Fleas are bothersome pests to house cats and their masters. Not only are fleas uncomfortable to their feline hosts, but the cat's skin can also become dangerously infected. A popular method to rid a cat of fleas is by using a flea collar. However, the safety and effectiveness of feline flea collars is a controversial issue.
Feline flea collars are used to kill the existing fleas on a cat and to prevent new fleas from attacking. When placed around the cat's neck, the insecticides produce a gas that is toxic to fleas. The insecticides are also absorbed into the cat's subcutaneous fat layer, making the skin in this area toxic to the parasites.
Most over-the-counter flea collars contain at least one, or a combination of, of the following chemicals: tetrachlorvinphos, propoxur, phenothrin, methoprene, or permethrin. These chemicals kill existing fleas and prevent additional parasites from making the cat its host.
There are also less chemically infused collars on the market. These collars contain IGRs, or insect growth regulators. They promise to be less toxic and to prevent flea larvae from turning into adults.
Herbal flea collars are another option. They contain no man-made insecticides. Most contain citronella oil, tea tree oil or rosemary oil. These oils are proven harmless to most animals and humans.
Many environmental groups and individuals have filed lawsuits against over-the-counter flea-collar companies. An environmental group in San Francisco stated that propoxur and tetrachlorvinphos pose a risk of cancer and neurological damage in children.
Permethrin, another chemical found in many collars, has caused tumors in laboratory animals. It has also been linked to Gulf War Syndrome.
Some pet owners have complained of hair loss, neurological damage and death to their cats due to over-the-counter flea collars. It is unknown if the animals had any preexisting conditions.
Many people question if feline flea collars are effective. Vets report that fleas are mainly attracted to the rear of the cat. Since the collar is in an area that fleas frequent less often, they may do little to kill the fleas on the cat's lower back.
Flea medication for dogs should not be used on cats. The levels and types of chemicals vary between cat and dog collars. There is a possibility of overdosing the cat's skin with too much insecticide.
Flea collars can pose a major threat to outdoor cats. The cats can get the collars stuck in trees and bushes and potentially suffocate. Break-away collars are recommended if the cat is not restricted to the indoors.
Topical flea treatments are applied directly to the cat's neck once a month and are a popular choice among veterinarians. Prescribed treatments are very effective in combating parasites.
Flea shampoos and sprays are often used if the cat already has a significant infestation. They are not as effective in warding off infestations.