One abandoned cat, four nursing kittens, and a billion fleas... Help!
August 2, 2008 9:41 PM   Subscribe

I need flea advice for a momma kitty and her 3-week-old kittens.

I've just taken in an abandoned cat and her four kittens (probably about 3 weeks old at this point; their eyes are open and they waddle around fairly unsteadily) and although they seem healthy, friendly, and nourished, they are covered in fleas. Huge ones.

I understand it's ok to give Advantage to nursing cats, so I'll look into doing that for the momma, but the big problem is the kittens. I'm told it's best not to bathe kittens when they're so young, so instead I went to work with the flea comb. Hours of combing later, I'd estimate that I've only got half of them. Every time I look at their bellies, I see at least three monster flees running away.

So what are my options now? Is there a safe way (or safe age) to bathe them? Can I just dunk them in tepid water and drown the fleas, without using soap or detergent?

I haven't seen any evidence of worms (yet) but one of them has massively stinky farts and super runny poo. Is this normal for kittens of this age?

Clearly, I've never dealt with kittens before, so any other important advice I'd need for nursing kittens would be welcome. (Also, if you know of anyone in San Diego who wants a kitten or a super-friendly (and soon to be spayed) young cat, please MeMail me.)
posted by stefanie to Pets & Animals (11 answers total)
Talk to Gail at East County Animal Rescue (I'll mail you her cell number); they deal with this sort of thing (ex-feral and/or abandoned kittens) all the time, and do adoptions in front of the El Cajon Petco every weekend. She will have lots of advice for you. They should be able to help you find homes for the cat and kittens. If you go that route they may pay for spay/neutering, shots, etc.
posted by Mark Doner at 10:04 PM on August 2, 2008

Program is a medication that you feed to the cats. It doesn't kill adult fleas, but rather sterilizes the adults to stop the cycle. It's useful if you're keeping the cats inside and is ok to use with topical treatments. It's apparently safe for kittens that are 4 weeks old. IANAV, but I bet that it would be ok for ~3 weeks too.
posted by sentient at 10:24 PM on August 2, 2008

Use Dr Bronner's Eucalyptus liquid soap full strength. Lightly water mist your kitten until just damp, apply small amounts of soap and work from head to tail, top and bottom, use the flea comb wet with soapy water to work carefully around the eyes, look for fleas clinging on the ends of whiskers. dunk up to the neck to rinse, finish rinsing the face with a wet wash cloth. A desk lamp flea trap might help for your house,and you may have to bathe again in eleven days if the soap didn't completely dehydrate attached eggs.Flea eggs host worms.
posted by hortense at 10:53 PM on August 2, 2008

It's apparently safe for kittens that are 4 weeks old. IANAV, but I bet that it would be ok for ~3 weeks too.

If their eyes are open your kittens are probably more like four or even five weeks old anyway, so something like what sentient is suggesting will be fine.

You should probably be talking to a vet anyway, given how young the babies are, how likely it is the mother is undernourished (being abandoned) and your admitted lack of experience. When I adopted four week old kittens (many years ago now) the vet picked up a few other things I'd never have known about, like calcium deficiency and ring worm. A checkup as soon as possible followed by two more to get vaccinations would be standard practise I'd think and will answer all your questions safely.
posted by shelleycat at 12:03 AM on August 3, 2008

Not a fan of Advantage; shell out for the Frontline.

I'm an advocate of using flea shampoo (not flea dips). When they are as little as you describe, it's easy to just wash them under the faucet (no need to submerge them). The fleas will just start falling off. Then Frontline them.

Your kitty with diarrhea should be taken to a vet.

In addition to worms, check their ears for earmites.
posted by jabberjaw at 12:19 AM on August 3, 2008

I have picked up numerous kittens over the years and have generally found it very easy to get free or reduced vet care for animals that I rescued, especially when the vet knows that I will not be keeping the animal. It's different if a rescued animal is your new pet but if the vet knows you will be finding other homes for them they are often willing to help you out. If you are concerned about cost, just call some vets and ask what they can do for you.

