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September 11, 2007 3:36 PM   Subscribe

Two apartments. Three kittens. And a whole lot of fleas. No, it's not an MTV pilot ...

We have a tenant whose cat had kittens. Of the brood three remain (one of them is to be mine), but they are just 9½ weeks. The mom and the kittens have fleas, but she has been trying to manage by combing and bathing until they are old enough for flea treatments (nominally 12 weeks). Unfortunately, the tenant above is getting fleas in her apartment now, and as a non-pet owner is freaked out.

I've bombed before (for this tenant and others), and it's a nuisance to prepare and clean up but it generally works pretty well. But we've never had to deal with kittens before. (I've had cats, but never a kitten.)

Also, both these tenants go back a long ways and it would be socially awkward to favor one or the other or put the hammer down on the cat-owner. The cat-owner is already on discounted rent and paying for the bombs and/or kitty kenneling is not feasible.

* If I bomb just the upstairs, some will survive but hopefully stay out of there for a couple more weeks. Due to the porous walls (renovated building), I think maybe we should get the kittens out of the downstairs, but for how long?
* If I then arrange for a full building bomb (four apartments and a crawlspace), is there a way we can do this before the end of October? If we do it, how long do I have to keep the kittens out of the apartment?
* Kitten-safe flea sprays. Do I need a vet scrip, or what can I get? We have a pet "outlet store" in town.
* Alternative medicine. I've read about alcohol baths, tea tree oil, and stuff like that. Any recommendations that will get us through this while keeping both human tenants happy and all non-human tenants healthy?
posted by dhartung to Pets & Animals (22 answers total)
"FRONTLINE Plus is ideal for use on puppies and kittens 8 weeks of age or older Not only does FRONTLINE Plus kill 98–100% of adult fleas on your pet within 24 hours, it also contains a special ingredient that kills flea eggs and larvae to keep ALL stages of fleas from developing and bothering your pet and your family."

I've used this on dogs and one cat before and it really does work well, and work fast. At 9 1/2 weeks, your kittens are old enough to use it on!
posted by lia at 3:56 PM on September 11, 2007

It's double-whammy time.

Combine Frontline Plus (the oral medication) with Advantage, the topical medication, for bestest results. The latter kills them stone dead on contact. The former kills fleas by breaking their reproductive life cycles, collapsing the entire population over time.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:05 PM on September 11, 2007

You should be able to get Frontline at any pet store/Amazon/1-800-Pet-Meds, no vet's scrip required. Fleas suck, and Frontline works immediately, so if I were you I'd go get some now and use it tonight or tomorrow morning to take care of the immediate flea problem, maybe some flea collars too to cut up and leave on the floor of the upstairs tenant until you figure out what to do with the rest of the house.

P.S. Here's a removing fleas from house thread from 2005. Bombing is effective but a pain in the ass, and borax just sounds like more trouble than it's worth. Good luck!
posted by lia at 4:06 PM on September 11, 2007

In case it's useful info: we've had fleas (on a dog) which just loved Advantage (and Frontline) ... it never bothered them at all. A less-well-known similar product called Revolution vanquished them, despite their resistance to Advantage.
posted by anadem at 5:21 PM on September 11, 2007

I use this stuff, which needs just ONE spraying round the house to kill the fleas. You do not spray it on animals, they have a topical treatment, but this would do just grand to get rid of the fleas in your neighbour's. It also works for 12 months. And yes, it does. The fleas do not come back.

I don't know if it's available in the US but if you print off the page and take it to your vet they should be able to find a product that's compatible and available in the US.
posted by essexjan at 5:25 PM on September 11, 2007

If you treat the kittens with Advantage (imadocloprid), Frontline (fipronil) or Revolution (selamectin), you turn them into little mobile flea traps. Fleas are still attracted to the treated cats, and when they bite them, they die. Treated cats in a flea-infested environment are absolutely the best things for getting rid of fleas. You should encourage your downstairs tenant to lend one to your upstairs tenant.

Advantage and Revolution are rated OK for kittens over 6 weeks old; Frontline for 8 weeks and over.

Personally I'd pick the selamectin, because it will also deal with ear mites and heartworm.

