Invasion of the Fleas

Last night we wrestled our four cats through extensive – EXTENSIVE – cat baths. By the time they were finished, they looked as if they’d been drowned.
This was necessitated by our recent flea infestation, which has gone on too long. This is the fourth time we’ve bathed these cats. we’ve been furiously vacuuming, washing clothes and blankets, and spraying to try to stem the tide.
I’ve never seen anything like this. Despite all our efforts, they keep coming back.

The bathwater comes off the cats RED. The cats aren’t visibly red themselves. This seems to be due to our washing off flea droppings (which consist largely of dried blood, and I think function to nourish larvae). Midnight, our oldest cat, is even becoming anemic. Clarence, the sole male, is sorely afflicted. Pepper Mill washed him off at least four times last night, recovering him with flea shampoo and scrubbing and scraping to dislodge the many tenacious fleas.

No cats were harmed in the process. Or people. When Pepper bathed the cats last week a couple of them got their claws into her. But this week I held them down, and there were no injuries.

Afterwards, the cats dry off with surprising speed (and are anointed with flea medication), and they very learly stop scratching. For a while, dead fleas drop from them, and we throw them out and wash what they were laying on. Incredibly, considering how long and thoroughly they were washed, a few live (but stunned) fleas drop off, and are promptly dispatched.

Midnight, our oldest, has taken this remarkably well, but she’s fading fast. The fleas aren’t making things better, but they’re not the cause. She has kidney failure (we all – the vet included – expected her to die a year ago. But she’s rallied, and is even more active now than before), and now has a heart murmur as well. Her tail has a large and scary-looking opwn sore, which she seems to be picking at. She’s lost weight. Abnd the fleas are no help. But she’s remarkably good-tempered – more than she used to be, and nuzzles up to us as if she’s expecting the end.

But she’s flea-free. For now.

My God. Have you tried Advantage? It’s worked wonders on my kitties.

Advantage for the kitties, and borax for your house. Seriously, just laundry borax. Utterly harmless, kills flea infestations amazingly well. Sprinkle it lavishly on your carpets and furniture, rub it in a bit, let it sit for a few hours, then vacuum out. I do that once or twice a year and never have fleas in the house. I found a box of the borax powder at a grocery store; if you can’t find it at your grocery, check with your vet, they may well have it.

Advantage. It’s well worth the cost. Your pets will never have fleas again…or at least in my experience! I second the Borax.

We’re using Advantage on the cats already.

Hadn’t heard about Borax for fleas – I’ve used it in the past on cockroaches. Fortunately, I have some on hand (you need it for experiments, like cross-linking PVA to make “slime”, or for cross-linking Elmer’s glue to make “flubber”)

Pepper Mill has been using Baking Soda on the fleas. She claims it makes them explode.

I feel your pain. I have two dogs and one cat. We have never had a real problem with fleas until last fall. My large wire haired terrier mix (mutt from the pound) will often have a couple, and the cat might have a couple also, but it was always very manageable. Regular bathing for the dog and a flea collar for the cat, and all was well.

But then we got my little maltese mix (he is also a mutt, the puppy of a pregnant stray). He has fleas so bad, it makes me want to cry. I bathe him every single day now, and he still has about 50 or so. Every day. I don’t know why, if it’s because he is small, or because of his silky type fur, but they are impossible to get rid of. He also has sensitive skin; I can’t give him advantage or anything like that. The one time I did, all of his skin became covered in oozing sores. He’s chewed his butt and the base of his tail so much the skin is black and leathery, and I doubt he will ever have normal fur there again. When the heat was bad (it got to over 106 here) I really kind of thought about putting him to sleep, he seemed so miserable, scratching and whining. Good luck in your eradication efforts; you’ll need it.

I’ve often wondered if there’s a difference between animals which makes some more attractive to fleas. In one house we lived in, our poor pugs battled fleas continuously, despite our best efforts to eradicate them. Every day, I’d flea-comb them (easy on a short-coated breed), and the flea count on them was always consistent: one pug would always be swarming with fleas, and the other barely had a flea or two. The flealess one was our butch, alpha-bitch pug, and we always told her that she was so tough that the fleas bent their beaks on her. The poor wimpy subordinate bitch always got the lion’s share of fleas. Maybe she tasted better or something.

You also need to treat the outdoors…even if your kitties are indoors only. Here’s a little anecdote to illustrate what I mean. When I lived in South Carolina, I used to visit a neighbor who lived in a townhouse that had a nice little courtyard type yard for her kids to play in. She didn’t have ANY pets. Had lived there for several years and never had any pets. One year that courtyard was so swarming with fleas that it was impossible to go out there without being eaten alive. And, of course, they came inside on clothing, etc.

What’s worked for me in the past is a two-prong attack:

  1. Take the cats to the vet to be professionally dipped.
  2. While the cats are out of the house, set off the most powerful flea bombs you can find, and use about 1.5 times the recommended amount.

You have to do a fair bit of cabinet and floor scrubbing and the like afterwards, but the fleas, they die and don’t come back. Unless you bring them in with you from somewhere else, that is.

