it-but fleas are nasty anyways right? What goes around comes around I suppose. Nematodes have been shown to be very helpful in reducing flea populations under the right conditions. They need moist soil to thrive and to be able to move easily, but they did not have the same level of effectiveness in dry super dry conditions. If you live in an area where nematodes might be useful, you can place them around the perimeter of the house where they act like a tiny army to defend your home (and your cat) from fleas. Use them in accordance to the manufacturer’s instructions.
5. Soapy water flea trap
Fleas, well, they aren’t the brightest things in the world, which is good news for us. They are attracted to light, and find its shining splendor irresistible. To take advantage of this, place a very shallow dish with sudsy water under a night light so when they hop towards the light, they hop into the water and drown. Use hot or warm water, as they seek things out by temperature.
You will need…
-A shallow dish (a yogurt lid works well)
-A night light
Fill a shallow dish with warm soapy water and place directly under a night light. Check the trap in the morning, empty it, and repeat to help get the fleas under control.
Cats are particularly sensitive creatures, and with the tendency to lick their fur, chemical fleas treatments can make many owners take pause. They also metabolize essential oils differently than dogs, making most of them toxic to felines, which then present another barrier when it comes to flea control. Prevention, such as regularly washing your pets bedding and vacuuming, is one of the best ways to keep you on top in your fight with fleas. If nothing natural seems to work, do know that the infestation may be to such a point that a trip to the vet is needed. Even if you would really rather not go, you and your cat will be better off for it.
Know the enemy
Fleas are dastardly things, but a basic understanding of how they live is a good way to learn how to kill them and keep them from returning (I’ll try and keep this short.) A flea has 4 stages of development-egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The eggs are laid on the host after the female feeds, but easily roll off. Thanks to this little trick, places where the pet sleeps becomes heavily infested-which is why attention to bedding and resting spots is a must. To win this battle, one must fight the flea at all life stages. Kill the adults, get rid of the eggs, and prevent the larva and pupa from ever existing. Easier said than done, of course, but it’s worth fighting for your pets comfort and health.
One course of action you might take…
Kill adults: Use a flea comb to pick them off and drown them in soapy water. Follow this with a flea bath and a dusting of DE. Dust DE on pets bedding and carpets, and vacuum carpets after 30 minutes.
Get rid of the eggs: Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum. Vacuum carpets like your life depends on it, and be even stricter about your pet’s bed and resting places. Wash bedding often in hot water with a splash of white vinegar as well. Empty vacuum right away and take trash out to prevent the flea eggs from hatching and re-infesting the house. Eggs hatch every 2 days to 2 weeks.
Prevent pupa and larvae: If you are religious about doing the above, it becomes possible to prevent pupa and larva from developing and reproducing as they can only reproduce after they feed on blood (which sounds straight out of a bad horror movie doesn’t it?)
Prevention: Fleas populations break down as such-%50 eggs, 35% larvae, 10% pupa, 5% adults. Eggs lead to adults, of course, so don’t underestimate the benefit of regular vacuuming or spraying with something like the lemon spray.
For Kittens: Treating baby animals with fleas is always a challenge. Even if you plan on using flea medication from the vet, it can’t be used until they are a certain age. They are small, and fragile, and it takes an extra chunk of dedication to safely rid them of the pests. If using DE, always make sure you aren’t being excessive, which might result in the kitten breathing it in. I think regular flea baths and going over them with a flea comb is a good idea, time consuming as it may be.
Tip: Don’t know if your cat has fleas? If you can see little brown or black specks on your pet’s skin, it may be flea feces. Smear one on a wet paper towel-if it turns reddish, its flea excrement, and that’s blood you are seeing.
Dog owner? Take a look at our flea remedies for dogs.
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By Claire GoodallClaire is a lover of life, the natural world, and wild blueberries. On the weekend you can find her fiddling in the garden, playing with her dogs, and enjoying the great outdoors with her horse. Claire is very open-minded, ask her anything :) Meet Claire
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