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Are Flea Collars Safe for Cats? Facts & Alternatives

Written by: Gregory Iacono

Last Updated on June 7, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

street cat itches on a green background

Are Flea Collars Safe for Cats? Facts & Alternatives

Whether yours is an indoor cat or an outdoor cat, fleas are a constant and potential health hazard. An outdoor cat is exposed to fleas every time they step outside, and fleas can invade their fur in under 2 minutes. However, if you think your indoor cat is protected from fleas, think again. There are multiple ways that fleas can get in your house and on your indoor cat.

This problem with fleas leads to a question many cat owners eventually ask; are flea collars safe for cats? The answer, unfortunately, is that flea collars are not considered safe for cats for several reasons. Read on to discover those reasons and other valuable information, tips, and hacks that can help you keep your cat flea-free.

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What’s the Problem With Flea Collars for Cats?

You’re not alone if you’re wondering why flea collars aren’t safe for cats. The truth is that flea collars are an incredibly popular device used by hundreds of thousands of pet owners across the United States. You would think such a popular product would be 100% safe for cats, but unfortunately, that’s not correct.

Flea collars work by transferring a potent pesticide to your cat’s skin or releasing a toxic gas to the fleas. The problem is that the chemicals used in both types of flea collars are also toxic to cats, other pets, and people.

For example, tetrachlorvinphos (TCVP), one of the most common chemicals found in flea collars, is also found in nerve gas and other biological weapons. This chemical and others used on flea collars can cause your cat to experience severe skin irritation, including chemical burns. They are also known to cause GI tract distress and organ failure that, in severe cases, can be deadly.

Flea collars have also been found to interfere with medications that you give your cat. In some instances, flea collar chemicals counteract the medication or make it inactive. In other situations, flea collars can turn your cat’s medication into something toxic that can hurt or even kill your feline friend.

lynx point tabby cat wearing flower collar
Image Credit: Inga Gedrovicha, Shutterstock

Flea Collars Are Harmful to Humans Too

One of the reasons there’s a growing number of veterinarians who recommend against using flea collars on your cat is that they aren’t just harmful to cats but also to humans. This study, for example, found that flea collars cause “serious health consequences to humans.”

The study stated that the chemicals used in flea collars exceed acceptable levels and stay on your cat for weeks. That exposes you, your family, and others to these chemicals whenever they touch your cat. That’s bad for adults, but for children it is even worse.

Studies have linked the chemicals in cat flea collars to learning disabilities, behavioral issues, and other severe childhood health problems. These studies have also found that the chemicals in flea collars can affect a child still in the womb if their mother comes into contact with a flea collar.

How Do Fleas Affect Cats?

Fleas are a type of parasite that feeds on your cat’s blood. To do that, they need to bite into their skin. Flea bites, especially when there are multiple fleas, can cause your cat to itch intensely, which can be very uncomfortable.

Worse than itching, flea infestations are sometimes so extreme that they can cause your cat to lose extensive spots of fur that leave behind large, open wounds which can become infected. As if that wasn’t bad enough, fleas also carry and transmit diseases that can harm you, your cat, and your family.

One last problem with fleas (as if there weren’t enough already) is that it’s not always obvious when your cat has fleas. That’s because fleas are incredibly tiny and can easily hide in your cat’s fur. You might not even know your cat has a flea problem until they (or you) start suffering and your home is infested.

Cat sitting in the flowers
Image Credit: Zanna Pesnina, Shutterstock

Where Do Outdoor Cats Get Fleas?

Fleas are practically everywhere outside your home and hide in moist and shady areas of your yard, including leaf piles, shrubs, grass, and bushes. All your cat has to do is brush against an area where there are fleas, and the fleas, who are incredible jumpers, will hitch a ride and start affecting your poor cat.

Compounding the problem is that while adult fleas typically stay on a live, warm cat, their eggs are specially designed to survive in the wild. When a flea lays its eggs, the eggs fall off your cat and land wherever they happen to be. Then, the eggs will hatch, and the next warm-blooded animal that walks by will be the baby flea’s first meal ticket.

Another place where an outdoor cat can come into contact with fleas is when they get close to another animal, including other cats, dogs, squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, and more. If your outdoor cat kills a small animal, they can get fleas. The fleas will abandon a dead animal like rats leaving a sinking ship because they need fresh blood to survive.