I can't see much virtue in double-dosing them with different products. Any of these things alone works just fine.
posted by flabdablet at 5:30 PM on September 11, 2007

Oh yeah: with any kind of parasite control, you want to be mixing up your treatments. If you use selamectin for one round of treatment, use fipronil for the next round and so on. This will minimize the natural tendency to breed up a product-resistant flea population.
posted by flabdablet at 5:33 PM on September 11, 2007

We just went through our first flea season in years and since I tend to um...attract cats, we had a problem. Try mixing your treatments.

A good way to get a jump (ahem) on the problem is capstar. We had a kitten and a 17 year old with fleas as well as three boycats in between. Capstar kills everything on the cats and you can use it on kittens too. Frontline prevents them coming back and you can use it every two weeks in intense flea situations. Then get a spray or bomb and wash everything you can wash and vacuum everything you can vacuum. And throw the bag out immediately. You will probably have to go through two bouts of treatment (treat, wait two weeks, treat both cats and the house) but it will work.

Good luck, it sucks for the people and the cats. Oh and you can get the dog version of capstar and cut it in halves or fourths (it's cheaper that way) but many vets won't tell you that. It is absolutely safe that way. And jeez but the fleas just drop dead in minutes, it's very cool.
posted by pywacket at 7:32 PM on September 11, 2007

Frontline should do it. And if you have carpeting/upholstered furniture/etc. , make sure that you vacuum the hell out of everything. Fleas pupate and live in the carpet. Vacuum every nook and cranny.
posted by bolognius maximus at 7:33 PM on September 11, 2007

And btw, I would never use Capstar. I've worked at a couple of veterinary practices, and Capstar has killed more than one cat.
posted by bolognius maximus at 7:35 PM on September 11, 2007

Interesting bolognius maximus. I've been rescuing and working with vets and shelters for 20 years and have never heard of capstar deaths. It's even touted by holistic folks as being safer than many other flea remedies. Perhaps it was overdosing? It would be good to know what happened. It worked really well on all five of ours --one 17 and one a kitten and three in between.

I'd suggest that the OP talk to their vet about an effective plan too. They often have handouts that detail all the steps to take.
posted by pywacket at 8:06 PM on September 11, 2007

I had a flea problem last spring, and I treated the dog and used a spray for the house. I don't remember the name of the spray, but it had an ingredient that killed hatchlings for up to twelve months. It took two bottles to get everywhere, but it was much nicer than bombing, as I didn't have to worry about it going *everywhere*... just the carpet and the upholstery.
posted by happyturtle at 10:24 PM on September 11, 2007

On the "alternative" end, I recently fostered a 3 week old kitty who came in covered head to toe in fleas. I used regular Bath and Body works Lemon scented soap on him (fleas hate the smell of citrus, apparently). Had to do a couple extra baths in one shot, but it worked. I would subsequently bathe him once a week. That kept him flea free and his fur didn't suffer.

Of course, make sure to treat all linens and furniture that they use and try to keep the area as clean as possible.
posted by arishaun at 12:05 AM on September 12, 2007

With a bad infestation you will have to push the boat out and have both apartments thoroughly cleaned. The fleas will have got into the non-cat-owning tenant's apartment, not by wandering through porous walls, but via eggs dropping off the bodies or clothing of people (or cats) who have been in the cat-owner's apartment, and acquired fleas of their own that way. Fleas tend to stay full time on living things, and only jump off when their host is crowded.

Basically you will need to vacuum clean the house to get all flea eggs. That means all carpets, curtains and soft furnishings, paying particular attention to crevasses (eg under skirting boards) in EVERY ROOM IN THE AFFECTED APARTMENT (yes, even ones where the cats don't go). Have all linen / clothes etc that haven't been safely inside a closed cupboard laundered all at the same time. Repeat the house cleaning every couple of days. Empty the vacuum cleaner dust bag outside, inside a black refuse bag or similar and seal it carefully. If you are comfortable using the chemical sprays that retard the fleas' reproductive cycle, then go ahead (I think they're better than bombs personally - as you can target them into difficult to reach places). Hell - use both - you really don't want to go through the hassle of a floor to ceiling clean more than once if you don't have to.

There are varied degrees of flea infestation, and until you have a really bad one, I think you don't realise just how much of a hassle they can be to fix. I have in the past had a REALLY bad one (and I don't live in squalor at all... honest...) Take with a pinch of salt advice that treating the cat and letting off a couple of bombs will fix your problem - it may well not.

