Another Flea Question
October 29, 2006 9:45 PM   Subscribe

When fleas can't nibble on your cats ('cuz you've treated the felines with Advantage or something), what do tehy live on? Fur? Cat food? They should just starve. But they say that if you don't sweep them daily you don't get rid of them...

I have four cats. One got outside and brought fleas back in. HELP! Fleas are hell. Especially in a messy house. Do I have to do one massive (impossible) cleaning and sweeping!? Or one room per day?

So I read the AskMe posts and I hear Borax is good and fairly harmless to put down on the rug, mattress, etc and then sweep up.


Also, tomorrow I'm (hopefully) getting some Advantage (even though it's made by Bayer!) to get rid of the itchy beasts off my cats.

BUT MY HOUSE IS A MESS! There's no way I can clean it all at once. I'm just dealing with cleaning one room at a time, maybe one per day over the next few days, recycling piles of accumulated papers, moving my entire computer station and all the wires and components and sweeping up all the massive dust-bunnies (where most of the fleas seem to be spawning), etc.

Will this kill the fleas? 'Cuz, ya know, they hatch continually.

If the fleas can't get on my cats 'cuz of the Advantage, and I sweep the house over the course of a few days (re-sweeping everything each day as I go), will I get 'em all?

Or do I have to do one massive (impossible) cleaning and sweeping!?

I feel itchy just thinking about this.

posted by Shane to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: When one of our inside cats decided to be an outside cat right as flea season rolled around, we dosed both cats with Advantage and then just stepped up our standard cleaning regimen a little bit--doubled our vacuuming efforts, changed the sheets more frequently. We have hardwood and leather furniture. so it wasn't that rough a deal. Note: I am a really lax housekeeper, and piles of things are my main decorating statement.

By the end of a week, no more fleas.

We also put a water scarecrow in our back yard to keep squirrels, rabbits, and stray cats/dogs away, and that probably more than anything has solved the problem since the cat who has outdoor dreams doesn't have a whole lot of wanderlust--she just wants to sit in the sunshine and chill. Added bonus: whatever was shitting in my herb garden is no longer doing so.
posted by padraigin at 10:06 PM on October 29, 2006

Best answer: Take a deep breath. The fleas will die, eventually, with no help from you, even if you fail to remove every last egg from the couch/floorboards/etc. Your fleas won't take up residence on a human, and won't hang around inside your house, on your bed or in your dusty nooks if there aren't animal hosts to suck on. So, unless your messy house includes actual bunnies, eventually any eggs present will hatch and starve.

Sweep if it makes you feel better, but in my experience those back-of-the-neck flea drops usually work like a charm, even for outdoor cats.
posted by pullayup at 10:08 PM on October 29, 2006

Response by poster: *PHEW!*

posted by Shane at 10:11 PM on October 29, 2006

Response by poster: Great link. I've had bedbugs (in a rented room in NH.)


They wait till you settle down and start to fall asleep and THEN they start to bite. Crafty bastards. And they hurt!

They say the phrase "sleep tight" comes from when mattresses were suspended on wooden frames with ropes (hopefully with tight knots.) But "Sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite" SURELY had to come from the way you sleep with bedbugs, all curled up in a tight ball, which seems to help somehow, maybe 'cuz it's harder for them to get up your pants legs or bite your arms without you swatting at them.

Right, I'm grateful now.
posted by Shane at 10:37 PM on October 29, 2006

BUT MY HOUSE IS A MESS! There's no way I can clean it all at once.

That's ok, I have stacks of disorganized stuff in my home too and this is what I do about once a year. Vacuum all the cracks and crevices, get under cushions on the sofa, between the mattresses etc and toss the bag when your done. Pay special attention to the areas the cats like to hang out. Wait about 12-24 hours after vacuuming 'cause you want as many of those ankle biters transformed into adults as possible (vibrations make the pupae hatch making it easier to kill them) then spray some siphotrol, it has an insect growth regulator in it which prevents the fleas eggs from transforming into their adult counterparts (lasts about 7 months), and pyrethrins to kill the adults. It can be sprayed on virtually everything (but not the animals!)