Where Do Indoor Cats Get Fleas?

As we mentioned earlier, indoor cats can get fleas almost as quickly as outdoor cats. For example, if you have multiple pets in your home and one or more are allowed to go outside, they can bring fleas back inside with them. Those fleas will then jump onto your cat as soon as they encounter them.

We also mentioned earlier that fleas are excellent jumpers; they can jump through an open window where your cat is sitting. Since they’re so small, fleas can get through window screens, landing on your indoor cat even if they never stepped outside.

Lastly, and this might chill your bones a little, fleas can hitch a ride into your home on your clothes and, once inside, will switch to your cat. Amazingly, an adult female flea lays up to 50 eggs per day and can lay upwards of 2,000 eggs during her lifetime. That means all you need is one or two fleas in your home, and the next thing you know, you have an infestation on your hands (and on your poor cat’s fur).

Red and grey cat sitting on the window sill
Image Credit: Okssi, Shutterstock

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Top 5 Alternatives to a Flea Collar to Protect Your Cat

One of the biggest puzzles with flea collars for cats is that, on the surface, they seem to do a good job. Also, while most cat parents would never want to use something that harms their cat, many believe there are few alternatives to keeping fleas at bay. The good news is that there are several methods you can use to prevent your cat from getting fleas and, if they get them, other methods to get rid of those fleas quickly.

1. Regular Combing

Combing is a surprisingly effective method of keeping fleas from proliferating on your cat. You should comb them regularly, at least twice a week. Experts advise having a container with soapy water nearby when you comb your cat so that if you remove any fleas, you can dunk them immediately in the soapy water and kill them.

woman combing ragdoll cat
Image Credit: VeronArt16, Shutterstock

2. Regular Baths

As most cat parents can attest, cats do not like baths, but they’re a fantastic way to prevent fleas from proliferating on their fur. The reason why is simple; soapy water kills adult fleas almost instantly. If yours is an outdoor cat, bathing them once every 10 days is a good suggestion. For indoor cats, a bi-monthly bath should suffice. Also, remember that you don’t need a special “flea shampoo” to kill fleas. Like we said, good old soapy water will do just fine.

3. Wash and Clean Cat Supplies Weekly

Cat supplies are what cats use, including bedding, furniture, throw rugs, etc. Those items should be kept as clean as possible, including washing them in hot, soapy water. If you and your cat are suffering from a flea infestation, you should clean these things every day until the infestation is wiped out. That includes vacuuming items like rugs and furniture, especially between sofa cushions where fleas can hide.

Image Credit: Svetlana Rey, Shutterstock

4. Make your Yard a Flea-Free Zone

It might be challenging to keep your yard free of fleas because they’re so prolific, but there are a few things you can do. The first is to purchase nematodes at your local garden supply store. Nematodes are worms that love eating flea larvae and can keep them under control.  You can also consider purchasing diatomaceous earth and spreading it in your garden. However, diatomaceous earth can hurt your cat if they inhale it deeply or get it in their eyes. They probably won’t do that, but you never know. Diatomaceous earth is still better than flea collars, though.

5. Ask Your Veterinarian About Oral Flea Treatments

This last method, oral flea prevention treatments, has been shown to work and is much safer for your cats, you, and other family members. However, flea prevention medications are usually expensive since they need to be prescribed by a vet.

Scottish Cat with gold eyes takes a pill
Image Credit: Iryna Imago, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

As we’ve seen today, flea collars are not safe for cats, humans, and other pets. That’s because flea collars use incredibly potent chemicals that, while they kill fleas, are also quite harmful to other organisms and animals. Flea collars can cause various health problems for your cats that are much worse than fleas and can also cause long-lasting health problems for children, even before they’re born.

We hope the information we’ve shared with you today has been helpful and answered all your questions about the safety of flea collars for cats. If you’ve been using flea collars with your cats, many veterinarians and cat experts recommend that you stop and use one of the less toxic methods listed above. Whatever you decide, we hope you and your cat stay safe and healthy, and you can keep flea problems to a minimum.

Featured Image Credit: AlexanderDubrovsky, Shutterstock

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