I just noticed fleas on my indoor cat. Panicking, what to do?
December 31, 2016 2:50 PM   Subscribe

Noticed fleas on my cat and need to know what first steps to take. I have a toddler. Please help!

Our cat is mostly indoors. When I say mostly, it's because we have my boyfriend's dog who isn't allowed in the house (I'm allergic.) The dog is out on the patio and my boyfriend takes him out for walks twice daily. The dog's flea meds are up to date. The cat hangs out with the dog on the patio.
We just came back from vacation yesterday. The cat hasn't been inside the house for a week as she's been at boarded at the vet while we've been gone. I brought her back last night and noticed her scratching this morning. And then ten minutes ago I noticed a flea on my clothes! She was roaming the house all night, sat on the bed, probably the couches, and the toddler's room. I am panicked. I don't think the infestation's gotten too far, but what first steps should I take? The whole house is carpet. I had a flea infestation a long time ago (years, different state/city), and we ended up moving. I have a crawling toddler. The cat and dog are sequestered on the patio right now.

Please help!! Thank you Mefites!!
posted by Everydayville to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Start with getting a flea comb, a bowl of soapy water, and getting the fleas off the cat. Just spend 2-3 minutes once a day on it, or even twice a day if you can. The fleas will prefer the cat over your (mostly) hairless toddler. The cat will love the attention.
posted by intermod at 2:58 PM on December 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Our cat just had fleas - similar situation with a 3 year old. The fleas kept themselves on the cat so don't get too worked up. We tried some Flea treatment from Petco which removed a lot of the fleas and followed up with a treatment given to us from our Vet (who said that fleas have become somewhat resistant to the flea treatment you get from Pet stores - YMMV)
posted by bitdamaged at 3:17 PM on December 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

One Weird Trick for a localized infestation is to sprinkle salt on the places where you have seen the fleas. It scratches their shell and dehydrates them. I swear to god this works. You don't need a thick layer of it. You can salt your carpet and then vacuum it up a day later. (or don't vacuum it up. It'll keep killing fleas as long as it's there.) Best part is this is nontoxic for your kid and pets, which you can't say about much else.

I've heard diatomaceous earth does the same thing, but I don't know much about it. You can get it in some cat litters and you can also get it marked as a "spill absorber" for garages.

You can bathe your cat in soapy water (dish soap) and there's also flea shampoos you can get.

The last resort is what's called a flea bomb.

Fleas like humans just fine, so you're right to be concerned about your toddler, but they have trouble sticking to our skin - they just fall off, and so do their eggs. Changing your clothes gets rid of almost all of them. (though they can just hop back on, generally.) They often end up landing in places like, for example, the spot where your feet hit the floor when you get out of bed, or get off the couch, or get up from the toilet. Or possibly the spot where you change your toddler's diaper. They'll lay eggs primarily where they eat, which is on the cat, in your bed (sorry) and anywhere else you sit still for a while. So target those places for extra cleaning.

BTW: If you manage to catch a flea with your fingers, you can't kill it like a normal bug. You have to squish it between your fingernails in order to actually kill it.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 3:30 PM on December 31, 2016

I once had a flea infestation and it was insane so I know what you mean. When we walked into a room literally a hundred fleas jump upped on our legs each step we took, sensing the warmth. My sister was hysterical. (I snuck a giant flea-ridden, mange covered Irish setter into my parent's home.)

It is going to be ok! I promise. Fleas aren't really very dangerous. First....

Assess the house right now. Grab a bowl of soapy water and a desk lamp. Shine closely on water bowl. Leave it there for an hour. (if you can do this in more than one room at a time it will be helpful) If you find many dead fleas in the water you can start to worry a bit about the house. However this is also a good way to rid of them. After the seriously bad incident we had stubborn fleas. This is how we got rid of them.

