Flea Prevention & Holistic Treatments for Cats

Thereís so much that is done to our cats that is accepted and mediocreóso much so that few ever challenge it, especially Western trained veterinarians. But some of these habitual protocols done so mindlessly and often have turned out to be quite harmful for our cats. One of those is the routine use of chemical flea products. Letís look at what we see advertised today routinely.

Flea collars (whether herbal or insecticidal) donít work!

They donít kill fleas, and they donít even particularly repel them, except for the area right around the collar. The grocery/pet store variety contains concentrated toxic chemicals, and the herbal ones are irritating to odor-sensitive cats. Topical (spot-on or pour-on) flea preventatives are associated with liver disease and other adverse effects in cats. Permethrin, pyrethrin, or pyrethroid-containing products intended for dogs are extremely toxic to cats and have caused many feline deaths. Putting a dog flea product on a cat causes neurological signs (twitching, disorientation, seizures) that ultimately kill about 10 percent of cats.

Healthy cats eating a balanced, properly supplemented raw meat and raw bone diet are much less susceptible to fleas and other parasites. If your cat is experiencing a flea problem, work on improving your catís overall health and deal with the immediate parasite situation. This is a ďholisticĒ approach in the truest sense of the word!

The conventional thinking that fleas are the problem is like saying ďflies cause garbageĒ just because the two are often found together. It is the unhealthy state of the animal that attracts the parasites, just like garbage attracts flies.

Fleas, those nasty little blood suckers, are tough, highly evolved parasites that, once entrenched, are not easily eliminated. Fleas are attracted to warmth, moving shadows, and the vibrations from foot (or paw) steps. When dealing with fleas, you need to protect your cat and reach fleas and larvae hiding in carpets and yards. Even exclusively indoor cats can get fleas, which travel in on peoples shoes and clothing. (Keeping your cat indoors, however, will eliminate the risk of ticks.) And removing shoes at your front door keeps fleas out and helps keep other germs out as well.

Adult fleas spend most of their time on the cat, where they feed on blood several times a day. Flea eggs are slippery and quickly fall off the cat and onto the catís resting areas, floors, rugs, bedding, and furniture. The eggs hatch and go through several intermediate stages before emerging as adults in as little as two weeks, but they may remain dormant for months. Thatís why even if you get rid of the fleas on your cat, reinfestation is a common and very frustrating phenomenon.

A Three-Pronged Approach to Treating Fleas
Try this one-two-three punch to eradicate fleas from youróand your catísólife.


Use an ultra-fine-tooth flea comb daily. Pay particular attention to the neck, tummy, and base of the tail, which are favorite flea hangouts. Have a glass or bowl full of warm, soapy water at hand to drown any fleas that turn up.

Bathe your cat. Bathing your cat will drown a lot of fleas, but apply soap around the ears and neck first to keep the fleas from rushing up to the catís head and face. The herb Erigeron Canadensis (Canadian fleabane), found in some herbal shampoos, will help kill fleas. Bathe no more than once a week. See CelestialPets.com for erigeron shampoo.


Floor/carpet treatments such as diatomaceous earth (the fossilized shells of one-celled organisms called diatoms) and boric acidĖderived powders will kill flea larvae, primarily through dessication (drying). Exterminators use borates; you can either hire professionals to treat your home or do it yourself. For a serious flea problem, it may be worth paying a professional since their work is guaranteed. Vacuuming is very effective against flea eggs and might even catch a few adults. To keep the eggs from hatching or the fleas from escaping, discard the bag immediately or use a flea spray in the vacuum bag or container, (not on the cat) either before or right after you vacuum.


Beneficial nematodes eat flea eggs and will help control flea populations outdoors.

Garden-grade diatomaceous earth is very effective. Concentrate on areas under shrubs and decks and other cool shady spots where animals (such as rodents, raccoons, and outdoor and feral cats) have access.

Be very careful about the so-called natural approaches to flea treatment such as the use of essential oils topically or internally for cats.

Remember essential oils can be very toxic to cats even though they are highly touted by so-called holistic pet experts. Do keep in mind that:

Catsí livers do not have the necessary enzymes to break down and excrete certain chemical compounds in essential oils. The chemical compounds accumulate in a catís body and are sometimes toxic to the point of death. Cats are very sensitive to morphine, certain sulfanomides, salicylic acid (aspirin), acetaminophen (Tylenol), allyl propyl disulfide (onions) and compounds containing bezene (benzyl alcohol preservative). Avoid all of the following oils around cats:

  • Wintergreen and birch oils contain methyl salicylate, the same chemical compound in aspirin.
  • Phenol-containing oils: oregano, thyme, cinnamon (cassia), clove, savory, cedar, birch, and melaleuca (tea tree oil)
  • Ketones, such as sage
  • Monoterpene hydrocarbons pinene and limonene, most commonly found in the citrus and pine oils: lemon, orange, tangerine, mandarin, grapefruit, lime, bergamot, pine, spruce, and any fir oil. Many household cleaners and even pet products have these latter substances in them to make them smell nice to the owners.

Hydrosols are the appropriate form of essential oils to use in cats. Regardless, the cat should always be given a choice as to whether to “partake.” Forcing a cat to ingest oils that have not been tested for safety in their species seems most unwise and many essential oil people will do their best to tell you it is ok. However do not ever attempt this without a vet’s supervision at best. See my post on Aromatherapy for Cats here at Care2.

Letís only use foods and supplements that are safe and proven to be safe and effective for cats. The best oils for cats come from animal sources such as those that possess anti-inlammatory benefits such as Omega-3s from marine lipids which also help treat flea bite dermatitis.

For more holistic protocols for cats and information see The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care, An Illustrated Guide by Celeste Yarnall, PhD and Jean Hofve, DVM.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Mootsey


Kamia T.
Kamia T.about a year ago

I have tried every holistic method under the sun to treat my outdoors cats when I had them, as well as my pups, and in this rural area of high grass, lots of shrubs and trees, they simply didn't work.

Tonya Freeman
Tonya Freeman2 years ago

Oh, and I also vacuum and use DE too!

Tonya Freeman
Tonya Freeman2 years ago

Thanks for the tips. I have been combing my kitty twice a day now and getting lots of fleas and eggs off of her. She looks forward to the grooming now and looks in the bowl when I'm finished.

I also bath her once a week with a mixture of Dawn and Apple Cider Vinegar. There is a more natural flea shampoo that I will be ordering in the not too distant future.

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra3 years ago

Thank you Celeste, for Sharing this!

Drusilla P.
Drusilla P.4 years ago

Thank you for the tips.

June Lacy
June Lacy4 years ago


Sally Allen
Sally A.4 years ago

Good information. I also found out the collars don't work and putting those drops on them only does more harm. I tried one of those flea drops on my cat and she went absolutely nuts and screaming meow. I quickly washed the stuff off, apparently it was causing her some pain on the skin. I stay away from all those chemical stuff and try to give her a bath, check for fleas, vacuum. After all would we want those chemicals on us.

Steven B.
Steven B.4 years ago

This news article provides some very helpful tips but I prefer all natural methods like the ones at http://www.squidoo.com/natural-ways-to-get-rid-of-fleas-for-cats
i really do struggle to get out the fleas it really bugs me..

Brenda Towers
Brenda Towers4 years ago


Carrie Anne Brown

interesting article, thanks for sharing :)