Your fleas won't take up residence on a human, and won't hang around inside your house, on your bed or in your dusty nooks if there aren't animal hosts to suck on.

err nope. If there isn't a dog or cat to munch on a human will do fine as a place to feast as far as a flea is concerned (that's how the black plague spread) and flea pupae can stay dormant for months if there is no sign of a potential meal.
posted by squeak at 12:02 AM on October 30, 2006

I thought cat fleas and human fleas were different?
posted by A189Nut at 1:11 AM on October 30, 2006

Can't you just go to your vets and get 4 capsules of Advantage? It kills all the fleas & eggs & the problem is literally gone in a day or so, regardless of how messy your home is. It's tried & true at our house.
posted by zarah at 1:36 AM on October 30, 2006

A189Nut they are different but some fleas are not picky about where they get their next meal.
posted by squeak at 2:26 AM on October 30, 2006

Best answer: squeak is right, but if anything, with 4 cats and at least 1 human involved, squeak has simplified and slightly sugar coated the situation. If you don't treat the problem thoroughly and vigourously, right away, you'll quickly get behind the flea reproduction cycle and life stages, and you'll have a devil of time getting rid of the problem. For one thing, you can't assume that your cat has drug home just cat fleas, and many, many species of flea will bite and successfully reproduce on human blood. But some of the 2000+ species of fleas are more voracious and likely to carry human infecting pathogens.

Step 1 is to treat the animals, immediately and consistently for at least the next 3 to 4 months. It takes at least that long to be reasonably sure your control program has outlasted and killed all the fleas who could hatch from dormant eggs, and re-infest your premises. And it only takes a few live fleas to re-infest a home. Ideally, you should be prophylactically treating the cats anyway, as a part of their regular care, but I understand that people who feel they have "indoor" cats do not feel that this is necessary. Of course, sooner or later, almost all "indoor" cats go for a stroll outside, don't they?

Step 2 is to start vacuuming daily, for at least the next several days, and then, at least twice a week thereafter, for the next several weeks. Depending on the kind of vacumm cleaner you have, it would be good if you can get some of the thicker "anti-allergen" paper bags to use in it, as these do a far better job of retaining dirt (and therefore flea eggs) than cloth bags or the standard paper bags.

Step 3 is to obtain and use appropriate indoor insecticides and IGR (insect growth regulator) compounds. You need to be thorough with this at the outset, and get it down and around all areas of the flooring, before fleas can colonize missed areas. You need to spray under furniture, in closets and cabinets, all furniture and bedding, and especially areas where the animals rest or sleep. But the key is to be very, very thorough, and to get every square inch of the floors and furniture early on. If you wait a week, or are lax in treatment, with as many animals as you have, you'll find it is much, much harder to control the problem, and you'll be spraying and itching months from now. Do it right, right away, or hire professionals immediately.

Step 4 would be to treat the outside of your home, particularly if you live in a warm weather area. If you are still living in northeastern Ohio, winter weather may do the job for you. But if you live in an apartment, condo, zero lot line, or other areas where there are plenty of other animals around, the problem may be both endemic and beyond your direct control. If this is the case, you need to work your indoor program steadily, and not let your guard down.

You may also want to get several pairs of tall, thick white knee socks to wear around inside your home for the next several weeks. Wearing them and examining them regularly for fleas may save you a lot of bites, and give you a good idea of how well you are succeeding or failing in combatting the infestation. If you don't typically wear shoes or house slippers indoors, start doing so, until the problem is fully controlled. Again, from one or two blood meals, female fleas can launch yet another generation of the little monsters. Deny them food, kill the adult fleas, vacuum and clean for eggs, and out last any eggs you miss.

Good luck with the yuck.
posted by paulsc at 2:55 AM on October 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, all.

