How to Choose:
Finding fleas on our pets is one of the worst kinds of discoveries. When you find fleas on your cat, one of the first things you can do to help kill those pests is bathing your cat. Keep in mind that a flea bath is only part of a complete flea elimination regimen.
It’s important to understand that when choosing a flea shampoo for your cat, the shampoo does not have to be a “flea shampoo.” The simple combination of shampoo to weigh the fleas down and water to drown the fleas will work just as well as toxin-laden flea shampoos.
For example, you may have heard of people giving newborn, flea-ridden kittens baths with Dawn dish soap. We’ve found a product, Espree Tear-Free Aloe Vera Puppy & Kitten Shampoo, that is even better than Dawn. The Espree product works for very young kittens, nursing cats, and pregnant cats. It’s tearless, hypoallergenic, and soothing to the skin. It contains all-natural and safe ingredients, and it does the job of killing fleas with the combination of the shampoo (weighs the fleas down) and water (drowns the fleas).
We rated the Earthbath Hypo-Allergenic Dog & Cat Shampoo at the top of our list. It, too, does not contain any harsh chemicals or toxic agents to either humans or cats. Its limited list of ingredients is 100% biodegradable; it’s tearless, hypoallergenic, and Paraben, fragrance, and phosphate-free. It also nourishes and soothes your cat’s skin with Coconut-based Cleansers, Aloe Vera, Vitamins A, B, D, & E, and Glycerin.
Other products we liked include Veterinary Formula Clinical Care Hypoallergenic Shampoo, and Virbac Epi-Soothe Shampoo. These products contain more chemicals and ingredients but are still viable choices for bathing your cat.
Don’t Poison Your Cat: Avoid These:
Although many of the products for flea and tick removal on the market for cats contain pyrethrins, which are highly toxic to cats, the pyrethrin percentage in these particular products is within the bounds of “acceptable,” meaning they are less toxic than other products containing pyrethrins. These products include Sentry PurrScriptions Plus Flea & Tick Shampoo for Cats and Zodiac Flea and Tick Shampoo for Dogs and Cats. However, please remember that just because these products are “less toxic” to cats does not necessarily mean your particular cat will respond without toxicity issues.
Understanding Attributes of Flea Shampoos for Cats:
Because all of the products we reviewed technically kill fleas, we focused on the attributes of Use, Safety, and Active Ingredients.
Most of the products are to be used on cats and kittens 12 weeks of age and older. The exceptions to this are Espree Tear-Free Aloe Vera Puppy & Kitten Shampoo, Virbac Epi-Soothe Shampoo and Dawn Dish Soap.
In each of our reviews, we stated if the product was safe, included “precautions,” was “hazardous,” “dangerous,” or was “toxic” to humans and cats. We used information the manufacturers provided and our knowledge of active ingredients to determine each product’s safety. You’ll note we’ve recommended DO NOT BUY on several products based on hazards and toxicity.
Some of the shampoos we reviewed contain Pyrethrins or members of the Pyrethrin family of chemicals. Although the risks of Pyrethrin poisoning in mammals overall is relatively low, cats are much more sensitive. According to an academic study in 2016, pyrethrins are “extremely toxic to cats.” Exposure to this active ingredient can cause “characteristic clinical signs such as seizures (80%), muscle fasciculations (9%), tremors (95%), hypersalivation (100%) etc.” “Cats may be exposed from cutaneous application of topical products, oral ingestion, and direct contact with topically treated dogs.”
Several individual and class-action lawsuits have been filed against Hartz for the use of Pyrethrins. NBC News in Los Angeles produced a story about Pyrethrins in 2009, and more than 90 reports of pets reacting to or dying from Hartz’s flea shampoos are noted on a website called hartzvictims.org.
We have learned that the concentration of Pyrethrins plays a role in the level of toxicity to cats. According to the Handbook of Pesticide Toxicology (Second Edition), 2001, “Cats tolerate low concentrations of pyrethroids, but not high concentrations.” Dove Lewis Emergency Veterinary Animal Hospital in Portland, Oregon, added: “The truth is that permethrin [Pyrethrin product] is also safe to apply to most cats but only at a concentration of 0.05-0.1%. The sad truth is that sometimes even if everything is done right, some animals will simply be more sensitive to pyrethrins or pyrethroids and may develop toxicity when these medications are used strictly by the book.” We applied this guidance in rating some of the products having pyrethrin levels below 0.05%.
These may smell nice to humans. Everyone likes the idea of natural healing and medicine. To that end, essential oils have become very popular in products used by humans, and some manufacturers thought it might be nice to use them on our pets too. However, flea products contain essential oils are not regulated by the EPA or FDA. Products containing essential oils have not been proven via clinical studies to kill insects and are also very toxic to cats. Texas A&M University’s Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences classify all essential oils as toxic to pets. According to the ASPCA, “Cats are especially sensitive to essential oils, and effects such as gastrointestinal upset, central nervous system depression, and even liver damage could occur if ingested in significant quantities. Inhalation of the oils could lead to aspiration pneumonia.” The Pet Poison Hotline stated that “Essential oils can pose a toxic risk to household pets, especially to cats. They are rapidly absorbed both orally and across the skin and are then metabolized in the liver. Cats lack an essential enzyme in their liver and, as such, have difficulty metabolizing and eliminating certain toxins like essential oils.”
All of the products we reviewed are available through various retailers and do not require a prescription. However, it is essential to remember that each cat will react differently to chemicals and oils. Therefore, you should ALWAYS consult your veterinarian before choosing to use any flea product, including shampoos.