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Should you give a cat a flea bath? A vet's guide to flea removal

giving a cat a flea bath
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Fleas are common parasites and so you might be wondering if you should give your infected cat a flea bath. Adult fleas are only part of the problem though. These small wingless insects will lay many eggs that roll off your cat.

The eggs hatch into tiny wriggling larvae that feed on dust and debris in our homes. These then form a cocoon and pupate, hatching out as an adult flea. This is known as the flea life cycle, which can pose a significant challenge to getting rid of fleas on your pet and in your home once and for all.

As dealing with fleas can be a frustrating process, bathing your cat can start to look like an attractive method! However, it's important to note that flea shampoos are now considered an old-fashioned method of tackling flea problems, especially as many cats hate water.

If you're considering what's the most effective flea removal method for your cat, this article will explore what your options are, including how to give a cat a flea bath if the need arises. 

Should I bathe my cat if she has fleas? 

In short, no you shouldn’t bathe your cat if she has fleas! There are lots of easier and more effective treatments available. Plus, unless your cat likes baths, the process is likely to be stressful for both you and your feline friend.

Flea problems can be frustrating, and shampoos may come up as an option if you Google “can’t get rid of fleas on cat.” However, many more effective treatments are available in a variety of formulations, including topical spot-on treatments, tablets, and flea collars. 

These will also give some ongoing protection to your pet lasting from one to three months, or even longer in the case of some flea collars. Many flea shampoos will only wash off adult fleas, reducing numbers but not tackling the immature stages of the flea life cycle.

Your veterinarian will be able to advise you on what product might be best suited to your cat. The products your vet stocks will probably be prescription medications, meaning your cat will need to be under the care of a veterinary practice to obtain them.

Over-the-counter medications are also available from pet stores or online, but be aware some of these products may not be quite as effective.

cat in bath

(Image credit: Getty Images)

What is the fastest way to get rid of fleas on a cat? 

The fastest way to get rid of fleas is to use a veterinary-recommended parasite product – ideally, one that is an adulticide (kills the adult fleas) and contains an insect growth regulator (to stop immature stages of the flea life cycle developing). 

You should consider treating the house too, as many stages of the flea life cycle occur in the environment. Your veterinarian may be able to recommend an effective flea spray for this.

It’s important to treat all pets in the house and to continue treating them for several months. It can take some time to get rid of a flea infestation and breaks in treatment can allow flea numbers to rise again. Lots of hoovering and hot-washing bedding should also help.

How to get rid of fleas on cats naturally

There are no proven natural ways to get rid of fleas. Combing your cat with a flea comb may help you to catch any adult fleas present, thereby reducing flea numbers.

However, it won’t tackle the immature stages of the flea life cycle such as the eggs and larvae that will be in your carpets and floorboards. Use veterinary-licensed flea products that have undergone rigorous safety testing. 

ginger cat scratching

(Image credit: Getty)

How to give a cat a flea bath that hates water 

The simple answer is don’t! There is no reason to bathe a cat to get rid of fleas, as there are plenty of topical spot-on flea treatments or flea tablets that are more effective and less stressful.

However, if you are still keen to try, then here is a step-by-step guide on how to bathe your cat: 

1. Choose your shampoo 

Make sure you select a shampoo that is safe for use in cats, as some products that are safe for dogs can be toxic to felines. 

2. Fill the bath to a comfortable level and temperature 

 Don’t make the water too deep – your cat may panic if his feet don’t touch the floor of the bath. The water level should come up to his belly and be warm (not too hot). 

3.  Wet the fur gently 

Wet your cat’s fur gently and slowly, perhaps using a small cup, sponge, or washcloth. Your cat may become scared if you use a showerhead on him, or suddenly throw a large jug of water over him! 

4. Lather in the shampoo 

Rub the shampoo gently into his wet fur, creating a lather. Avoid getting the shampoo near his eyes or ears. 

5. Rinse 

Rinse his fur gently, again using a washcloth or small cup of water. Make sure all the bubbles and soapy residue is rinsed out. 

6. Dry your cat 

Gently towel-dry your cat, to get rid of excess moisture. Don’t use a hairdryer as the noise is likely to frighten him.

Throughout the process don’t forget to praise your cat and never force him to do anything he doesn’t want to – it could result in him becoming stressed and you getting hurt.

What can I bathe my cat in to kill fleas? 

Most veterinarians would advise that you use a licensed flea treatment, rather than bathing your cat. If you do still decide to bathe your cat then make sure you choose a product that states it is safe for cats and that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions properly. 

Does Dawn kill fleas? 

Vets don't recommend using Dawn or any other dish soap/washing up liquid to wash your cat. It may well help reduce adult flea numbers on your pet, but it is also potentially very irritating to your cat’s skin and will dry out the natural oils in their coat. Get yourself to a veterinarian as soon as possible to pick up some effective flea treatment products instead.

Conclusion 

While it is possible to treat your cat with flea shampoo, this method is outdated, and much better products exist. Speak to your veterinarian if you are unsure which would be most appropriate for your cat. Using a preventative flea treatment routinely will also help stop flea infestations from happening in the first place! 

Rebecca is a veterinary surgeon who graduated in 2009 from the Royal Veterinary College in London. She has a wealth of experience in first opinion small animal practice, having done a mixture of day-to-day routine work, on-call emergency duties and managerial roles over the years. She enjoys medicine in particular and she is proud to have recently achieved a BSAVA postgraduate certificate in small animal medicine (with commendation). She writes on various feline and canine topics, including behavior, nutrition, and health. Outside of work and writing she enjoys walking her own dog, spending time with her young family and baking!