The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

Cats and Fleas: Safe Preventions

DEAR DR. FOX: In a recent column, you mentioned a safe flea control for cats. I don’t like using the chemical ones such as Advantage or Revolution. My cat does go out, supervised, for about 15 minutes a few times per week, and has an indoor/outdoor catio that he uses occasionally.

Although I’ve not seen fleas, he does have small scabs around his neck that I think are flea bites. He’s very jittery if I investigate too much.

I’ve been putting a little garlic powder in his moist food. Is this OK, or is there a more effective way to control fleas? -- C.B., Tulsa, Oklahoma

DEAR C.B.: Cats should not be given garlic or onions because they can cause anemia.

Instead, give him a pinch of organic nutritional yeast, rich in B-complex vitamins, in his food, working up to a half-teaspoon daily. Many people have found this keeps fleas off their cats.

Also, try one of these various spritzes on his fur -- spray onto your hands and then pet him, if he does not like the spray applied directly -- before letting him outdoors (into a safe enclosure). Try soaking fresh lavender in warm water overnight, or sliced lemon in just-boiled water to sit at room temperature overnight. Strain and save the liquid in a tight container in the refrigerator. Use 1 cup of water to a handful of lavender or one lemon. Alternatively, mix 1 cup of organic apple cider vinegar in a half-cup of water.

Rub the liquid between the cat’s shoulder blades, on the back of the neck and behind the ears. Avoid the lower back, since the cat may groom there and the residue could cause mild stomach upset.

Groom the cat well with a flea comb daily, and apply the spritz liquid herbal repellent every three days.

The above advice can also be applied to dogs. Dogs can also have suspensions of essential oils like a mixture of lavender, cedar, pine or eucalyptus in water put into their fur. But these essential oils are not for cats, who lack the liver enzyme to prevent any toxicity from these concentrated plant essences, and could become sick after grooming sprayed fur.

Cedar wood chips in dog and cat beds will also help repel fleas.

DEAR DR. FOX: My family and I have adopted four cats, and they are all sweet and friendly. The only problem is that our youngest cat, Phoebe, keeps defecating and urinating outside of the litter box. We have had her since she was 8 weeks old.

We have tried everything we could think of: changing litter (both brand and type), changing diet, new litter boxes, automatic litter boxes, taking her to be tested for a UTI (or anything else), changing all of the litter every day, natural sprays and treatments to discourage her from urinating outside the box. Nothing worked, and it’s getting worse: She is now urinating on our furniture, destroying couches and defecating in our laundry baskets (which we have replaced with lidded ones).

I have an immunodeficiency, my dad has diabetes and my mom has cancer, and we are constantly getting sick. We have discussed rehoming her with the original adoption agency, but they seem not to want to help us in any way. We are begging you to help us find other solutions; the last thing we want is to lose a family member. -- L.B., Brick, New Jersey

DEAR L.B.: I sympathize with your challenging situation as the primary caregiver in your home, a situation of which I am no stranger myself. This house-soiling young cat may be picking up on all the household stress, and/or not bonding well with the other cats. Some cat-rehoming experts tell me that some house-soiling cats never fully recover and use the litter box. Other cats do better when given their own box, a timeout in a separate room, and a short course of gabapentin and lorazepam, after being checked out and cleared of cystitis by a veterinarian. In rare instances, a twice-daily pinch of dried catnip herb can resolve the issue, and is worth a try.

My wife and I rescued a young stray cat recently, and all our socialization and rehabilitation efforts failed: He was a fearful soul, so we had to put him in a cat sanctuary. He was a house-soiler, even urinating on our beds! At the sanctuary, he has a better quality of life and is beginning to enjoy the company of other rescued cats -- 85% of whom are eventually rehomed. He will probably join the remaining 15% as permanent residents for behavioral reasons: being fearful or aggressive toward people, or spraying and not using the litter box. I consider these to be temperament- and genetic-related tendencies, exacerbated by stress and various traumatic experiences earlier in life.

You are captive of your own compassion with this cat, who could thrive in a sanctuary or single home after cage- or room-confinement for litter box training. So do not berate yourself for parting with this poor cat for whom you did your best.

(Send all mail to or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

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