Locking the barn door ...
September 23, 2007 1:38 AM   Subscribe

FleaFilter: Yes, it's another flea question, but with some unique circumstances.

You know the general story: adorable stray kitten, brought home, later found to be covered in fleas. (I think they're fleas, anyway--they can jump pretty far.)

The specifics: I checked her over once I got home, and didn't think I found any fleas, but I have zero experience with them, and was wrong. After letting her crawl all over me, and sleep on the couch with me last night (!!), I've discovered that she's got quite a few fleas.

The problem: I'm currently living in Romania. There are scant resources where I am for the kind of commercial flea-removal products that have been recommended in the other flea questions. I also don't have a vacuum, and as such can't vacuum the house. I don't want to get rid of the kitten, as there is no such thing as a shelter here, and if I just let her go outside I may as well just take her to be euthanised.

I'm going to bathe the kitten, of course, and will continue to do so regularly (is weekly good? or more often?). I'm washing all the clothes, including the bedclothes, that she came in contact with. However, there is still the issue of the rug, the couch, me, and the general environment.

How screwed am I? I was just building a fire in the bathroom to shower the hell out of myself, and saw a tiny black thing on my arm, which disappeared a nanosecond later--I assume this means there's a baby flea, running around somewhere, which means there's more. I can keep the kitten in the kitchen area, which is tiled, but it'll be next to impossible to keep her away from ANY fabric in the apartment.

I've read in previous questions that heating the place up can kill them, as well as sprinkling yeast? I'm looking for alternative options/"home" remedies, as I won't be able to vacuum, bomb, or Frontline anything here.

Thanks in advance.

(Yes, I'm aware how monumentally stupid my behaviour was. Feel confident that I have Learned My Lesson.)
posted by the luke parker fiasco to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
is there nobody who could send you some commercial flea treatment?
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:45 AM on September 23, 2007

Response by poster: possibly ... but it would take 2-3 weeks to get here, between the shipping times, and the fact that the office where i can pick up packages is only open once a week.

this is something i've been considering, but it's an expensive, slow option, and even if i do end up going that route i would still want to do something in the interim.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 3:29 AM on September 23, 2007

I'll bet you could find a flea comb. It's the same comb used for head lice, so surely there's one available somewhere. Usage instructions are here. You won't be able to get them all, but you can make a pretty good dent.
posted by equalpants at 3:55 AM on September 23, 2007

Flea traps can help, if necessary; the kind I've used, discovered via another AskMefi thread I can't find right now, I made by putting a saucer of water, with a bit of washing up liquid (dish soap?) in, on the floor and fixing a spotlight (with an incandescent NOT A FLUORESCENT bulb) about six inches above it, pointing down at the water. This keeps the water hot - you need to check and top it up every few hours - and the heat attracts the fleas, which drown because of the detergent.

If you don't have a vacuum, how is the rug supposed to be cleaned? with a carpet sweeper? (and if you don't have one, they're probably much, much cheaper to buy) by taking it outside and beating the crap out of it? Whatever it is, do that if you're worried. If you can't do either, sweeping is better than nothing, if you have a half-decent brush (and that would be the cheapest of all to buy).
posted by Lebannen at 3:57 AM on September 23, 2007

I don't know where you are in Romania, but I just came from there and had a friend who 'adopted' a stray dog. She just went to the vet (this was in Satu Mare) and got flea powder in about four minutes. They certainly have stuff there that you can put on the kitten, furniture and everything else.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:58 AM on September 23, 2007

Response by poster: Regarding the kitten: I picked several fleas off the dense fur on her head, and squashed them. Then I bathed her, twice for good measure, making sure there was a liberal amount of water used so as to drown the little fuckers. (I know you're not supposed to wet their heads, since that's where I found about 95% of them, I did it carefully anyway.)
I was still able to pick some carcasses off after the first washing, hence the second. She seems to be pretty flea-free now, and very clean, but I'll probably try to continue bathing her, if she continues to tolerate it.

Setting up that flea trap tonight. Straight dish soap, or soapy water?

