Fleas are the most common cause of pruritus, or itching, in cats and dogs. Your pets may even be allergic to the flea’s saliva, causing intense discomfort an itching with even mild flea exposure. You may notice allergic dogs or cats biting or scratching themselves. They may develop sores around the base of the tail, back legs, and rump. These animals may even develop hair loss from excessive grooming, chewing, or scratching their skin. Flea treatment is especially important in these pets; however, flea treatment is important for all pets to maintain their health. Flea shampoo is an excellent remedy for mild flea infestations.
Flea shampoos are most effective when used in conjunction with other treatments.
Flea shampoo is effective for mild flea infestations. Pets that are allergic to fleas or heavily infested animals that have already scratched themselves raw or have broken skin do not benefit from flea shampoo because flea shampoo can irritate their skin; this irritation is made even worse with sun exposure. Flea shampoos may be more effective when in conjunction with a spot on treatment, such as Frontline or Advantage. The reason why flea shampoos are not as effective as spot on treatments is that the active ingredients are quickly deactivated and these chemicals have little residual effect. However, in any flea treatment, the pet’s environment must also be treated for fleas. Ask your local veterinarian for flea extermination options in your home.
Major Chemicals in Flea Shampoos
According to the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, there are two types of chemicals in flea shampoos, pyrethrins and permethrins.
Pyrethrin is a natural insecticide harvested from the chrysanthemum flower. Pyrethrins are toxic to insects. They affect the insect nervous system, paralyzing the insect. Since the insect is merely paralyzed, pyrethrins are often present in flea shampoos at high concentrations or in conjunction with other chemicals. Pyrethrins are particularly effective against adult fleas. They kill adult fleas that have already infested your pet.
Pyrethrins are safe and low in toxicity. These chemicals are quickly inactivated by UV light and have little residual activity. However, at high concentrations, pyrethrins may cause tongue and lip numbness, nausea, and diarrhea. At extremely toxic doses, the animal may experience incoordination, tremors, convulsions, respiratory failure, and even death. Pyrethrin-based flea shampoos are safe for cats when the chemical is at a low concentration. Pyrethrins are also safe for dogs. However, some pyrethrin shampoos are mixed with Piperonyl butoxide, which is toxic to cats at high concentrations. Side effects may include salivation and muscular excitation.
Permethrins are synthetic versions of pyrethrins. These chemicals are also effective against adult fleas that have already infested your pet. Permethrins do not rapidly deactivate in the presence of UV light, so these chemicals stick around for about one week and act as a flea repellent.
Permethrin concentrations greater than 2% are toxic to cats.
Flea shampoo containing permethrins is safe and effective in dogs only. However, permethrin concentrations greater than 2% are toxic to cats. If you notice excessive ear flicking, paw shacking, or salivation, or depression, muscle tremors, vomiting, and/or seizures, your cat may be having a toxic reaction. This can result in death. Take your cat to the vet immediately if you notice any of these signs. Do not use permethrins on your dog if you also have cats, because the cat may come into contact with the dog and develop a toxic reaction from the medicine.
CC Image courtesy of Jennifer on Flickr
Flea Shampoos for Dogs
- Petco Flea & Tick Dog Shampoo
- 8 in 1 Perfect Coat Flea & Tick Dog Shampoo
- Sentry Pro Flea & Tick Shampoo
- Zodiac Flea & Tick Puppy Conditioning
Flea Shampoos for Dogs and Cats
- Adams Plus Flea & Tick Shampoo with Precor for Dogs and Cats
- Zodiac Flea & Tick Shampoo for Dogs & Cats
Flea Shampoos for Cats
- Sentry PurrScriptions Original Flea & Tick Shampoo for Cats & Kittens
Flea shampoos for kittens and puppies
As the chemicals contained in most flea shampoos may be too harsh for kittens and puppies, a natural shampoo is recommended. Also, a simple wash using soap and water is also recommended. Puppies and kittens are not yet ready for the chemicals contained in most shampoos, which usually contain either pyrethrin or permethrin. However, some products that are available for puppies and kittens include Adams’ line of shampoos for puppies and kittens.
What are “natural” flea shampoos?
Natural flea shampoos do not contain pyrethrins or permethrins. These shampoos are made with natural and essential oils, soap, and water. If you are concerned about the effects of harsher chemicals, these products may work for you. These products are gentle on your pet’s skin, but should not be used more than once a week because too frequent use could dry out your pet’s skin. Natural flea shampoos are advocated by many, including PETA. PETA recommends starting your pet’s flea shampoo bath with a ring of lather around your pet’s neck so that the fleas do not climb up to your pet’s face.
Some natural flea shampoo products include:
- Petco Natural Flea & Tick Dog Shampoo
- John Paul Pet Tea Tree Treatment Dog Shampoo
- Sentry Natural Defense Flea & Tick Shampoo for Dogs & Puppies
- Natural Chemistry Natural Cat Flea Shampoo