Cat's fine, I'm the one who's a mess.
October 11, 2011 3:13 PM   Subscribe

I just figured out that our 5 month old kitten Hubble has fleas. Or, at least, I think she has fleas. Please help me curb my inner stress ball, because I am having a real hard time dealing with this.

Hubble has recently discovered the magic of sinks and water and, while getting soaking wet, had started leaving tiny blood stains on the porcelain. These corresponded to her paw prints, mostly, and I incorrectly assumed that she had some issue with the pads of her paws or similar. Took her to the vet to have her claws trimmed last week, mentioned the tiny blood flecks to the vet, and he reassured me by telling me she looked perfectly healthy and her paws were fine. Red specks on sinks persisted.

She is an indoor cat, so fleas had (wrongly!) never crossed my mind. Hubbsy has, since we got her in July, shed little black bits which look like dandruff. They are most obvious when she's napping on a white surface, like our sheets. You really have to go looking for one to see any on her coat. I'd never had a Russian Blue before, and my partner had never had a cat before, so we incorrectly assumed (sense a pattern?) that this was normal. This afternoon, I finally googled "black cat dandruff" and found out this was most likely flea dust. One way to check for flea dust is to apparently wet it and see if it looks like... little specks of blood. Oh.

So I called our vet, in a bit of a state, and the vet tech confirmed that it was probably fleas and told me to dose her with some Frontline Plus, which I picked up at the vet's office right away. She also told me to clean and vacuum and not to worry because fleas don't really like to snack on humans. I applied the Frontline to her scruff, but she was having none of it and wriggled while I was doing it so it mostly ended up on her fur rather than her skin. I called the vet again, asked if this was okay or if I should wipe down her fur and reapply and the tech said it would just "trickle down" and be fine. Everything I read online tells me that it's really not nearly as effective if it's applied to the fur rather than the skin.

Now, I don't normally panic. I had a moment of madness in which I considered not telling my (neat freak, almost OCD cleaner) partner that the cat had fleas because I didn't want him to freak out. Turns out, he's perfectly reasonable and reassuring and I'm the one who is freaking out. This is devolving entirely into paranoia and my partner is working late all week, so he won't be much help in dealing with cleaning and laundry and calming me down as he normally would be.

I'm itching all over, it's obviously psychosomatic, but I can't help it. The cat sleeps with us, mostly on top of me, and it's causing me almost physical stress to think about it. I've washed the duvet, I'm washing the duvet cover and sheets, and I'm about to vacuum the mattress (which has an anti allergen cover) and our bedroom. All the clothes she could have gotten on will be washed. Our house gets cleaned and vacuumed once a week, but I've gone over the rugs and the couches, though I can't wash either. All the stuffed animals in the house will take a spin in the washer too.

Tell me it'll be fine. I haven't seen fleas anywhere, except a glimpse of what could have been, in hindsight, one on the cat's haunch last week. There are no fleas jumping around that I can see. She doesn't scratch or groom herself excessively. She seems perfectly happy and as boisterous as ever. I'm going to ask the vet to check her for tapeworms next month when she goes in for her spaying, so she should be covered. She'll receive monthly doses of flea stuff from now on, if the vet okays it. I don't think I have fleas either, necessarily.

What can I do to feel like this will be okay? That we'll get rid of the fleas and we won't have parasites crawling all over us OMG? Should I ask my doctor to check me for tapeworms? Should I be calling the exterminators? Would that help just my sanity rather than the actual situation? What am I missing? Is this really just a "relax and wait it out, it's not that bad" situation? Vet tech almost laughed at me for being concerned. It's just fleas, after all. Help me regain a similar perspective.

I want to be okay and not so freaked out when Hubble will inevitably crawl into bed with me tonight and I'm going to want to do nothing but cuddle her and have her sleep in the crook of my arm but oh. jesus. little. nasty. bugs. potentially. everywhere! /shudder
posted by lydhre to Pets & Animals (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You are freaking out. Most everyone with indoor pets deals with this at some pont. The Frontline will take care of them quickly. If you want to go double-duty, buy some carpet powder -- sprinkle it on, vacuum it up. (There are citrus-based ones that work well.)

This is not a big deal. This is absolutely a "relax and wait it out, it's not that bad" situation.

Chill, and cuddle that cat.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:15 PM on October 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

That's a really cute cat. You're completely freaking out. It's not a big deal. Listen to your vet and do what they tell you to do.
posted by facetious at 3:18 PM on October 11, 2011

If things were about to get as bad as you imagine, why would millions of us still own and love our pets?