A hijack in the direction of General Questions: what kind of resistance could the fleas build up towards boric acid? Since it works via a more “mechanical” means (blocking breathing pores IIRC) than chemical (like most pesticides), I just wondered how the fleas could fight back.

I think they must be. I’ve noticed a similar thing with cats and ear mites.

CalMeacham, we had an invasion earlier this year and had good luck treating the house with pyrethrin. (We also have a bird and pyrethrin is one of the few bug poisons you can use around birds.) We swept it over the (wood) floors and into the area rugs, left it for a bit, then vacuumed it up. It took several treatments (a few days apart) but finally got 'em all.

Do be careful about mixing with flea treatments applied to your cats so as not to overdose them or get bad combinations.

Now we’re waiting to see how many hatch back out so we can do it again. I think I recall you have to treat for fleas three times about three weeks apart to kill all the hatchlings. Are you throwing out your vacuum bags after each round? The eggs will sit in there and hatch, the little bastards.

How long is the respite between bouts of fleas? That might give you an idea of where they’re coming from.

New Dispatches from the Flea Wars:
I’ve spent the past week cleaning the house, especially the downstairs, which is a mess and a potential jungle for fleas. I’ve removed almost everything from three rooms, thrown out a lot of stuf, swept and vacuumed, and sprayed everything with flea-killing sprays. Nonabsorbent floors were mopped. Anything capable of being thrown in the washer, was, then dried on high heat.

Of course, we cleaned out, mopped, washed, and sprayed the upstairs as well.

Today, we bathed the cats again. This makes five times, by my count, but the fleas infestations are getting smaller, there’s no doubt. Lotta decided she had enough, and our normallysedate cat clawed her way up my arm and onto my back. I’ve got some interesting and deep claw marks there. They’ve mostly forgiven us. Now they get the FrontLine. In a couple of days, we’re bombing the house, while the cats get to stay overnight elsewhere.

Have you been using Frontline all along or did you just switch from the Advantage? I’ve been having a horrible flea problem (they’re always bad in Texas but they’re particularly bad this year due to all the rain) and the Frontline didn’t seem to help much. I just switched to Advantage and the difference is huge. The fleas were gone overnight and, in the two weeks since, I’ve seen one somewhat sluggish flea they could’ve picked up outdoors.

Sigh. We’ve been there. No infestation in the house this year, but the dogs get it all the time. The cats too. We have a Dyson Animal vacuum now and that’s what I attribute the lack of infestation to. Advantage and Frontline seem to be USELESS for us, but the cats are using flea collars and it seems to work. The dogs get a monthly flea bath from me. As long as I don’t have fleas on my ankles, I feel like we’re doing well.

In July the house where I was feeding the cats (some of you may remember my mini-breakdown involving having to get the dad of one of my son’s friends to break in for me because I locked myself out on the first day) ended up horribly infested and they have completely indoor cats and a dog who was off boarding who did NOT have fleas. It’s very weird.

Treat outside your house as well as inside and treating the cats. I liberally sprinkle sevin dust around the foundation of my house and around the entrances. Sevin doesn’t kill fleas, but the little bastards don’t like it so they don’t hang around. Re-apply after heavy rain.

Doing that combined with Advantage works for me, and Georgia is flea heaven.

Won’t someone think of the fleas!?

Sorry I can offer no advice. I have a fish; flea-free.

The fleas have been le3thargic and generally acting as if stoned, which has enabled us to pick them off easily. Pepper Mill checked the cats, finding no live fleas on any of them, except Clarence. She flea-combed him and spot-bombed the fleas. It’s easy when they’re stoned. (“Het, man, did you ever stop to think that maybe this entire world is , like, One Huge Animal, and it’s walking along while we eat?” “Whoa!”)
Today we turned off the gas in the house, took the cats to a kennel, and bombed the house with six “Indoor Foggers”, then spent the day at Panera and the Mall Food Court, catching up on work. We got back and aired the place out and turned on the pilot lights and started the long cleanup. Pepper Mill reclaimed our cats.
We have not seen one live flea. The cats are not scratching. Is it possible we’ve succeeded?

Yes, you have.

Untill the next round of little bloodsuckers hatch.

Use a vet-sold spot product - Advantage, Frontline or Revolution. Use sevin dust outside your house, especially under windows you keep open.

Nasty little buggers. I once thought I hated cockroaches, but I hate fleas more.

We’ve had serious Flea Invasions twice, and there is no easy answer. Sounds to me like you’ve done everything you could and they’re DYING DYING DYING because of your hard work.

Fleas definitely flourish more on the less vigorous beasties of those in any given menagerie. Any critter that is actually ill becomes a serious target, but I swear fleas figure out who the softie is if they have any choice, even if the choice is only marginally discrete. Especially on cats, grooming is a substantial flea control activity – of course the downside to that is that fleas come laden with extra goodies (e.g., tapeworms) that activate when the kitty ingests them… but for the fleas themselves, the most active of fastidious felines are a problem.