(last updated on April 19, 2015)
Recommendations are at the bottom of this post.
Damnit, the house has erupted in fleas or something that leaves tiny bite marks. The cats have been scratching themselves all day, and I’m itchy too.
The cats don’t go out, so it’s something that either crawled over from the outside or I brought them back with me from somewhere else.
I have a big day planned tomorrow, involving the mass deployment of chemical agents…
First, I need to get some 20 Mule Team Borax from the super market. Apparently, you spread it on your carpets and under your couch cushions to suck the moisture out of eggs and larvae. You let it sit for a few days, then vacuum it up. Apparently it’s ok for cats as long as they don’t roll in it and them groom themselves, so I’ll probably have to isolate them.
Then you need to vacuum and toss all the bags, otherwise the fleas will crawl out of the vacuum cleaner. Flea Combs are also in order…I have yet to see the little bastards. According to Consumer Reports, flea collars are not effective.
The Treatment Begins
* I got a flea comb from the supermarket. Upon brushing Kat, he came up with black specs (dried blood excreted by the flea), and a wriggling brown insect! Disgusting! Drowned the flea in a bowl of soapy water.
- Sprayed Hartz Home Flea & Tick Killer around the basement. It’s upposed to kill fleas, ticks and flea eggs. It will take 4 weeks to see if this has really been effective. [update: The Hartz 4-in-1 isn’t nearly as effective as Advantage. Go to your Vet and get some Advantage. It’s totally worth it].
- Vacuumed and chucked the bag outside immediately.
- Need to schedule a Flea Dip for the cats? Is that even possible?
- Using 20 Mule Borax on carpet and furniture might work also. It will dehydrate the larvae and eggs apparently.
- Need to nuke all bedding. Also, seal off the upstairs rooms from the cats.
- Built a flea trap out of a small 20W halogen lamp and a bowl of water, half filled, with some dish soap in it to break the surface tension. I guess the heat and moisture will attract fleas.
- I’ve picked a dozen fleas off of Kate so far with the comb. She’s very “bitey” so it takes some finesse. My strategy is to watch for when she starts scratching or biting, then I move in with the comb and sweep. If I get a perp, I douse the comb in the soap water. I’m going to get some of that anti-flea goo for them tomorrow. Poor kitties.
- The Hartz 4-1 flea/tick remover seems to be kicking in after about 36 hours. For the first 24 hours, Kate and Kat were quite unhappy. Kat cheered up the next day, and accepted much brushing (which is unusual for him). Kate hid behind the toilet, but came out after about a day and half to accept some flea combing. Nothing showed up. Kat still had a couple.
- The DeBoraxing of the Living Room and Upstairs Bedrooms killed 2 vacuum cleaner bags, which were tossed immediately. There was not a lot of flea action going on there. The cats have been banned from the bedrooms for the next few weeks.
- It took 3 boxes of 20 Mule Team Borax to do about half the house. I still need to do the entrance ways and dining room.
- A call to Amherst Animal Hospital to inquire about flea control revealed some useful information: The petstore brands of medicine are harsher than their preferred product “Advantage”. Advantage costs 4 times as much as the Hartz stuff. I got 4 applications. Annabelle, one of the doctors there, filled me in on flea control issues: (1) fleas don’t really go after people…if you control the cats, you will win in the end. (2) de-flea them every day to make sure they’re clear, removing dead fleas and “flea dirt” (3) Wash ’em after a couple weeks, then put Advantage on them for the next month or two to make sure the fleas stay gone. (4) Advantage works by actually covering the cat with anti-flea stuff. You apply it to the backskin of their necks (like the Hartz 4-in-1) and it slowly oozes over the cat over several days. Freaky!
- Advantage® rules! The link is the official Advantage site, which is manufactured by Bayer. About a day after applying it to both cats, the number of fleas dropped dramatically. Of course, it’s also the end of the flea season and it’s been chillier in the house.
