Pet Flea Control

“I’ve done everything and I still can’t rid of them!” What you ask? Fleas!. This cry of horror and frustration is heard every summer. It doesn’t mean you don’t clean your house enough. It means cat and dog fleas are tough, hardy creatures that are not easy to tackle.

Dr. Michael Dryden, otherwise known as Dr. Flea is a professor of veterinary parasitology at Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. He and his team have gone into homes in Florida where the pet parents as well as their vets thought nothing was working and fleas were out of control. They had 100% success in getting rid of them.

If you have a tough pet flea control problem, you have to follow all the rules to take care of the problem. The good news, however, is that you can be just as successful as Dr. Flea.

Dog and cat fleas can cause problems more serious than just and ich or scratc here and there.  Check out our article on Flea Allergies in Dogs and Cat Flea Allergy for more information.  

Dog and Cat Flea Treatment Failures

Cat Fleas

No product is 100% effective all the time. However, actual resistance of the cat and dog fleas to the newer products has not been shown. Failure to control fleas has always been due to human error.

These are common reasons why people have not been able to get fleas under control: 

  • Treating only outdoor pets and not applying pet flea control to every pet
  •   Using products that don’t work well enough 
  •  A topical (on the skin) product is not applied correctly 
  • Missing a dose or waiting too long in between 
  • Only treating the pet and not the environment

Pet Flea Control: Kill The Adult Fleas on Your Pet

Killing the adult cat and dog fleas on your pet will make your pet more comfortable and stop eggs from being laid. 

For the best results, use one of the newer generation pet flea control products introduced since the mid-1990s. Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation. Some people are convinced fleas have become resistant. Although that’s not true, some strains of fleas are a little hardier and take longer to kill. 

Unfortunately, there is also the possibility of receiving a counterfeit product if you buy it in the store or online. These products won’t work like they are supposed to and may actually cause problems. Inspect packages carefully. You can find information to help you.

There are other products out there, but they use older chemicals, often a pyrethroid. They don’t work as well because cat and dog fleas do have a resistance to them. Permethrin (one type of pyrethroid) is toxic to cats and is often, but not always,  in dog-only products. Use extreme caution if you are purchasing over the counter cat flea treatment products.  Buying veterinary approved only products for cats is much safer!  To make sure you are killing as many fleas as possible, get the better products. They will probably be more expensive, but worth it. Otherwise, you may be battling cat or dog fleas for months on end as they keep making babies. 

Treat every pet in the house. If you treat only pets that go outside, the fleas will gladly go to the one that stays in. Too often fleas aren’t controlled because people don’t bother to treat the indoor cat! Also consider that animal visitors may be bringing in fleas. 

Read dog and cat flea treatment product labels carefully and completely. Learn what it does, how to apply it, and when it needs to be repeated. Make sure it’s safe for cats if you plan to use it on your kitty.

Make sure you are using the pet flea control product correctly. Products won’t work if you are getting the fur wet instead of applying it to the skin. Ask your vet to show you the proper way to apply it. It’s also not a good idea to buy a larger size product and split it between smaller pets because you won’t know if they are getting the correct amount.

If you bathe your pet or he goes swimming, a topical product may not be lasting as long as it should. An oral product might be a better choice.

Repeat it as often as the label says you should.  Don’t try to get a few more days out of it. Otherwise, cat and dog fleas are surviving to make babies and keep the process going.

Dog and Cat Flea Treatment: Eliminate the Immature Stages

Dog Fleas

If you catch adult cat and dog fleas early, you may be able to get rid of them by just treating your pet. However, if the fleas have set up house, this becomes more important. Only 5% of fleas are adults that are on your pet. The other 95% are  immature stages waiting to become adults and attack.

Eliminating some of them will speed up the process. 

Use an insect growth regulator (IGR) that prevents eggs from hatching and kills larvae. 

Lufenuron, methoprene, and pyriproxyfen are examples. Use a pet flea control product that kills adult fleas and includes an IGR.


Cleaning After Fleas are Discovered

Start with washing in hot, soapy water all bedding, rugs, blankets, etc. that your pet spends time on. This includes the bedding on your own bed if your pet sleeps there. Launder items at least once a week. 