On that note, I agree that you really need to take these kittens to a vet just in case. The kittens may be older or younger than you think and that may affect what you can do for their fleas. There is currently a litter of kittens at the barn where I keep my horses that are about eight days old and there eyes are already open and have been for a few days now. Despite rescuing numerous kittens over the years (usually at barns) I have never really been around ones this young so I was surprised to see that their eyes were open so early.

These particular kittens are not under my care but a vet gave their caretaker pills for fleas that he said were safe to give them even this early. We were a bit skeptical about giving them anything solid so I think the caretaker decided to wait until they were at least a few weeks older. In the past when I have dealt with flea-infested kittens, I have just flea combed day after day, multiple times a day. Its tedious but it really works and can actually start to feel really rewarding. After a few more sessions of it you will have to start hunting to find the few remaining fleas on each kitten.

Good luck with them. I hope they all grow up to be happy and healthy.
posted by horses, of courses at 7:21 AM on August 3, 2008

Thoroughly clean any carpets, rugs, towels, fabric-covered furniture, possibly your clothing, or any other flea-inviting surfaces that the kitties come in contact with, or you'll just be dealing with this again in a few weeks after more flea eggs hatch. :(

Also, stinky farts and runny poos can be a symptom of worms. Take them (and mama) to a rescue-friendly vet.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:52 AM on August 3, 2008

Combing does get rid of fleas, but you need to do it for ten days or so every day. 90% of the fleas are not on the cat any given day; they jump on board for a meal, then drop off and hide in floor cracks or bedding or whatever the rest of the time. But we did eliminate a flea epidemic on our apartment by thorough daily combing, without using chemicals. The first few days we were catching 50 - 100 fleas per day, but after a week it dropped to only a few each time, then eventually none.

I found it easiest to have the cat in the empty bathtub to comb, so that fleas which jumped off the comb could be caught. Each flea was dropped into a bowl of water, with a drop of washing-up liquid mixed in otherwise the surface tension let some fleas escape.
posted by airplain at 11:34 AM on August 3, 2008

Agreeing completely with airplain, that's how I've always got rid of infestations (and I've dealt with some gross gross situations in my cat owning time). Cleaning their bedding and treating the house seems to be more important than anything IMO.

re: actually taking care of them, their mom will cover most of the basics. Have a clean litterbox nearby at all times, keep her well fed, check for earmites/worms, take them to the vet and all should be well.

And dammit, I could have taken at least two of those kittens off your hands, but we're going through immigration related stuff (hence my profile location) + have reached our cat limit for the apartment complex we live in at the moment (stupid 2 cat limit), so it's nigh impossible to help in that way. But good luck with finding new homes - hopefully you'll be able to organise some way of getting them fixed while you rehome them, the last thing San Diego needs right now is more cats in the shelters. The good news is that kittens tend to go like wildfire.
posted by saturnine at 12:17 PM on August 3, 2008

When I fostered underage kittens, I would use my Bath and Body works Lemon soap. I made sure to get the moisturizing kind, so their skin wouldn't dry out. The smell of citrus is apparently not good for fleas, so I was able to deal with the problem within a couple hours. Just keep lathering and rinsing until there isn't one left on each kitten. I found that keeping the water warm and not totally immersing them is fine. Just make sure their body temperature doesn't drop. And it goes without saying that when it's time to dry, making a kitty burrito with them in their towel is the best way to keep them warm.

I also threw away whatever linen I had used while the fleas were present (sealed tightly in a bag) and made sure to give myself a nice lemon soap bath as well. You shouldn't run into the problem again after that if you stay on top of keeping them clean.
posted by arishaun at 1:06 PM on August 3, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the advice. The kittens were much improved this morning already, thankfully, and the folks next door have been helping out with advice and care.

The good news is that one of my neighbors has a long-standing relationship with our local vet, so we're going to see if we can sweet-talk some cheap kitten care and spaying/neutering. We tried the Dr. Bronner's combing/sponge bath with improved but limited success and eventually resorted to a neighbor tag-team bath (one washer, one dryer, and one warmer), and we'll follow up with regular combing as well as dosing the adult cats in the house with Advantage.

Right now they're in pretty good shape for kittens we found in an alley but we'll definitely be talking to the vet about getting checkups and vaccinations as soon as we can.

Thanks again for all of the tips.
posted by stefanie at 3:53 PM on August 3, 2008

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