I guess I'll do both. Clean the house and sweep daily (but not freak out about doing the whole house in one day.)
Nice to see you, Zarah! We should get t r a c y back here someday.
posted by Shane at 5:16 AM on October 30, 2006

Note for the future- We havve been sprinkling brewers yeast on our outdoor cats as a preventative for fleas since forever. Seems to work.
posted by pointilist at 6:52 AM on October 30, 2006

I want to support the fact that fleas can subsist on human blood for a time, even if they don't take up residence on the body.

I have a strong flea allergy, so strong I can feel it the instant they bite me and the bites swell and stay with me for weeks. When there is a single flea in my house, I know it. I've seen young ones come about, bite me once or twice, come back in a few days looking fatter and more haggard. Eventually they get so slow and big that I'm able to catch them with my fingers and kill them.

But yeah, I'd say you better stay ahead of active hatching if you want to survive flea season. Otherwise, they might survive it at your personal expense.
posted by scarabic at 8:38 AM on October 30, 2006

My vet's office has some helpful info on flea control here.

Also, be careful with use of any over-the-counter flea control products for pets, including collars and dips. It's not unheard of for pets to have serious, life-threatening reactions to these types of products. One of the regular posters to a pet forum I belong to lost his cat after a Hartz flea dip. Very sad.
posted by Sully6 at 9:02 AM on October 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

Aw, man - good luck with this. We have just dealt with the same problem over the summer. The point at which the fleas start biting you by the way, is the point at which your cats are so crowded that they physically have to go out and find a new home.

It will take A LOT of work to get rid of them. We cleaned neurotically and exhaustively, treated the cats religiously and I treated the whole house not once, not twice but three times with very expensive insecticides. The honest truth is, I'm still not totally convinced that we got rid of them all. Their (relative) disappearance just happened to coincide with the end of a really warm period of weather.

My advice is, when you clean, don't skimp. Do EVERYTHING, vacuum everywhere carpets, curtains, under skirting boards. Wash any clothes that have been left out in affected rooms. When you've finished vacuuming, empty the cleaner into a bag and dispose of it - treat the inside with insecticide.

A couple of random bits of advice and factoids follow:
- When looking for online help myself, I read that fleas can't survive above a (relatively mild) temperature (80 degrees or something). The recommendation was to jack the heating on full and go away for the weekend, the theory being that they'd be dead by the time you're back (assuming the ones on you don't recolonise the house)
- If you have an outdoor space, flea nymphs can hatch in the soil and persistently recolonise the house by jumping on your cats and dropping eggs in the house before the cat collar or whatever kills them. Allegedly it's possible to buy nematode colonies to dump in the soil of your garden, which will thrive and eat the nymphs
- Fleas lie in a dormant state just before they hatch, awaiting vibrations which indicate something nearby that they can jump on and start feeding from. They can stay in this state for a long time - 6 months or so. This means that if you just shove a lot of affected clothes in a bag or in a cupboard and forget about them, they might just hatch and jump on you again next spring, recolonising the house. Clean EVERYTHING

Ah, seriously - I feel for you. Good luck with it all.
posted by bifter at 9:22 AM on October 30, 2006

(that's how the black plague spread)

the black death spread via rat fleas (Xenopsylla cheopis), not cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis), that is assuming you accept the orthodox view of the epidemic.
posted by criticalbill at 10:35 AM on October 30, 2006

I know but that wasn't the point in mentioning the plague. The point I disagreed with was; if fleas are denied access to their favourite food source (the cat) the fleas would either, perish or move onto another location to feed on another cat. That's not necessarily true, some species of fleas don't have to have an exclusive host they must feed off of if they are to survive (cat, dog and rat fleas for example). Sooo to illustrate on why it's not true, I used the bubonic plague as an example. Made complete sense to me when I wrote it *shrug*
posted by squeak at 7:09 PM on October 30, 2006

Yes, first-hand experience for clarity: when our cats were infested a few months ago, my wife was covered in bites (they left me alone for some reason). Many cat fleas will feed on humans if their natural hosts are removed from the environment, or if the level of infestation is particularly high.
posted by bifter at 1:24 AM on October 31, 2006

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