As Mudpuppie says, just about everyone at some point has dealt with fleas from their cats and/or dogs. You are catching this fairly early on, so stick with the frontline, continue the cleaning of the house, perhaps do the "flea comb and drown the suckers in soapy water" route that people try in the beginnings of a flea problem (wear gloves).

For now, wear long sleeves and long pants around her and that'll help a bit. And chill. Really.
posted by HeyAllie at 3:21 PM on October 11, 2011

As a kid my family had four indoor cats (in a big old house) and one summer they managed to ALL get fleas. I don't think any of us humans got bit at all, and the back-of-the-neck drops from the vet killed the fleas off in a week or so. We washed the sheets and vacuumed, but didn't do any super-cleaning.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 3:21 PM on October 11, 2011

(And Hubble is an awesome kitty name and I have a special place in my heart for grey kittens! )
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 3:22 PM on October 11, 2011

It will be fine! Don't worry. My cat had fleas as a kitten. She's an indoor cat - she managed to pick one up on a day-long car trip, somehow. We spent a Saturday washing and vacuuming everything, gave her a bath and a dose of Frontline, and it was all over. Never saw another flea.

Fleas don't live long, they don't like biting humans, they don't survive in cracks on baseboards for months - they're totally harmless. You just have to wash some stuff, vacuum your carpets, and it will all be OK. It's not going to be a long haul!

If you really want to go all out, you could rent one of those steam cleaners to clean items you can't laundry. No flea is going to survive that.
posted by Cygnet at 3:25 PM on October 11, 2011

You know, when I was a kid (in the UK) it was just pretty much generally accepted that cats had fleas. You tried to keep them down by keeping your house clean (maybe) and by getting the cat a flea collar every now and then, but really, cats and dogs just had fleas. No one died, no one panicked, it wasn't a disease, just a thing.

It seems to me that it's only more recently that we've been able to eliminate fleas more consistently and it's become more of a thing. While I don't like fleas, and do use Frontline, I also can't help but think there's some profit motive driving the shift. My vet plays a gross video about fleas on repeat, and charges $90 for three doses of their branded treatment (I get it cheap from Amazon and they hate me for it). Fleas won't hurt you, or your cat really, and Frontline is generally really effective. Apply it and try to chill out, there are tiny things living on all of us, always have been and always will be. Do you know about eyelash mites?
posted by crabintheocean at 3:28 PM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wow, you really need to just relax. Fleas are nothing to worry about! (If it makes you feel better, your reaction made me laugh a bit.)

Around here (eastern U.S.) there was quite a flea problem this summer because of the intense amount of rain. Think fleas in the grass. My neighbor's dog would get fleas on her daily walk. Cats at my parents' house brought fleas in daily. My mom was in a battle with them, and developed a methodology to kill them.

First of all, frontline will kill the fleas on little Hubble. The weekly vacuuming is also a great defense. If you're really concerned, buy some diatomaceous earth and sprinkle it around on the carpets and on your kitty's back. It is harmless to your kitty, but it will dry out and kill any living fleas or flea eggs around the house. Leave it on for 24 hours, vacuum it up, and repeat a couple times. That will for sure kill anything that might be there (and it's ecofriendly). If you're really worried about linens and clothes, washing them in hot water will take care of them.

And just to repeat -- STOP FREAKING OUT. It's not a big deal.
posted by DoubleLune at 3:30 PM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, and if you haven't noticed the fleas so far, they aren't biting you. It sounds like she's had fleas since you got her, and trust me, you would know if you had flea bites.
posted by DoubleLune at 3:31 PM on October 11, 2011

You will be fine. The cat does not need to be treated for fleas after you've eradicated them from her and from the house, as long as you don't see them, no more specs, and she doesn't go outside. Ours got some fleas once from me (gross) because there were dogs in my office. We treated them for fleas one time - literally - and the fleas haven't ever been an issue.

So, to repeat - as long as the cat does not routinely go outside, you will be fine once you get through this initial thing with the fleas. Really. No need to go full frontal assault for the rest of your life.
posted by Medieval Maven at 3:34 PM on October 11, 2011

Whoa, calm down! The vet was correct to tell you that cat fleas don't bother humans -- they are a different species from the kind that live on us (and you are most certainly not going to get tapeworms anyway, not unless you go around eating the fleas.) If you haven't noticed them and she's not scratching, your kitten probably doesn't have it too bad, and the fleas will be gone in a couple of weeks... and since she's an indoor cat, chances are they won't return.

