What's the best way to treat a mild flea infestation with complications?
December 29, 2012 5:53 PM   Subscribe

If I can only see the fleas on one cat, what is my best anti-flea protocol? Complications: apartment building full of pets, possible interaction with pregnant lady.

One of my two (strictly indoor) cats has fleas -- or at least, I saw little bugs crawling on her and they look just like the fleas on Google Image Search. I don't think the flea infestation could be very far along, because I swell up when I get bug bites, and I haven't noticed any.

So my questions are:
1. What is the best way to treat a mild flea infestation? Will flea collars and vacuuming be enough, or ... ?
2. Considering that the fleas likely came in with a neighbor's pet (we have carpeted hallways and some indoor-outdoor cats and dogs in the building), how can we avoid bringing them in in the future?
3. There might be a pregnant lady in my house in the near future. Is there a pregnant-lady-friendly protocol we could do?
4. The cats don't go in our bedroom, though they snuck in there once this week when the door was open. Should I treat the bedroom too?

Thanks for your help, AskMe!
posted by feets to Pets & Animals (15 answers total)
How about flea baths for both cats, then put on the flea collars, vacuum the house, and then set out those flea-attraction lights where the fleas jump towards the light and get stuck on sticky paper. You'll be able to judge your success by how many fleas you're seeing caught in the trap, and you can use a flea comb on the cats after their bath to see if anything turns up.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:28 PM on December 29, 2012

I prefer Frontline topical to get rid of fleas right away. Its a three month treatment, but most times I just use one when I know theres no chance of my outdoor kitties coming in. I've also used Capstar, which is an oral medication which I believe interrupts the flea reproductive cycle. As for the pregnant lady thing, I've always had cats, used both medications and didn't give a flip when I was pregnant. If you do use Frontline, I think its advisable to not pet the cats for a few days.
posted by PJMoore at 6:30 PM on December 29, 2012

Revolution is the least toxic (I researched it) and most effective. I used to apply it once per season (instead of once per month as they recommend) and nary a flea on either cat.

I have zero idea if it is bad if you are pregnant, but since you'll be treating the cats only once before anyone gets pregnant, you'll likely be cool. Google some stuff about how topical flea prevention works to make sure. I'm pretty sure that within hours of application, it absorbs into the cat and isn't a health risk to you or the cat.

I absolutely would NOT bother treating the rest of the house with chemicals. Especially considering you want to get pregnant soon.

Flea collars don't work.

(FWIW, I've had a bad reaction once with one of my cats using Frontline. The Internet says this is a thing with Frontline sometimes. YMMV.)
posted by jbenben at 6:42 PM on December 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

I recommend Comfortis, though it's prescription-only so you'll have to go to your vet. It's a pill, so there are no toxins on the cat's fur.

On the other hand, I eliminated a really bad flea infestation by thorough daily combing - no chemicals used at all. I put the cats (we had several) in the empty bath tub, to make it easier to spot escaping fleas, then combed and combed, day after day. Only 10% of the fleas will be on the cat at any time, the rest are resting, so it took a couple of weeks. When the comb caught a flea I dropped it into a cup of water with a drop of dish soap (so the flea would sink). It's slow but so very satisfying, and the cats enjoyed the combing too.
posted by anadem at 7:00 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have twice successfully treated my dogs for fleas at a pretty early stage (just a few visible fleas on one dog, visible flea dirt/eggs on both dogs) without having to use any chemicals that would be of concern to a pregnant person. This is what I did:

1. Give both dogs a Capstar. Capstar kills only the live fleas and does nothing to stop eggs from hatching, but it's considered the safest flea treatment available. Capstar is for both cats and dogs.

2. Immediately give both dogs a bath. Start by lathering up the neck to keep the fleas from fleeing to the dog's head. Before the bath, identify where the fleas have been laying eggs (on mine it was behind the ears and on their rumps) and really scrub and rinse those areas. Afterward, go over them with a flea comb and make sure you remove ALL eggs.