- I’ve maintained an every-2-days vacuuming schedule for about 3 weeks, chucking the bag each time. The number of fleas did diminish with the Hartz stuff, but they weren’t completely gone. I have start vacuuming every 3-4 days now, and haven’t noticed a recurrence yet.
- I’ve kept most of the house off-limits to the cats, but I think I can start opening it up again now that they’ve been treated.
- I bought several flea traps, in addition to the bowl of water w/ lamp. The flea traps consist of a sticky pad under a grate, over which is a 7W night-light bulb. It caught a few fleas, but not a whole lot. They’re kind of nice if you think of them as night lights with extra purpose, but I’m not convinced they are effective. The flea traps with the soapy water actually caught several dozen fleas in my basement. One of my cats actually discovered he liked sitting directly on top of the trap, because it was warm.
- Wearing running pants when you sleep helps prevent leg bites :-)
If I were to do this all again:
- Go to the vet and get the Advantage or Frontline right away! The difference is that Advantage is fleas only, and Frontline is fleas + ticks. For indoor cats, the Advantage is fine. The sooner you do this, the better you’ll be. It cost me $40 for 4 vials, each good for a month. This is considerably more expensive than the Hartz stuff, but it actually seems to work. It not only kills fleas in 12 hours on your cat, but it kills ’em if they hop on. Your cat becomes an active flea killing agent.
- Isolate the cats while you vacuum, seal off areas that you don’t want them in (like your bedroom). Buy extra vacuum cleaner bags, because you’ll be vacuuming every other day. Throw out the bag immediately outside your house. Do this for two weeks after you’ve Advantage’d your cat.
- Steam clean the carpets. Wash any bedding or toss it out far away from your house.
- If you have carpet, get a few boxes of the “20 Mule Borax”. Sprinkle liberally in carpeted areas and in sofas and let it sit for a few days. I used an awl to punch about a dozen holes in the top of the box, and used it like a giant salt shaker. I then use a broom to brush it in deeply into the carpet fiber. I’ve also read that very finely crushed salt (as prepared in a blender) also helps. The point of the borax and salt is to dehydrate any eggs and larvae. I’m not convinced this actually worked…it is supposed to kill larva.
- Also protect yourself: during the first week or so of the investation, make sure you’re wearing long pants and socks to protect yourself from flea bites. It’s easier for the fleas to feed off your pets, but if they’re covered with Advantage they’ll go for you! Deny them the blood! I also used flea repellant indoors on my exposed skin to keep the bugs off. Starve ’em!
- bug bombs: useless. They just stink up the house and while they kill fleas, they don’t kill eggs. I bombed my basement and keep it clear for 4 weeks, and they still came back there. Treat the fleas at the source: your cats with Advantage.
- Flea Traps: Not particularly useful but I did like to have them in the bedroom and other sealed areas. They did catch fleas, and in sealed areas where there isn’t a lot of pet activity, they caught a few dozen. Since each flea can lay 200 eggs, that is potentially a lot of eggs prevented.
- daily flea combing was useful as a monitoring tool. After applying the Hartz 4-in-1, I still had to comb every day, because the stuff just didn’t work. After using advantage, I haven’t had to comb at all. Every once in a while I catch a cat scratching itself and do a comb through, but the level of flea dirt and eggs is practically nill.
I’ve been hearing more about flea problems with some family members, so I’ve been extra vigilant. I found a couple very informative articles on flea control:
- University of Nebraska — Sounds like the whole state has severe flea problems every year, and this article has that kind of grim, matter-of-fact tone to it that sounds credible. If you see the fleas, there are already thousands of eggs and larvae, so you have to break the cycle of reproduction…this will take several weeks.
- Placerville Vet — Another factual, informative article on fleas. This one confirms the approach of making the pets into flea-killin’ machines, by putting Advantage or Frontline on them. Fleas jump on, fleas die.
As a bonus, they describe the difference between Frontline and Advantage. Frontline apparently lasts longer for just anti-flea use (2 months), though they say it’s only good for one month for full coverage. So you may save money with Frontline. There some other alternatives listed too.