I have rescued and fostered many pets over the years. Keeping my pets healthy and happy is my number one priority.
Throughout the spring and into the summer is known as kitten season to many animal rescues and city shelters. As the weather starts heating up, the number of abandoned or stray litters increases as well. Many shelters seek help from volunteers and foster families to help take care of the kittens until they reach an age and weight where they can be spayed and neutered, given vaccinations, and then put up for adoption.
These young kittens can be a lot of fun to foster as they grow and learn, and it is a very rewarding experience. However, with this fostering can come some issues—including fleas. Kittens under two pounds are usually not given flea prevention as it can be too hard on their system. But they very often still come in with fleas, especially if they are strays or were found outside.
But since nursing mamas and kittens should not be treated with flea prevention, are there other ways to combat fleas and keep them all healthy and happy? Luckily, the answer is yes, and it is relatively easy to do and economical.
How to Get Rid of Fleas on Kittens
As always, you should talk with your vet if the kitten is yours or talk to your rescue organization or shelter if you are fostering a very young kitten. Different rescue groups may have different rules for fostering.
Generally kittens under two pounds and nursing mamas should not be given flea prevention (such Revolution or Advantage).
Instead a simple bath, some vacuuming, changing and washing bedding and, for good measure, flea combing can help to get rid of those pesky pests.
Step-by-Step Guide to Dealing With Kitten Fleas
|Order of Steps||Equipment Needed||What to Do||Hints|
Original Dawn dish washing soap (blue*)
Using a sink or small tub with warm water, gently wash the kitten. You will notice fleas coming off and dead ones in the water.
You may want to use some garden gloves as the kitten will try to fight their way out of the water. Also, keeping a cup nearby to pour fresh water on them for rinsing may help. Be careful not get soap in their eyes and carefully rinse around ears and mouth so that water doesn't get into them.
Two dry towels
Gently wrap the wet kitten in the dry towel. Save the other towel for bedding.
The kitten will enjoy feeling the towel and the warmth. Have someone else hold them while you prepare their bedding.
Turn the heating pad onto the lowest setting. Wrap the towel around it so that one layer is surrounding the heating pad.
It is important that the heating pad supplies warmth but isn't too hot, especially if the kitten is orphaned or does not have litter mates to snuggle with.
Basket or pet crate
Place the towel-wrapped heating pad in a basket or carrying crate and set the kitten on it. He or she will likely be tired from this experience and ready for a nap.
Kittens may feel safer if they have somewhere that they can "hide" or somewhere they can snuggle as they recover from the ordeal of their bath.
Repeat these steps daily until no fleas are found.
Be sure to change bedding daily and vaccum or wipe down surfaces to discourage fleas and remove flea eggs.
Video Tutorial on Washing a Kitten
Why Does It Have to Be Dawn Dish Detergent?
While there is some debate online about whether it has to be Dawn or if some other detergent will work, anecdotal evidence from those that work closely in animal rescue indicate good results with Dawn. Dawn is also the detergent that is used when wildlife gets caught up in oil spills and needs to be washed before being rehabilitated or re-released in the wild. It is gentle and safe to use on very young kittens.
From my own experience, my own foster kitten showed great results with Dawn. On the first day, she had upwards of ten fleas come off of her during the bathing process. The next day, I bathed her again and there were five. The next day, there were two. I bathed her two more days and found no fleas. I continued to change her bedding every day.
I also used a flea comb to help get rid of any fleas that made their way back onto her after bathing.
Flea Combs Can Also Help Speed Up the Process
If you don't have too many kittens at once or have time, a flea comb can really help to discourage and get rid of the fleas.
I would flea comb my foster kitten after her bath, before placing her on the heating pad wrapped in the towel. I would also try to flea comb her once she had dried. When I did this, I had a small bowl of water with a drop of Dawn in it. I would use that to place any fleas I found in the soapy water (so they couldn't escape) and clean the comb. Flea eggs will cling to the flea comb as well, which is a plus.
You can simply use the comb as you would any pet brush. I had especially good luck brushing her tail as it seems that some fleas had taken refuge there. As soon as they came up on the comb, I dipped it into the soapy water.
Note: Be sure that water with fleas is washed down the drain thoroughly. This way, if the fleas do revive, they will be long gone in the sewer line or septic tank.
This Method Is Also Great for Older Animals With Allergies
There are so many great flea preventatives on the market. No animal in modern times needs to have fleas. However, some animals end up developing allergies or intolerances to many of the flea preventatives. These intolerances can be to both the topical and oral flea medication.
If your animal is very sensitive, washing them in Dawn and using a flea comb may be a viable alternative. While it may not have as good of an outcome, long term, as something stronger, it will still cut down on your pet's suffering and help you manage the fleas.
Don't Let Fleas Get the Best of Your Kitten
Fostering and taking care of very young kittens can be fun and rewarding. Many animal lovers who do help foster kittens also have pets of their own, so they are not likely to want to start a flea infestation in their home just for doing a good deed. It's always a good idea to make sure any current pets are on monthly flea prevention.
With a few days of work and diligence, your young kittens will feel better and will be flea-free.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2016 L C David
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 29, 2016:
This is great information, LCD. If you can start bathing kittens when they're young, they'll be easier to bathe when they're older. I think my three would have a feline revolt if I tried to bathe them now. I did have a cat once upon a time ago who loved baths.
Karen Hellier from Georgia on June 04, 2016:
Thanks for this great information. Boy that Dawn really is a great thing for dishes and animals!