I think you should clean the house from top to bottom to make yourself feel better, stick with the treatment, and then declare yourself Victor and Savior, Defeater of Fleas. Maybe do a Conan-style thing where you stand over their tiny, tiny corpses and bellow whist brandishing the vacuum nozzle.
posted by vorfeed at 3:35 PM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ok you are really freaking out. Fleas are so not a big deal. You have done the right thing by applying the frontline. Now just do it every month. I have had infestations in my house but that was only because my parents became really lax on the treatments (despite both being vets, grr).

Now rest assured that you will be fine. Your anxiety will subside once you get a couple days in without a bite. Rest assured though, I have treated a major infestation in the past by washing everything that isn't nailed down and then spraying frontline spray. It really doesnt sound like you picked up a mangey cat from the side of the street though so this kind of attack is not going to be necessary. Yes it is best to part the hair and get the frontline right on the skin but it is also best not to overtreat. Wait a month and see if your SO can help you with the wrangling. I find a surprise attack to be best. Also if you happen to be at the vet when the next treatment is due, just ask and they will apply it for you. I have wrangled many a client's cat in my day and sometimes it's just easier to have a stranger do it.

posted by boobjob at 3:35 PM on October 11, 2011

Oh, I thought I'd add something -

7 years ago, I slept in a Tibetan barn on a wool blanket on an old straw bale with 2 cats with MAJOR flea problems. (Yes, really!) I was in flea heaven. They were everywhere. All my clothes were in the same barn with me. The cats even went in my suitcase. I got a few flea bites. Since I was traveling in a crowded Jeep and had no access to a washing machine, let alone a shower, I did nothing about the fleas. They went away anyway. You REALLY don't have to worry.
posted by Cygnet at 3:37 PM on October 11, 2011

Definitely relax and calm down. Fleas suck for sure, but they're not going to kill you, and you're not going to get a tapeworm. (Seriously, the only way that will happen is if you eat a flea or your cats poop). The worst you're looking at is some itching and the annoyance at having them in your house for a while. Keep applying the Frontline, clean your bedding/carpets, and if you think it's necessary, you can use a flea bomb.

All pets will have fleas at some point. They're generally harmless. Your kitty will be fine, and so will you.
posted by metaphorik at 3:41 PM on October 11, 2011

First of all, don't worry. I freaked out when my indoor-only cat got fleas a few years back, but after successfully eradicating them, I feel like they're not such a big deal.

First of all, I had terrible luck with Frontline. I think the fleas in my area have grown resistant to it or something. I was told it was OK to put Advantage on my cat even before the 4-6 week Frontline dosing period finished, so I grabbed some and the fleas were dead within a few days after application. I try to part the fur on the back of my cat's head as much as possible when I apply it so it gets on her skin -- whenever I put it on the back of her neck like the instructions say, some of it dribbles into her fur and she ends up licking it into a giant stinky chemical slick.

Since you're blessed with a cat who actually enjoys water, give her a gentle bath with some Dawn dish soap if you see her scratching a lot. Dawn kills fleas almost instantly. If she tires of the water, dunk a flea comb in the soapy water and comb it through her fur to take care of the little buggers. Rinse the comb in the water and repeat for as long as you/the cat can stand it.

Whether you stick with Frontline or have to run out for Advantage, make sure you keep up the regimen for 3-4 months to take care of the entire flea life cycle. Their eggs can sit around in the carpet for quite some time after you get all of the live ones on your cat, but as soon as they hatch and bite your flea-treated cat they'll die off quickly. In the meantime, wear socks around the house to guard against any fleas that decide to nip your feet/ankles (don't worry about this; all you'll get are some mildly itchy bites that go away on their own).

Finally, take your cat/a stool sample to the vet after you successfully knock out the fleas. Odds are that your cat has ingested at least one while grooming herself, and fleas are known carriers. I didn't notice anything awry until 6+ months after my cat had fleas, but I'm sure she had tapeworms the entire time and I just didn't notice.
posted by phatkitten at 3:42 PM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you feel like doing something more TONIGHT:

My cats came from the shelter with TONS of fleas. I can't even explain it. I saw like, one or two and on a Friday evening went to the store and got flea wipes soaked with some kind of ammonia-smelling fluid. The wipes only had to get within an inch of their faces before literally hundreds would POUR out of their fur, like out of a horror movie.