Just a few fleas and I'd assume you are doing pretty good. I would do this for several days when your child is napping or asleep just to get every last flea. It's totally non-toxic and surprisingly effective.
posted by beccaj at 3:40 PM on December 31, 2016

Best answer: Call a 24 hour vet and ask for a Capstar for both dog and cat. It kills adult fleas; they literally drop off the animal. Then vacuum the whole house daily, changing the bag (or emptying the canister into a bag which you take outside right away). The incubation period is about 10 days.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 3:46 PM on December 31, 2016 [6 favorites]

Take heart, this might not end up being a big disaster! Try the easy stuff first: Flea drops. If fleas persist, then move to the big guns.

My cat picked up fleas and, sadly, acquired worms from the bites of the fleas. We got the Advantage II drops from the vet, applied as directed, and the fleas were gone pretty quickly. Maybe that day? Maybe that week? Pretty quickly. No baths, combs, bombs, or honestly even vacuuming was necessary. Now we give her the preventative flea drops every month and, two years later, still no issues.

I can't remember what kind of anti-worm pill they gave us, but that was also a pretty easy fix - Pilling a cat is never exactly a great time, but it worked.
posted by lizzicide at 4:31 PM on December 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, seconding don't panic, this isn't a big deal even with a toddler. Get some flea drops—Revolution is my favorite because the local fleas haven't evolved beyond it yet. It's something you'll need to get from your cat's vet—put it on the cat and the cat will act as a flea death Roomba as she saunters around the house.
posted by jamaro at 4:35 PM on December 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We just had this issue, the fipronil (drops on back) was useless. Some comfortis pills were recommended by pet store, the lady said it would kill fleas in the hour. I was skeptical, but it totally did! Really effective.
posted by smoke at 4:49 PM on December 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Please note that flea drops for dogs and cats are different and you cannot give one to the other because it can kill them.

For an infestation of mostly on the pets, store bought products will probobly be fine. If you bathe your animals start with the neck and go towards the tail. Doing it the other way can make fleas congregate on the head which cannot be washed as well. It will startle your animals and you.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:04 PM on December 31, 2016

Expanding on what intermod wrote: if you can, have the cat in an empty bathtub while you comb; that way fleas which escape can be caught: use a bar of soap and they stick to it. Only about 10% of the fleas will be on the cat at any one time, while the rest are digesting (and/or breeding) so you need to persevere but it's the only non-chemical way. But I'd just get the oral flea meds from your vet for both cat and dog; they work well.
posted by anadem at 5:30 PM on December 31, 2016

Ours suddenly got fleas after 15 years of not ever getting them. I 2nd your very first answer, flea comb. We combed every day and also vacuumed the carpet, removing the vacuum debris from the house, not just in the trash. We started to get fewer and fewer fleas in the combing, and then finally none. Took a little less than a month, I'd say, and they never came back.
posted by ctmf at 5:33 PM on December 31, 2016

Vacuumed every day, that is. (Well, with a few skips)
posted by ctmf at 6:13 PM on December 31, 2016

Fleas gravitate to hosts with high body temperature. Cats have a higher body temperature than humans. As long as there's a cat around, the fleas will generally prefer to be on the cat instead of humans, including your toddler. So there's a good chance nobody will even get bitten - just get the cat medicated as soon as you can, and vacuum a lot.

And, you know, even if some bites do happen, it's not a catastrophe. Don't panic! You'll be fine.
posted by waffleriot at 6:27 PM on December 31, 2016

I also had fleas on indoor cats. Freaked out when I found one on my then-2 year old's face! However, getting rid of them was not that hard. For one, the eggs roll off of things; they aren't sticky. I used a pet roller on the furniture and vacuumed it as well as the carpets (stick a flea collar in the bag). I also treated the carpets with a borax-based flea powder that I felt was safe for the kiddo. You vacuum it up after a few hours. Treated the cats with those back-of-the-neck drops that render the female adults infertile (in case they hop off the pet) and also kills them. Then, and this is crucial, the cats were freed to roam the carpeted house, acting as live flea killing machines. Since the eggs get stuck in the carpet and only hatch when they sense a host (vibration, exhaled CO2), locking the cats out of the rooms would have ensured the eggs lay dormant for months. I wanted them to hatch, hop on the cats, and die.
Good luck!
posted by Knowyournuts at 6:52 PM on December 31, 2016

Best answer: I rescue cats and fleas are a regular issue. Don't panic! Everything will be OK!