Vacuuming is critical to help pick up the immature stages. The vibrations from the vacuum will also cause some adults to emerge from pupae so you can vacuum them up.

Vacuum everywhere including furniture, crevices around baseboards and cabinets, and under furniture, sofa cushions, and beds. Larvae don’t like light and will crawl under things. That’s where you’ll also find the pupae and emerging adult cat and dog fleas. 

Studies have shown that you do not need to empty the vacuum bag, though you’ll read this advice everywhere. All stages of fleas are killed during the vacuuming process. That’s great news. One less chore!

You need to vacuum every day or two to keep on top of it. The worse your flea problem, the more important this becomes.

Proper pet flea control often involves using a dog or cat flea treatment made for the environment, like your home, as well. 

Treat the House for Cat and Dog Fleas

Treat the House for Cat and Dog Fleas

There are foggers or bombs that you set off and let sit for a couple hours. These may not always get to the problem areas, especially under furniture. Try a spray that kills adult cat and dog fleas and has an IGR, direct it to the problem areas, and get under things.

Follow instructions carefully on the pet flea control product, be as thorough as possible, and repeat when it’s recommended. It’s still hard to get down to the base of carpets where most of the fleas are but it will help.

Treat the Yard for Cat and Dog Fleas

Treat the Yard for Cat and Dog Fleas

Many times, you don’t need to treat the yard unless the problem is rather severe.

Cat and dog fleas will be in protected areas and not in the middle of your lawn. Concentrate your pet flea control efforts around bushes and plants, the house foundation and under any raised decks or similar protected areas. You want to treat the places where wild or stray animals or your pets are spending time.


This should be very easy but often fails for many of the same reasons as treating the fleas in the first place. Follow all the rules and remember you can’t stop. The fleas will come back if you don’t treat all your pets on a regular pet flea control schedule year-round. Wild or stray animals will still bring fleas to you!

Non-Chemical Treatments

Non-Chemical Flea Treatments

Some non-chemical products may have some effectiveness, but there is usually no research to help you.

Studies have shown that vitamin B1 (thiamine) and brewer’s yeast are not effective at all. There is no evidence that garlic helps and garlic is toxic. Even in low doses over time, it may cause problems. Play it safe and avoid it.

There are many herbal flea products, often with essential oils. A study looking at reactions to natural products found they can cause problems. Of the cases in the study, three pets died or were euthanized because of it. Cats are especially sensitive to pet flea control products. Be aware that natural products aren’t completely safe.

Unfortunately, most are not very effective either, in this case, conventional treatments are best.  There are so many products on the market today that are veterinary approved, and come in different forms like topicals, collars, and orals, so finding one that fits your needs shouldn’t be too difficult.  Ask your vet for recommendations for dog and cat flea treatment medications since they are familiar with your pet’s individual lifestyle and your area.  Fleas pose a true health menace, and it’s important to keep them under control.

Borate has been used in homes with some success. It needs to get down deep into carpets to work well.  Diatomaceous earth as it contains silica that has been shown to cause lung disease in people. 

Ultrasonic devices don’t work. Flea traps don’t work well. These are devices that have a light bulb over a pan of soapy water or a sticky pad (be sure your pet can’t get into it!). The best ones use a special green light that blinks occasionally to simulate the shadow of a passing host. They may catch some fleas, but they won’t control an infestation. With any of these products, as with the conventional ones, read labels very carefully.


There is no easy, quick way to get rid of cat or dog fleas. It can also be expensive. Prevention is generally easier and less expensive than treatment! 

It’s important you follow all the rules if you want to be successful. You will save time and money by doing it right the first time.

Under the best of circumstances, it will take 2-3 months to get fleas under control. You will still see fleas. It doesn’t mean things aren’t working. Adults will continue to emerge over time and you need to continue treating your pets so you kill them all. Understanding the life cycle of fleas helps you to understand why you need to do all this work! 

All articles are reviewed and maintained by whiskerDocs team of veterinary experts.

whiskerDocs' content is for informational purposes only. Read our Terms.