If you're dead set on avoiding chemicals, I read during our infestation that fleas can't survive very warm conditions, and it's possible to kill them off by jacking up the heating for a weekend during summer to the maximum, and leaving the house for that time. I have no idea whatsoever about whether this really does work or not, but you might want to do some research about it if you're dead set against unleashing chemical warfare.
posted by bifter at 1:56 AM on September 12, 2007

Related question for all of you flea experts: how many treatments do the cats need? We took in a stray who brought in fleas and none of the cats (four total) go outside at all. Once the fleas are gone, I can stop treatment, right? So how long does it take for the fleas to be gone? We're not at infestation stage just yet; I've only seen one flea on one cat (not the previous stray) and we humans aren't being bothered.
posted by cooker girl at 7:03 AM on September 12, 2007

I've had excellent luck with Enforcer Indoor Flea Spray. Our apartment became infested shortly after we brought an adopted greyhound home. One treatment and we were done as far as the carpets and furniture was concerned. I used to buy it in a bit white gallon-jug with a spray attachment on it, but don't see it in the current product line-up.
posted by jquinby at 7:10 AM on September 12, 2007

The problem is eggs, not live fleas. Fleas produce eggs constantly, and the eggs drop off the host and get blown into nooks and crannies. They can stay dormant for months, and hatch out into a brand new flea when they sense movement or heat closeby. Treating your cats will kill the live fleas, but won't do anything about the potential live fleas still in egg form scattered all round your house. You need to break the reproductive cycle so that you don't end up in a constant cycle of live, but poisoned / dying fleas laying eggs that will hatch into healthy new live fleas. The house treatments work by retarding flea reproduction so that the eggs won't hatch. In short, if the infestation has moved from one pet to you, your furniture or your other pets then you probably need to treat the environment.

How badly infested was the stray? If you have acted fast and treated all the cats within a day or two then you might get away with just treating the cats. Try combing the stray to get a sense of how badly it is infested (look for live fleas or bits of dry flaky grot). Another thing you can do is hold it over a damp piece of white kitchen towel and rub its fur vigourously. Any brown / red spots that appear are dry flea crap. You see more than a couple of dozen of these dots and you have a problem that you will probably need to treat the whole house to fix.

If you are going to only treat the cats, you really should keep it up with monthly spot-on treatments like Frontline or similar for at least a few months to be sure.
posted by bifter at 7:17 AM on September 12, 2007

The Wikipedia article on fleas has some very good External Links on flea control.
posted by Huplescat at 11:48 AM on September 12, 2007

When fleas invade our house, we generally start monthly flea treatment for the cat and the dog, and we keep it up for two months after we've seen the last flea. We generally end up treating the critters for three or four months out of twelve. We don't use environmental flea controls (apart from growing a metric shitload of mint all over the back garden); low-to-the-ground, roaming, poisoned critters are like little flea Roombas.
posted by flabdablet at 7:46 PM on September 12, 2007

I don't know about treating the apartment, but a good way to kill fleas on cats is to bathe them. It's not the most fun experience in the world, but you effectively drown the fleas (although your cat may hate you for a few hours).
posted by radioamy at 8:44 PM on September 12, 2007

A full size Capstar pill worked for my kitten when he was 5 weeks old, but it only lasts for couple days, so your tenant will need the Advantage topical drops as well. I didn't even use the full dose of Advantage on the less-than-a-pound kitten and it was devastatingly effective. If your tenant gives all the cats the Advantage, it will go a long way towards ending your problems.

As far as bathing the cats: if your tenant uses the Advantage, they shouldn't bathe them, because it will rinse it off. Bathing can get rid of some fleas, but you have to keep the cat submersed for a good long time and watch for fleas making their way to the "dry land" on the head and inside the ears.

It'll also help your cat-owning tenant if they wash the cat bedding regularly and if both tenants do some major vacuuming. I've seen it suggested on the web to put a flea collar in the vaccuum bag to kill any fleas that are sucked up, but I haven't tried that myself.

Good luck!
posted by Locative at 3:22 AM on September 13, 2007

One more thing -- the fleas that plagued me did so in 90 degree-plus heat for a period of weeks. Heat doesn't bother the bastards enough to help much. And if you live somewhere that doesn't have the coldest winters, your tenant will have to treat the cats year-round to prevent fleas from returning.

By the way, for every flea that you actually see on a cat, there are always many more that you don't see.

I hate fleas.
posted by Locative at 3:29 AM on September 13, 2007

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