How to rid a communal housing situation of fleas?
October 8, 2009 5:47 PM   Subscribe

My house has fleas. My cat seems fine. What to do?

I got my cat last September from a friend who had rescued him off the street. The cat had infested my friend's house with fleas, as well as my friend's parent's house. I brought the cat to the vet immediately after I got him and treated him with Advantage. No fleas on cat. No bites on housemates. No fleas.

My cat is mostly an indoor cat now, but he escapes all the time and we've let him out a few times in the summer because he enjoys being outside so much. I was negligent and didn't think about the flea risk until I noticed my cat scratching a lot at the beginning of September and a housemate mentioned that she had a few unidentified bites. I applied the remaining tube of Advantage immediately and the cat has stopped scratching and my housemates haven't been bitten. BUT about a week ago, I started getting 2 - 3 bites a day and saw something jump off of my leg that looked like a flea tonight. I've checked my cat for flea dirt and so far he's been clean. I'm going into the vet on Saturday to get more Advantage to apply on the cat for the next few months, but I'm worried that the fleas will continue to stay off my cat and start biting more people.

I've read some of the other threads about cat fleas and many of the proposed solutions don't work because:

- I live in a co-op house with 11 other students. we can't take off on vacation for a few days while the house is being fogged
- The house is an old 3 story Victorian with a gazillion little closets and nooks. The cat sleeps and hangs around /everywhere/. I don't think we can coordinate daily sweeping/vacuuming in such a way that it will actually make a difference
- My housemates will probably be unwilling to be exposed to borax or any other overly toxic treatment
- We have a tight budget. If there is a fogging method that doesn't require people to leave for a few days, I shudder to think of how many foggers we'd need for all the rooms and how expensive it would be.

I'm going to ask the vet about it when I go in. I'm a bit doubtful of her knowledge about human-flea problems because when I asked last year about other treatment methods that could complement Advantage in the case of a severe infestation, she was very dismissive and didn't think severe infestations happened in Toronto anymore.

YANMPestController AskMefi, but please help me think up of some creative ways of kicking out the fleas!

(I will try the soupy water with lamp method tonight and report back)
posted by dustyasymptotes to Pets & Animals (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In my experience with cats/fleas, if you are pretty religious about applying Advantage to your cat on time, he will become like a walking flea repellant. If he rests/sleeps 'everywhere', more the better. the more he roams the house the more he'll repel the fleas.
posted by Pecinpah at 5:59 PM on October 8, 2009

Okay, this is going to be a little ridiculous, but I am speaking from experience - make sure you put the soapy water somewhere the cat cannot drink it. My cat took a few swigs from the soapy water I put out when I thought there were fleas in my house. Good news! No fleas! Bad news? My cat threw up directly on my computer and I had to get the logicboard replaced! Wooo $280!
posted by banannafish at 6:02 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

They live everywhere. Your cat can be "clean" but your couch can have a massive colony, bomb your house, or find the nest. They love your legs, bedding, and blood. Eggs are resilient and can survive long periods dormant, stuck in cracks in the floor etc.

You have to ultra mega clean your living space.
posted by Max Power at 6:25 PM on October 8, 2009

I moved into a house recently that had been infested with fleas by the former tenants' cats. Awful!!! I had to keep every part of my body covered or else I'd get eaten alive. I live in a small house and used several foggers on a couple different occasions, but even that didn't do the trick. We called in an exterminator, and voila! Problem solved in one afternoon.

I didn't have to leave the house for anything more than like three hours -- I'm sure the eleven of you could figure something out for that amount of time. It sucks to have to blast your house with chemicals, but you throw open the windows afterwards and cross your fingers that you don't develop some horrible cancer. And god is it worth it to get rid of the fleas -- they're little monsters.

I'm not sure how much it cost because my landlady called in the exterminator. Are your housemates willing to help with the cost? I can't imagine it would be too expensive if the cost was split eleven ways, or even less.