Very few people have vacuums here. The way rugs get cleaned is (you said it) beating the crap out of it. They get carried outside, hung over a rail, and a metal doohickey that looks like an orchestral triangle with a long handle is used to, well, beat the crap out of it. I just rolled it up, stuffed it in a bag, and am going to put it outside, somewhere, until I can figure out how to clean it properly.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 5:17 AM on September 23, 2007

Response by poster: Dee Xtrovert: That's crazy weird that you were in Satu Mare ... I'm in Sighetu MarmaĊ£iei. I haven't found a cabinet veterinar in town yet, but I'll damn well be asking around tonight and tomorrow morning.

If nothing else, I've seen some pet-type stores in Baia Mare. I don't drive here, but I know some people who are going next weekend for the chestnut festival. Wouldn't want to wait that long, but if it comes down to it ...
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 5:22 AM on September 23, 2007

Best answer: Ok, here are some low-tech techniques from my mum on dealing with fleas (she grew up on a farm, chopping heads off rats with a shovel before school, so I trust her on animal matters). None of these will help with an infestation, but they are things that don't need vets or drugs...

One way to find out if the cat has fleas, look on the cat's bedding for dark specs of dirt. Put these specs on a damp piece of white tissue paper (toilet roll or something), if they are flea droppings they will dissolve into little red smudges, flea droppings are essentially dried blood. Not helpful now, but a good tip for the future.

If you find a live flea, try and can catch it by pinching it between your thumb and finger (yes, I know easier said than done, my mum, of the rats heads, has a knack for this). Kill it by drowning it in a glass of water. Make sure you don't put it near the edge of the glass where it can climb out, and fish any hairs out of the water, because the flea will cling to them. Obviously, don't open your thumb and finger until you have them under water, otherwise the flea will jump, so you need to have glasses of water on standby for this. (This was my mother's favourite technique alongside flea powder, before she discovered frontline)

Also, you might want to check for ticks.

I would wash everything that you can, and keep the kitten in the kitchen, and wash everything that the kitten comes into contact with daily in hot, hot water (I'd have two or three towels or something for bedding and rotate them). Can you build a pen for it? Make a bed out of a cardboard box, which you can burn if needs be, and line it with a towel. And keep washing the kitten like you've been doing, everyday. S/he'll hopefully get used to it, which will be no end of use in the future when she decides to walk through the drip tray underneath the old car and ends up covered in engine oil (personal experience).

Don't try to blow dry a cat with a hairdrier, even if it's the middle of winter and your house is only heated with an open fire. Claw marks on your forehead are not attractive (personal experience)

Try and get hold of some insecticides for the rugs and the couch (these don't need to be safe for kittens if you are isolating the kitten somewhere else)

Beat the hell out of the rug, and hang it outside for a long time. Repeat as necessary. This probably won't get rid of the fleas (you must of heard those stories of people going into houses that have been empty for six months to find it crawling with fleas), but it might help. They don't like sunlight and it could knock them off.

You sounds like you are quite isolated, and I know nothing about rural Romania, but is there really nowhere you can go for drugs/chemicals/insecticides? If you're in a farming community, they might have some insecticides that they keep on the farm (maybe not be for use on a kitten, but could be good for the furniture). They might think you are mad for wanting to help this kitten, but you can always pull the crazy-westerner card.

A flea infestation in a young cat is potentially very dangerous, so I would try to get it to a vet as soon as possible. They will also be able to check for any other problems a stray cat might have (of which there are many). You might not get the brand-name flea treatments that have been recommended in other threads, but there will be something.

Learn everything you can about the life of a flea.

Also, personal soapbox time, I would get the cat spayed/neutered as soon as it's old enough. Again they might think you are the crazy-westerner, but it will stop there being more stray cats in the future.
posted by Helga-woo at 5:57 AM on September 23, 2007

Setting up that flea trap tonight. Straight dish soap, or soapy water?