3. While the dogs are drying, vacuum the hell out of the house, especially along the baseboards. Do this every day for at least a week.

4. Wash every fabric thing that the dogs have been on (their bedding, your bedding, throw rugs, etc.)

5. On carpeted areas, sprinkle with FOOD GRADE diatomaceous earth, leave for 24 hrs, then vacuum

6. One of the two times was worse than the other, and that time I also mixed the DE with water in a spray bottle and sprayed the dogs with it, then washed them again a couple of days later.

I've had a real flea infestation before, many years ago, so although all these steps are a lot of work, I'm not taking any chances. I also don't trust those spot-on flea treatments, so the work to eliminate them as naturally as possible is worth it to me.
posted by HotToddy at 7:16 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

OK, while I was asking the question, my spouse went out and bought Advantage and applied it to the cats, so that's that for now, I guess. Maybe next month we can do something different (Revolution?).

In the meantime, we're going to vacuum and wash the couch cushions, blankets and so forth. And MAYBE make a "flea-attraction light" (I found a description of how to make one on the internet -- basically it's a nightlight inside a styrofoam bowl full of honey -- yuck!).

Thanks for the answers so far. And if anyone has any other tips (about how to not bring fleas home in particular), I would love to hear them.
posted by feets at 8:24 PM on December 29, 2012

Diatomaceous earth (food grade) is a great, natural flea control. It basically cuts their "skin" to pieces, then they dehydrate and die. You can sprinkle it into carpet, the back and under sides of sofa cushions, etc. Anywhere fleas might hang out or lay eggs. No need to vaccuum within 24 hours unless you put too much down and it looks messy. :-) Coupled with the topical treatment from your vet, the fleas will be gone in 30 days. Bonus: no more roaches/crickets/creepy crawlies.

As far as preventing future "guests", if you aren't comfortable with a monthly topical, just work a little DE into your pets' coats occaisionally. It'll dessicate any hangers-on. Ditto for an occaissional sprinkle on carpets, rugs, etc. If you can, stay away from flea collars (Hartz brand in particular) as they can cause severe reactions in some animals. Comfortis is more natural than the topicals (Imidacloprid, etc., that are absorbed into your pets' follicles/skin), but can also cause bad reactions, so make sure to read up on that and discuss with your vet prior to use.
posted by muirne81 at 8:34 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

P.s. Flea repellant herbs like pennyroyal, tansy, & tea tree oil are *not* safe for cats, unfortunately.
posted by muirne81 at 8:36 PM on December 29, 2012

I would do Revoution, Capstar! And vacuum every day for a week. I also put a cut up flea collar in the vacuum bag/canister to kill anything that got in there. My cat had fleas once. After literally 48 hours, I had no problems again. I continue to use revolution on her in the spri g/summer months just in case.

Of note- generally,over the counter formulations from pet stores don't work, so it's exposes you and your cat to chemicals needlessly. I agree that next month you should use the Revolution, but if Advantage (assuming this is the over the counter type) doesn't work, I would try Capstar now because you can use it at the same time as Advantage. And, of course, you can use diametacious earth and vacuum everyday too.

Another note- my cat had a bad reaction to advantage. It caused her to lose her fur and get a sore where it was applied. Doesn't happen to most animals, but just wanted to let you know in case you notice this situation in your cat. It will heal, but takes about a month.

Good luck!
posted by superfille at 8:39 PM on December 29, 2012

Just popping back in...

It won't hurt this one time, but Advantage and Frontline are not on my best list. However, your one treatment may do the trick!

Were I you, since there are usually 3 applications in the package, I would hold off applying the next month's application unless it was needed.

Most likely, especially since your pets are indoors only, you will not see this issue again. There are varying opinions about how your pets or apartment might have gotten a flea or two. I have experience with this. Let's go through them

- You indicate your hallways have carpeting, but your pets do not go outside. I agree this is the likeliest point of contact. My bet is that once the month is up and any eggs hatch, but die from the Advantage - your problem is totally solved.