I really think it's worth calling in a professional. Fleas are disgusting (they can carry disease) and a real infestation will quickly get out of hand and make your life miserable. Their eggs are especially difficult to kill. You won't want to spend any time in your house. You won't be able to sleep well because you'll be scratching. Save yourself the pain and call the exterminator!!!!!!!!!
posted by imalaowai at 6:54 PM on October 8, 2009

Invite a friend with a dog to come over for a couple of hours.
posted by megatherium at 7:00 PM on October 8, 2009

the trick is killing the eggs. get a exterminator you TRUST. If you let the cat outside you must maintain the advantage. It does work. Borax is not toxic to people like posion. What it does is dry out (dehydrate) the bugs. Works great on roaches & is now used to impregnate 2x4's etc for interior construction. I don't know if borax even works on fleas.
posted by patnok at 7:27 PM on October 8, 2009

A good way of getting the live fleas out of a house is to put on a very fuzzy pair of white socks, and go walking around the house. As you walk, fleas will jump on the socks, and then you, at intervals, pick them off your socks and dump them into a cup full of water.

Do this every night, combined with putting advantage on the cat, and things will get better.

Also, um ... borax isn't really that toxic. It has an LD 50 of 2.66 g/kg in rats, which is comparable to somewhere between asprin and table salt. So um... yeah.
posted by strixus at 7:50 PM on October 8, 2009

Is there a Petsmart near where you live? Most of them have a vet on premises and you can buy your Advantage there. You don't need an appointment. You just go in, fill out the paperwork (only the first time) and then you're all set. A four pack of Advantage is around in the 50 dollar range. You need to apply it religiously once a month and it will really help cull the flea infestation.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 8:09 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Groom your cat religiously with a flea comb.

For preventative strategies, make sure the cat is healthy. Feed it good food, keep it vaccinated, and make sure it doesn't have any parasites.

A healthy cat does not get fleas.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:37 PM on October 8, 2009

Cat are often very good flea catchers. It's not unusual for a house, other pets, and people to have flea problems while a cat with fast and precise teeth will not really have a problem.

So, what Max Power said.

Any cat can get fleas, however. Health has nothing to do with it. This is also true of ticks. Don't go walking in the woods with no repellent even if you are in the pink of health. Ticks and fleas will jump on anything and hope for the chance to feed before their are dislodged.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:04 PM on October 8, 2009

If you're not willing to hire the exterminator, you really should reconsider daily vacuuming--it's a pain, but it's free, non-toxic, and can be really helpful in getting rid of the eggs. I successfully battled an infestation with religious Advantage use and rigorous vacuuming.
posted by janerica at 11:47 PM on October 8, 2009

Just stick with the Advantage. The fleas that are biting you now are the ones that hatched from the eggs laid by the lot that the cat brought in before the last lot of Advantage went on him.

Advantage doesn't turn your cat into a walking flea repellent; it turns him into a walking flea trap. Any flea that bites him will die, and any eggs that flea lays before it does die won't hatch.

If you keep him dosed up (apply a dose every four weeks instead of every six) then your house's reserve of viable flea eggs will most likely be completely used up in a few months, even with moderate amounts of fleas coming in on the occasional visiting critter.
posted by flabdablet at 2:30 AM on October 9, 2009

Borax is about as toxic as table salt, by the way. But it's not much use on fleas, because it's hard to persuade them to ingest it. Works great on ants when made up in sugar syrup (three teaspoons of borax per cup of syrup is about right).
posted by flabdablet at 2:34 AM on October 9, 2009

The fleas may be from another critter. Every year at this time, I wage war with mice who think our old farmhouse is a delightful place to spend the winter. We have 3 dogs, and I use the largest Frontline available, and split it between the three. You'll probably never get a vet to approve this method, but it works...and a single 3pack will serve as a 90 day treatment.
posted by lobstah at 5:30 AM on October 9, 2009

Advantage alone won't be strong enough to eradicate the fleas from a large, untreated house. Two years ago, my cat picked up fleas when we moved to Florida. My roommate refused to treat her room, so they just kept living in there until she gave in, months later.

You don't need to use foggers, and you don't need to leave the house for a week. Chemical flea sprays will do the trick and only require you leave the house for the afternoon. Here's what you need to do:

1. Advantage on the cat, religiously, whether he goes outside or not. Do not try to go cheap and get supermarket generic flea-treatments. They don't work and can have adverse side effects. Beware buying online, too--I bought fake frontline from Pakistan for cheap once, and it didn't do a thing. The first time you do this, you might try to supplement the treatment with a Capstar pill, which will instantly kill any fleas that might be on the cat that you can't see.

2. Remove all bedding and curtains from house, stick in hot water wash. Flea spray everything--all exposed surfaces, all carpets, all hardwood floors (they hide in the cracks). Wear a facemask. Then, take your 11 roomies and cat and leave the house for a few hours.