Just soapy water, it doesn't need bubbles or anything, just the presence of a little bit of detergent to break the surface tension so the damn things drown. Given the measures you've already taken, I'd be surprised if there were any left to catch, but good luck anyway!
posted by Lebannen at 8:08 AM on September 23, 2007

Best answer: I just returned from working in northern Ethiopia where I was covered in fleas for months. Like you, I had very few resources to deal with the problem. Even in the town I was living in, the locals had very few remedies so I empathize with your problem. I didn't have a kitten to worry about, but here are a few things that helped:

Bottle of Lavender Oil. This was sent to me in a package after I complained to my family about it. A tiny bottle of pure extract can cost $9, but very worth it. Just one drop on yourself and/or your clothes or sheets can repel those sucks due to the scent. I tried Tea Tree Oil which also works.

Boiling your sheets. Make sure it's hot water when you wash everything.

This may or may not apply to you if you think the problem extends past your kitten being a vector for flea transmission (the town I was in was infested with fleas everywhere) - As soon as I returned to my home each day, I would strip off all of my clothes (including underwear) and change into 'indoor' clothes which I knew had not been in contact with the outside world. This helped reduce the number of bites I received and prevented the fleas from spreading to other places in my house.

If you can, also have someone send you a plastic matress cover so the fleas (and bedbugs, if you had a problem like me) don't burrow into your matress and you wake up with bites in the morning (ouch!). You could also use a tarp and duct tape to create a makeshift matress cover, but make sure there's no rips or any exposed matress to let the bugs through.

Finally, I never tried this but my sister wrote in an email after her travels to Bangladesh that she would rub chopped onion on the fleabites to mitigate the itching.

I'm sorry for the flea problem. I've been back in Canada for a few weeks and I'm still covered with flea bites and scars. Good luck!
posted by carabiner at 8:30 AM on September 23, 2007

I made flea traps similar to what Lebannen describes using about 1/4 inch of water, with a few drops of detergent, in aluminum pie pans. For a light, heat and CO2 source I used votive candles. They seemed to work as well as the sticky trap that I bought at the hardware store.
posted by Huplescat at 10:15 AM on September 23, 2007

One relatively low-tech flea solution is to rub borax into your carpets, furniture, and other nooks and crannies where fleas might hide. The borax kills fleas that come into contact with it. It's relatively safe, although you shouldn't breath it or eat it. Because borax is used in so many other applications (in detergents, for example) it seems like you might be able to get it even if more sophisticated chemical compounds aren't available.

Here's some discussion of boric acid/borax as flea control. It recommends that you vacuum the borax up after application, but there may be alternate ways to dispose of the excess, or you could just use it in places where you/the kitten won't come into contact with it very much.
posted by fermion at 10:16 AM on September 23, 2007

Hardly a cat expert, but if I remember it right, the fleas carry intestinal worms, and don't kittens sort of come with worms anyway? While you're searching for what passes for a vet in Roumania, you could ask if they have something for that and is it a good idea.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 11:01 AM on September 23, 2007

Wash the kitten every day if you can, too, for at least a week if not two. Keep his body in warm soapy water for several minutes (if the cat will let you) and watch for refugee fleas crawling onto his head. Go over him with the flea comb afterward and dip it in soapy water in between combings. Wrap him in a towel afterwards -- the little guy will be shivering otherwise!

Another good thing to do is put a little soap in your toilet bowl and drop fleas you catch in there. Pinch them between fingers and don't open them until you're right above the toilet bowl water. You can also crush them between your forefinger and thumbnail. You have to move fast to grab the suckers before they jump away. Tape can also be used this way, but fold it over fast before they jump away.

Good luck! And don't feel foolish, fleas aren't always easy to spot at first in a dense fur coat like that of a cat's. You should be praised for giving the little fellow a home.
posted by Locative at 11:04 AM on September 23, 2007

Fleas can bleed a kitten to death. The flea comb is a good idea; run it through her fur, then dunk it in a bucket or dish of soapy water. The kitten will enjoy the sensation of combing (probably alleviates the itch a bit), so you shouldn't have any frantic claw problems as you might when bathing her.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:07 AM on September 23, 2007

What unrepentanthippie said is right -- if a kitten eats a flea, it can get a tapeworm from the tapeworm eggs fleas ingest. You can tell when you find little rice-grain like particles on the kitten's bedding or near his anus. The tapeworm releases little segments that emerge from the anus as a little wet gelatinous thing and dry up to look like a rice grain. If you google "kitten tapeworm" you can see what it looks like. Most kittens with some time in the wild get it.