- There are Promethium sprays that you could spray at your front door, or just put weather stripping down. I WOULD PUT WEATHER STRIPPING.

- Some people have told me fleas can live in your furniture or floors without a host. I think this is true if you live on the ground floor and there are rats/mice underneath your building and your subflooring sucks. This was the case with the people who swore on bibles this was true. Otherwise - NO.

- With my seasonal only application of Revolution, my cats who are indoor/outdoor NEVER brought fleas into the house. Ever. Even with one application of Advantage, you may be done.

- I now live on the ground floor of a building in LA (warm weather, no fleas in Eastern States in the winter) that has recently allowed dogs. I have not dosed my cats in over 3 years, they play in the backyard where strays and other furry critters carrying fleas absolutely hang out. No fleas.

- When I was still living at home, our indoor/outdoor cat got a bad case of fleas and the rugs were absolutely infested before anyone noticed. I know the difference between an infestation, and the occassional lone traveler, so to speak.

It's always great to be clean and tidy. I suggest you don't freak out sanitizing the cupboards or start overdosing your cats with chemicals when it isn't necessary.

This is the sum total of my 40 years of cat (and some dog) ownership.

Capstar is GOLD. For future reference.

That is all.
posted by jbenben at 10:37 PM on December 29, 2012

Slightly off-topic, but pregnant women and cats (at least, cat waste) should not mix.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 9:52 AM on December 30, 2012

Two simple, non-chemical things that have always worked for me with a mild flea infestation on kitties:

1. Get a flea comb. Once a day, fill a small bowl with soapy water and sit down with your kitty. Comb the kitty with the flea comb and quickly dunk the comb in the soapy water when you catch a flea. The flea will drown. Do this for a few minutes until you no longer catch fleas when you use the comb. Do this for a week and you will have a happy kitty with almost no fleas. It works, I swear.

2. Set a small bowl of soapy water underneath a lamp at night, near where your kitty sleeps. In the morning, you will probably find drowned fleas in the bowl. Empty and repeat each night.

Those two things will go a long, long way to controlling a mild flea infestation, without the need for chemical treatments.

so that's that for now, I guess

Seriously: get a flea comb. Your cat will love the attention and you'll see immediate results.
posted by mediareport at 2:01 PM on December 30, 2012

There have been studies that have linked exposure to pesticides, those commonly used to treat house pets for lice/fleas/ticks, to causing autism with prenatal exposure. If you are planning to put a pregnant lady into the house you may want to avoid filling it with pyrethrin, diazinon, etc.
posted by Dynex at 6:34 PM on December 30, 2012

OK! Thanks for the continuing advice. I'm going to get weather stripping and a flea comb, am considering diatomaceous earth, and we have a call in to the veterinarian to explore what our next (hopefully low-poison) steps will be.

One more question if anyone's still out there: What is the etiquette of having people over when the cat has fleas? (I've never had fleas, but I once had bedbugs, and the etiquette of having bedbugs is not to invite people over until the bedbugs are long gone.) We've put Advantage on th cats, brushed them, vacuumed and washed the couch cushions -- would be OK to have people over in two weeks?
posted by feets at 9:45 PM on December 30, 2012

What is the etiquette of having people over when the cat has fleas?

That's a really good question, which I think is best answered with another question: Do you have any flea bites on yourself? When you come into your house and sit down for a spell, do you get fleas jumping on your legs? Fleas tend to stay on pets in early stages of an infestation, so if the fleas seem to be contained to the cat and you've been working to control them, you're probably fine. But I understand your hesitance, and understand some folks might strongly disagree; I've been at homes where I've been bitten by fleas and the itching/worry about bringing them home definitely puts a damper on the evening.

Maybe mention it to the folks you've invited? Tell them you've noticed a few fleas on one pet and have been actively working to eliminate them, but wanted to let them know in case they were especially sensitive?
posted by mediareport at 7:44 AM on January 1, 2013

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