3. Return. Vacuum all floors with a new vacuum bag. Place the vacuum bag in a sealed garbage container outside the house.

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 after two weeks, when any flea eggs will have hatched.

On top of this, the biggest things that will help are regular flea-combing (this will also help you tell if the advantage is working--if the fleas are jumpy, it's not, and you might want to try a fresh batch or frontline) and vacuuming. I mean weekly or daily.

This is the only thing that worked for me after months of flea problems. Lightbulbs over water and borax are nothing compared to vacuuming, washing linens, and chemicals.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:41 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, and you should probably also treat your cat for tapeworms. Worms and fleas pretty much go hand-in-hand.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:42 AM on October 9, 2009

My cat is mostly an indoor cat now, but he escapes all the time and we've let him out a few times in the summer because he enjoys being outside so much.

Also, please don't tell your vet that your cat is an indoor cat--kitties that go outside need additional vaccinations to be healthy and safe from diseases and pests besides fleas.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:46 AM on October 9, 2009

We have 3 dogs, and I use the largest Frontline available, and split it between the three. You'll probably never get a vet to approve this method, but it works...and a single 3pack will serve as a 90 day treatment.

I can't shut-up in this thread apparently, but don't do this with your cat. They're very sensitive to dosage requirements. Definitely do not do what this yahoo answers participant suggests and use chemicals intended for dogs on your cat, unless you want a dead- or near-dead kitty.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:49 AM on October 9, 2009

Definitely DO NOT use Frontline or Advantage for dogs on your cat. They are mixed at different concentrations, and using the wrong one can be deadly. There was a comment here on Mefi not long ago from a fellow who had accidentally mixed up his dog's and cat's flea/tick meds, and put the cat into a coma from which it emerged with permanent brain damage. Not good.

I haven't ever had a flea problem, even when I had outdoor cats, but we used flea/tick collars constantly. (This was pre-Frontline/Advantage.) I have heard from several people however that if you use Frontline on an animal and then let the animal roam freely through the house, that it will do a number on the fleas—they get onto the treated pet, bite it, and get killed by the poison. Your pet basically becomes a walking decoy / exterminator.

However, if the infestation is really bad, that might not be enough—if the fleas are also feeding on you and your roommates, they might be able to sustain and reproduce even with your cat's blood being liquid death to them. Short of putting Frontline on yourself (not a serious suggestion; don't do this), I think that thorough cleaning or a professional exterminator are the only solutions.

Also—if you let your cat outside at all he's an outdoor kitty. I'm not against that, but just make sure he has a collar and ID tags on when he goes out, and that you've updated the database with his microchip ID in it with your contact info, if he has one.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:39 AM on October 9, 2009

According to my vet, the flea lifecyle is about 45 days. If you apply the Advantage religiously every 30 days, you break that cycle.

The Advantage (I actually use Revolution, which protects against Heartworm as well) kills the existing fleas on your cat.

But the fleas that were already in your house could still grow up and have more fleas. Of course, they will be dead in 45 days, but you will have new fleas coming in by then! And they could be pregnant and having more fleas. So just killing the fleas in your house will not do the job unless your cat is continuously protected against bringing in new live fleas.

Make sense? Good. Vacuum daily, use the soapy water, and apply the Advantage every 30 days without fail and the house WILL be flea-free, but if you can't bomb the place, it's going to take probably a couple life cycles, or 90 days (with the 3 applications of Advantage) before you will be flea-free.
posted by misha at 9:02 AM on October 9, 2009

Thanks for all the help everyone. Here's an update:

I did some vigorous cleaning and tried the soapy water for 4 days. It didn't catch any fleas, but I've gotten 5 or 6 more bites in the meantime.
The vet prescribed a new 4-packet batch of Advantage which should last until January.
The exterminator came today and refused to spray because the rooms weren't cleared out enough. (I'm not really sure what it means since I wasn't home when the encounter happened.)
I also found out that the housing co-op will not be covering most of the costs ($80/room +common areas = $1000 or so.)
If I decide to go ahead with it, the exterminator will be back Monday.

We'll probably have a house meeting tonight go over our options. (exterminator OR DIY flea spray + vacuuming + rigorous cleaning + Advantage)

Thanks again!

postscript - toxicity of borax. I was thinking specifically of the risk of respiratory irritation from inhaled particles.
posted by dustyasymptotes at 2:46 PM on October 15, 2009

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