One thing to check, too -- look at the kitten's gums. If they're pinkish/reddish, that's good -- if they're white, it could mean he's anemic from the flea bites.
posted by Locative at 11:09 AM on September 23, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the slew of valuable information, everyone. I'm putting as much into practice as I'm able, given my situation. If anyone has anything else to say, keep it comin'!

Brief update: Buttonholed a local who pointed me to some Raid stuff (label was all in Romanian, but it did mention larvae)--bought two cans and smoked down the upholstery in the room kitten was in, as well as the pillow and comforter, which went in plastic bags for good measure. Got some airborne bug-bomb that claimed it was for fleas and other "flying insects", and sprayed it in the rooms kitten inhabited. Bathed kitten twice, with liberal shampooings and a couple of dunkings for good measure, and feel it's a good sign that I was able to pick a couple of flea carcasses off her. Took the rug outside, will burn that bridge when I get there. Soaked the fabrics that kitten spent the most time on in boiling water. Washed all fabrics (sans upholstery) that were in vicinity of kitten. Mopped tile floors, and squirted generic bug spray around in the kitchen (where kitten explored most).

I've done everything I can for one day (it's about 9.15pm here), but I'll be asking around for a vet/vacuum tomorrow, and post an update to what I do and what the results are for interested parties/posterity. At the moment, things seem pretty under control, but it's those damn eggs that have me worrying, as well as carabiner's comment about them burrowing into mattresses ... that one's gonna keep me up nights.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 11:26 AM on September 23, 2007

Don't torture yourself with images of burrowing fleas. They like to stay close to blood. My fleabag kitten was all over the furniture and the fleas never stayed on it -- only on him. We didn't even vacuum the couch and chairs afterward, and haven't had any problems, and this is over a span of months.
posted by Locative at 5:46 PM on September 24, 2007

Response by poster: one week update: nebulous.

it's a one-step-forward, two-steps-back kind of thing, it seems. i found some sprays, and when my monthly allowance check arrived i bought a vacuum and vacuumed the hell out of everything (with a flea collar in the bag). left the vacuum in the bedroom.
started to feel better about things, went to bed. felt better today, until i got home this afternoon, changed clothes ... and found bites all over my leg and side. the only thing i can guess is that they managed to survive the vacuuming, the flea collar, and crawled out of the vacuum, as i hadn't had a problem in the bedroom until last night.

so, back to negative-square one, as there now seem to be fleas in the room where i sleep, as well as where my entire wardrobe, sleeping bag, and messenger bag reside. not to mention being the only "clean" room of the apartment, until now.

kitten seems to be more or less okay. been washing her with flea shampoo, and sprinkling flea powder on her. haven't found anything on her, or her bedding, and haven't seen her scratching anywhere. she's hating being sequestered in the bathroom by herself, but it's better than her getting fleas again, and fuelling the presence of the existing fleas that seem to have taken up residence in my apartment.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 11:00 AM on September 29, 2007

Response by poster: The wrapup, for anyone who might find themselves in a similar situation ...

Unfortunately, this question has morphed from the "DIY method" to "how I used modified common methods". Through a combination of repeated washings, of everything (including the cat), repeated vacuuming, and a small fortune in sprays and powders and shampoos that were available in my area, I SEEM to have gotten rid of them. I don't know how long it will be before any potential eggs that are still lurking about will hatch, though, so this may not be the end. Still doing the tealight-candle-in-a-plate-of-dishsoap nightly, though, so hopefully if any of the little buggers hatch, I'll know quickly.

Thanks for all the information and suggestions, everyone. As a sidenote, I was wondering how all these people here seem to have indoor-outdoor cats and not get their homes infested, despite minimal use of flea collars (on casual observation, anyway). That is, until I was speaking to someone in my host family about the problem and she, essentially, said, "don't worry about it. If the cat has fleas, the fleas stay on the cat. They don't go on you or the furniture.
Well, sometimes on your legs."
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 3:39 AM on October 17, 2007

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