It was too late for a vet's office to be open, so I called the animal hospital freaking out, and the woman very calmly advised me to soak and bathe them in Lemon Joy (yes, the dishwashing detergent) for 15 minutes apiece. So I spent the whole night over the bathtub getting the hell scratched out of me, doing about 15 loads of laundry, and vacuuming my upholstery.

I went to bed at 5am with bloody arms, two damp cats, and a tub filled with powdered bleach to eliminate all traces of the insect carcasses, but I never did see another damn flea again.
posted by lalex at 3:50 PM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Your first reaction may be to buy anything that promises to kill fleas but I would try to resist the urge to nuke this from orbit. Some people believe that certain anti-flea treatments are dangerous for use on cats, especially kittens, though I have not done enough research to determine if there is evidence to support this. I would suggest getting a cat comb and combing Hubble over some white paper towels to look for fleas. I would then give the cat a bath of some depth with gentle soap to see if any fleas end up floating in the water. Your cat may not have fleas. I shared a house years ago with roommates that were *convinced* that my cat had fleas; she did not, as it turned out.
posted by Morrigan at 3:56 PM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

AskMefi delivers! Thank you all so very much, I really needed to hear that I was a disaster for no real good reason. Apparently I deal with most things pretty well, but parasites hit me in the hind brain. Managed to grow up with indoor-outdoor cats and never had a flea problem (that I know of, it's actually comforting to figure that they probably all had fleas at some point or another and we all were clearly fine).

Bought some diatomaceous earth and a flea comb, that should assuage my need to do something right now. Gave Hubbsy a snuggle and in the process of cleaning the entire house discovered that she's best buds with the vacuum. Cat who loves water and the vacuum cleaner, score!
posted by lydhre at 4:06 PM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Kittens are quite prone to fleas, and in the Northern Hemisphere, or at least in Maine, it's flea season. Fleas are unpleasant, but kitten fleas are mostly an annoyance. In addition to the above, you can buy flea powder, sprinkle floors, wait a little bit, and vacuum. Vacuuming up the flea powder helps keep eggs from hatching in the vacuum. Check with the vet on safety for a kitten. My dog has fleas this year, and hasn't had them for the last couple years;m around here, people say it's a bad flea year. well, good for fleas, I guess.
posted by theora55 at 4:09 PM on October 11, 2011

If you're really, really, really concerned about keeping fleas off you, use Off or some other topical bug repellant spray. That's what I've done in the past. Either it worked or the smell was reassuring enough in a psychosomatic way that it let me quit freaking out over the fleas.
posted by lemniskate at 4:09 PM on October 11, 2011

Yes, this will be ok. But you may find you need more than Frontline. We had an infestation of fleas in a holiday house recently (the house having a resident cat) and Frontline in combination with sprays on the furniture didn't seem to have much effect. A friend's cat recently had fleas and her vet (who is also my cat's vet and seems pretty good to me) said Frontline isn't any good and she should use Stronghold. (Though I'm not sure if Frontline Plus is the same as Frontline.)

You may also find you do get bitten - I got bites on my ankles, wch seems to be the commonest place, but they didn't itch or swell.

My cat had fleas as a kitten and has been clear (I check him) for about 9 years with no treatment since that initial problem. He also had tapeworms following the flea infestation, and these were very noticeable in the fur around his anus. They went without further treatment when we sorted the fleas, and again he's been clear since. My vet at the time said kittens often get a go of fleas but it's easier to sort than in adult cats. You will get rid of the fleas and relax again.
posted by paduasoy at 4:31 PM on October 11, 2011

It will be ok, relax. What a beautiful kitten! Frontline has worked for us for years. The flea comb is a good idea too. Enjoy your kitty, the fleas will soon be gone.
posted by mermayd at 4:45 PM on October 11, 2011

And don't discourage your newly-Frontlined (and adorable!) kitten from lying on the couch, bed, wherever she usually lies, as the stuff in her fur will get on the surfaces and kill fleas there.

(I envy those who do not get bitten by fleas. There is something in me that is delicious to them - we had a flea invasion this summer, and while treating the cats with Advantage and vacuuming the floors and furniture got rid of them, I got a number of bites before it was all over. My partner, however, didn't get a one. But I taste delicious to mosquitoes, chiggers, and all sorts of other biting insects, so I am not surprised.)
posted by telophase at 3:00 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

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