How Can I Stop My Flea Invasion?

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

One of my cats likes to drink from the bathtub. One day I noticed tiny red spots on the tub and the floor. I took her to the vet, who said that she most likely has a urinary tract infection. Now I’m giving her special food and amoxicillin for a week, but I still felt like it could be something else. While doing my research online, I came across the article on your website about a person who had a similar problem, and it turned out to be fleas. I went to check my cat’s fur and I saw black specks on her belly, and then I saw something crawling through her fur. Now I don’t know what to do. I’m heading to the store to buy some product, but I don’t know what’s the best and easiest way to clean the flea eggs out of my house. I stopped giving my cat the medicine, too — is that OK? I also have another cat and kitten, and they’re all indoor cats. Do I have to shampoo them all? Please help!

~ Nadia

An ear-tipped feral cat scratches an itch.

Cat scratching an itch, (CC-BY) by Wikipedia user Vannie

Siouxsie: First of all, Nadia, congratulations on finding your cat’s fleas. We’re surprised — shocked, actually — that your vet didn’t notice them.

Thomas: Running a flea comb through a cat’s fur is a standard part of every vet checkup we’ve ever seen, even in the case of a cat with a different illness or injury.

Siouxsie: The fact that your vet gave you drugs for a condition that your cat may or may not have makes us think that you really need to find a new vet! But we weren’t there at the exam, either, and if your cat had a fever, for example, your vet was justified in thinking an infection might be present.

Thomas: You shouldn’t stop giving your cat medicine without a veterinarian’s advice. It’s possible that your cat does have a urinary tract infection. We’re not veterinarians, and even if we were, we wouldn’t tell you to stop treating your cat without seeing her and examining her ourselves.

 Siouxsie: Now, about the fleas. In that column you read earlier, we gave some advice about how to handle the fleas in your home. It certainly is a labor-intensive process, but you may be able to avoid it by giving the proper spot-on flea treatments.

Thomas: First of all, don’t cheap out on flea products! It’s worth it to buy the good stuff (like Frontline, Advantage and so on) because those products are much more effective at killing fleas.

Siouxsie: Some of them even stop the eggs from hatching at all!

Thomas: We’d recommend asking the people at the pet store or your vet clinic about which products have been most effective this year.

Siouxsie: Here in the northeastern U.S., it’s been a crazy year for fleas and they’ve apparently been immune to most of the flea products on the market.

Thomas: But the people who sell the stuff will know what their customers or clients have said about the various gels and goops and they’ll be able to direct you to the product that’s most effective.

Siouxsie: You’ll have to give the monthly treatment for at least three months to make sure that any eggs in your carpets or furniture have had a chance to hatch.

Thomas: Keep in mind that if any of your cats weigh less than two pounds, you should get the lower-dosage product for them. Very young cats shouldn’t be dosed with the stuff at all because it can make them very sick.

Siouxsie: You can also buy a flea comb at the pet store and go through your cats’ fur with it. When you catch a flea in the comb, you’ll have to be ready to drown it right away. Keep a jar of water with dish soap nearby whenever you’re combing your cats, and as soon as you get one, dunk the comb in the soapy water.

Thomas: We would recommend that you keep to the regimen of vacuuming and laundering that we recommended in our previous column.

Siouxsie: We hope this helps, Nadia. Please get back to your vet and talk to him or her before you stop giving medicine.

Thomas: Good luck, and may your cats and home be flea-free.

  • Phyllis

    I had the same problem with a cat I had when I lived in Calif. She was an indoor cat, but she had fleas. She also had long hair. I took her to a groomer,had her shaved and bathed. It really helped and I found since we lived in a warm climate that keeping her hair short was the best thing. I think she liked it also. So give that a try. I also made sure all the fleas and their eggs were gone from the carpets, hard work, but if you keep at it everyone will be happy. Good luck to you and the kitties. I did leave a tuft of hair on her tail, she looked like a black and white lion, really cute.

  • Catherine Murdoch

    As for the fleas in the home, here in Australia the supermarkets sell a spray that “fles-bombs”your house and I magine is also available where you live. You will need to see if it is suitable for your purposes as your kitties would need to be removed from the premises while it is in operation. I live in a warm climate also and have found Ädvocate”to be effective in keeping my cats for fleas. It also does worms except for tapeworm, which brings me to another suggestion, although you have probably thought of this for yourself – if your kitty/kitties have fleas it might be a good idea to have the vet treat them for tapeworm as tapeworm is caused by fleas. Perhaps also a Pest Control company could help by treating your place for fleas.

  • hmr

    I, too, am quite shocked that your vet did not catch the fleas. My vet checks every time for fleas even though my cats have been flea-free for over four years.

    And don’t feel bad about not knowing what was going on. When my oldest got fleas it took me a couple of weeks to catch on to what was happening.

    I agree with Catherine above; get your cat/cats treated for tapeworm, and keep an eye out for tapeworm eggs (they look like pale sesame seeds and get trapped in fabric, rugs, etc.).

    Wash everything you can in hot water and dry in a hot dryer. For those items you can’t wash, get some aerosol flea spray and spray away! Vacuum like mad, and place a piece of flea collar in the canister or bag. Dump the canister or bag immediately after vacuuming, and then vacuum again, with another piece of flea collar.

    Comb two or three times a day with your soapy water nearby. I used to bring the cat into the bathroom so he couldn’t escape and comb for 15 or 20 minutes at a time, morning, afternoon and evening. (Four years later he still *loves* to be combed, probably due to this early bonding.)

    It may take two or three (or four) months before you have eradicated all the fleas (and tapeworms), but you can do it without too much fuss and cost. Be diligent and loving and you and your cat will both be happy in the end.