Your cat starts scratching. And scratching. And scratching.
You have a problem. Your cat has fleas.
There's no shame in a cat having fleas. Fleas lurk all over the place, mainly in shady places in the garden, and outdoor cats will, from time to time, come back with fleas. Even indoor cats can catch fleas if they get out, or if they visit someone with an outdoors cat, or if a friend brings a dog round and he has fleas - it's almost impossible to be 100% flea-proofed, and fleas are really opportunistic little critters and will find their way just about anywhere. Some cats are even allergic to fleas and lice, and will scratch themselves till they bleed unless you find some way to protect them.
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You can use a spray-on treatment or medication, but a lot of cats will resist the sprays - they're terrified. Some cats also have allergies or show reactions to the topical treatments. A flea collar can be an easier way to protect your cat from fleas, as well as other nasty insects such as lice and ticks. A good flea collar will protect both against adult fleas, and against the larvae, so your cat won't get re-infected.
Flea collars are usually manufactured in a resin that's designed to let the insecticide through gradually over a period of time in a controlled way, providing the optimal dose. As the cat's neck rubs against the collar, it helps to release the chemicals. Usually you'll see results within a couple of days to a week.
Flea collars may look similar - we were rather disappointed that there don't appear to be any effective collars that actually look nice as well as doing the job - but there's a huge difference between the best and the rest. The worst of them can irritate your cat's skin and even raise blisters, while remaining ineffective against the fleas they're meant to kill. Watch out for cheap collars with negative reviews! Also, never try to save money by buying a collar meant for dogs - the canine physiology is quite different, so dog collars may contain chemicals that are not safe for cats, like permethrin. Do also bear in mind that most flea collars are only suitable for kittens over 10 weeks old.
Most flea collars offer six to eight months of protection. If you're going to make an outdoor cat wear one, make sure it has a breakaway or release mechanism so that if it gets caught in a hedge or fence, the cat can break out of it safely.
And so with all that said, here are five of the best cat flea collars available to buy:
Bayer Seresto is the granddaddy of all flea collars, the top seller and the brand that's been going the longest. At $60-70 for one collar, it's expensive, and as you'd expect at that price, it's very effective, ridding cats of their fleas within a few days. It contains insecticides imidacloprid and flumethrin which will kill fleas fast, and it's clean to use and non-greasy. Each collar will last 8 months, and it has a release mechanism, too, though its looks are absolutely the antithesis of glamorous - it's grey and clunky. Still, you're not buying it to look good, you're buying it to kill fleas - and it does that exceptionally well.
However, we're concerned that some user reviews of this product chronicle serious allergic reactions, including hair loss, irritated skin, and excessive scratching. A small percentage of owners say their cats had problems with this collar - so if you do buy this one - keep a close eye on your cat, and remove it at once if there's any allergic reaction.
That said, veterinarians and cat refuges often use this collar as their standard, because it really gets rid of those fleas.
The Jmxu flea and tick collar claims to be effective against 500 different kinds of creepy-crawly, including ticks, fleas and lice. It comes in a single size, but it's adjustable (just snip off any excess) and gives eight months of protection for around $20. It also comes with a 100% satisfaction guarantee.
The Jmxu collar comes with a safety release mechanism. (You might lose the collar, but at least your cat will be safe.) Another great feature for outdoor cats is the fact that it's waterproof, so if they come home drenched, they'll still be flea-free.
It has a similar formula to the very popular Seresto collar, including flumethrin and imidacloprid which are the strongest (though safe to cats) insecticides in the mix, but it's cheaper, and unlike Seresto, we haven't noticed any reports of allergic reactions from unhappy cat owners. Some customers have used Jmxu collars successfully to clear up really bad infestations, and it doesn't appear likely to irritate your cat's skin.
The Hartz Ultra Guard flea and tick collar protects cats against fleas, ticks, lice, mosquitoes and a number of other insects. It's non-toxic - except to fleas, of course! - and offers seven months' protection, which is a little on the short side compared to some other collars. It comes in just one size and is available in a fecthing grey color.
The user reviews are good; this collar often seems to work where other products have failed. It's super effective against ticks - which are potentially much more damaging to your cat's health than fleas, and can be harder to kill. It's also non-greasy and has no bad smell.
A very cheap flea collar that offers 7 months flea and tick protection and is also water resistant in addition to featuring a break-away mechanism.
Kalev's cat flea collar offers a grey adjustable collar that will protect against fleas, ticks and lice for six months as is pretty affordable at around $20 – buy two and that's nearly 18 months protection for one cat. It's a pretty good deal, though the collar doesn't look particularly stylish (very few flea collars do).
The collar is enhanced with natural oils such as eucalyptus and citronella and is 100% natural to reduce the likelihood of allergic reactions. It's waterproof, too, under normal conditions. There is one small downside; the collar does smell quite strong when you first put it on your cat, but the bad odour goes away after a few days. (So do the fleas!)
Kalev's collar receives overwhelmingly good customer reviews, though it may not work for everyone - but it doesn't appear to set off any allergies in cats that have used it, so you're not running a risk with your cat's health if you order it.
The HARKY flea collar is a fully adjustable one-size collar which protects against fleas, ticks, and lice for a full eight months. It's waterproof and has a release mechanism (though that isn't apparent on the photographs of the product), and at around $20 it's one of the most cost effective flea collars you can find on Amazon. It also comes in quite an attractive grey, one of the two better-looking collars we found.
Whilst not a particularly well known brand, this flea collar performed well during our tests and has also now accumulated a considerable number of positive customer reviews. It's a winner in our eyes.
A possible downside is the collar won't remain water resistant if your cat goes swimming more than once a month. We think that probably won't be a problem for very many cat owners!
And the winner is .... the Bayer Seresto Cat Collar. Although the most expensive product we reviewed, it is still the best cat collar for the majority of cats and is backed by several industry professionals. If you would rather save a little money, the Jmxu collar makes a great cost effective alternative.
It's worth noting that fleas can become resistant to a treatment, so you may want to switch pet collars occasionally to stop this happening.
Make sure any collar is reasonably snug on your cat - it won't do her any good if she's able to chew on it. If you can get a couple of fingers under it, but no more, it's probably about right. And snip any protruding ends off once the collar's been attached.
As well as giving your cat a flea collar, you should also look around the house for any places that fleas might have made a home - particularly in soft furnishings or in the cracks of wooden floors and skirting boards. Give your home a quick blast of insecticide - making sure the cats aren't in the same room you're treating - to stop the fleas hiding out there once the flea collar has got them off your cat. And give the whole place a vacuuming, making sure you tip the cleaner bag out down the bottom of the garden or somewhere else outdoors so the fleas don't jump out and come back again.