First--cat fleas do not infest people. I suppose if there were enough of them they might bite, but they won't infest you. I have dealt with some incredibly flea-ridden cats, and never had a bite myself.

This is how I deal with fleas:
  1. Give cats Capstar to kill off all adult "active" fleas
  2. Give cats Revolution (aka Stronghold outside the USA)
  3. Continue monthly dose of Revolution for 3-6 months to ensure you kill fleas at all stages of their life cycle. If your cat goes outdoors at all you should probably be doing this anyway.
That's it. I don't flea bomb, vacuum, or any of that, because any live fleas are going to die as soon as they land on the cat. If it was a truly foul infestation, like, you can see them jumping off the carpet and all over everyone, that would be a different story, but a couple fleas on the cat? You get Capstar and Revolution and everything's a-OK. If you wanted to eschew meds then you'd have to get crazy with baths and all that, but frankly, I find it a lot easier to just give the meds.

You can get Revolution and Capstar at any vet if you're in the USA, or over-the-counter if you're outside the USA. I actually order both online since it's cheaper that way. If you REALLY want to save money, buy packs of Revolution for large-size dogs and portion out how much your cat needs with a syringe. I can provide more info via message if you need it. However, ordering overseas can take a few weeks, so you might want to get the Capstar and first dose of Revolution from the vet, and the rest online. Note: this portioning trick only works for Revolution, not for other medications.

I do not recommend Frontline or Advantage, even the prescription kinds, because I've encountered too many fleas that were resistant to them. Flea collars and the generic meds you find in some pet stores are crap, too.

My local rescue has started using Activyl, which I guess is also an option. But like I said, Revolution will also kill off other parasites, and sometimes fleas can give your cats tapeworms. So if it's all the same I'd just do the Revolution.
posted by Anonymous at 7:13 PM on December 31, 2016

Best answer: I'm going to second Comfortis. You can get it from your vet. When I bought a three month supply for four cats, it was... not all that expensive, surprisingly. I paired the Comfortis with FastCaps, which can be purchased from Amazon. The FastCaps (same stuff as CapStar, I think) kills the adult fleas within an hour of administration. It kills the immediate issue: any fleas looking for a meal within the first 24 hours or so. The Comfortis is a dose that lasts for a month, roughly, and keeps killing any new adults.

Vacuuming will, hopefully, pick up any eggs, larvae or pupae. Diatomaceous earth works and, if you get the 'food grade' stuff, is harmless to humans and pets.

I used these four things to get rid of a terrible infestation on my four cats this past summer.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 7:14 PM on December 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also: seriously, after the Capstar and first dose of Revolution you won't notice any more fleas within a day. Your cat may be uncomfortable the first 24 hours since sometimes fleas bite during their death throes, but that's it. You do need to keep up the monthly Revolution treatment for 3-6 months to make sure any stray hatching eggs don't start the whole mess over again. But within 24 hours of the meds you can kick back and chill.
posted by Anonymous at 7:17 PM on December 31, 2016

I definitely get flea bites every time my cats have had fleas. And I keep my distance from cats generally, because I'm allergic. The cats don't sit on me and they don't go in my room. But I still get fleas.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 1:29 AM on January 1, 2017

You can just buy the flea treatment stuff from Costco, much cheaper than a vet appointment.
posted by w0mbat at 1:33 PM on January 1, 2017

Response by poster: Update: we took the animals to the vet and got either Capstar or comfortis (it's been a while, so I don't remember.) The fleas were visibly gone within 24 hours. Religiously vacuumed carpet and furniture where the cat might have been in all rooms for two weeks after that. No fleas since!

Thanks for all the reassuring responses.
posted by Everydayville at 3:25 PM on November 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

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