Paws and Effect
Kitty's house is undergoing a flea infestation that's making her and her cats miserable. How can she get rid of the fleas? Get our tips in this week's post.

A flea infestation can make cats and humans alike miserable. Photo CC-BY Sandy Schultz

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

Hi! I’m a cat mum of  three kitties. My youngest is 6 months and the other two are 13. From this summer to now, we were treating the cats with Advantage or Frontline regularly. We have a male cat that I don’t think is fixed lingering around. He is now on the Cats Protection League waiting list to get into their shelter. Due to an accident, I decided to keep my cats indoors only, but since they have been in, we have been infested with fleas! I found out I needed to treat my home, too, so I’m armed and ready with all the top quality vet products. But before I start, I have a few questions: Do fleas prefer young blood? Why are the fleas only biting me and not other family members? What order should I treat cats and house? I bathed the youngest tonight and the water was rusty in color and on the towel afterwards. I assume this is flea dirt? Thanks in advance for any guidance you can provide.

~ Kitty

Thomas: Ah, fleas: the bane of animals and people alike!

Bella: It’s not unusual for a flea infestation to start with just one flea that came in on someone’s clothing or fur.

Tara: Fleas are really miserable, too. When I was out wandering the streets, I got fleas, so not only was I cold and wet and lonely, I was itchy, too!

Thomas: Fortunately, some good humans found you and you ended up here (with no fleas, thankfully).

Bella: So let’s answer your questions so you can put a stop to your flea infestation.

Tara: First of all, do fleas prefer young blood? Well, fleas tend to gravitate toward weaker hosts, so you actually find them most frequently on very young kittens or older cats that may have somewhat debilitated immune systems.

Thomas: According to the Flea Science website, adult fleas are most attracted to light and heat. They only abandon their hosts when they grow cold because they’re dying.

Bella: As to why the fleas are biting you and not other members of your household? Gosh, that’s hard to tell. They do seem to be attracted to some humans more than others.

Tara: Mama always said about other bugs like black flies and mosquitoes that they’re attracted to the sweetest people. Maybe it’s the same way with fleas. Tee hee hee!

Thomas: But seriously, some humans react to flea bites more than others. You may not be the only one getting bitten, but you clearly are the one who’s reacting to the bites the most.

Bella: And when fleas start biting humans, that only makes a flea infestation more miserable!

Tara: You are correct that the rusty-colored water after you bathed your kitten was about flea dirt. Fleas eat blood and then they poop it out. The flea dirt looks black until it gets wet, and then it takes on a rusty, old-blood color.

Thomas: Now, should you treat the cats or the house first? We say treat both at the same time.

Bella: Because you can treat the cats with topical flea treatment like Advantage or Frontline, it’s easy to get them treated. Some of these products kill flea eggs as well as adult fleas and flea larvae.

Tara: The next step for treating a flea infestation is to treat the environment. That means you have to wash all your cats’ bedding–and your bedding, and couch covers, and so on–in warm water and dry them on high heat to kill the flea eggs and larvae.

Thomas: You’ll also have to vacuum everywhere, a lot, and throw out the vacuum bag right after you finish vacuuming.

Bella: If your vac is a bagless variety, take the dust canister outside and dump it directly into a garbage bin or dumpster, so the fleas don’t get out in your home again.

Tara: We don’t know what the vet gave you for vacuuming your carpets and furniture, but we do know that a mixture of plain table salt and baking soda, left on the carpet or furniture for about an hour, can attract and kill fleas.

Thomas: Some people also use food-grade diatomaceous earth or Borax for this purpose, too. Keep in mind that if you do use diatomaceous earth, you must use the food-grade variety, not any others, in order to minimize potential toxicity.

Bella: Oh, all this talk of fleas is just making me so itchy!

Tara: It’s going to be a kind of long and involved process to get the fleas out of your home and off your cats, but you’ll be able to knock this flea infestation down pretty quickly if you’re able to put the work in.

Thomas: And here’s a beginner’s guide on the essentials of flea control to give you even more tips!

Bella: One more thing: Since your cats have fleas, be on the lookout for evidence of tapeworms. Fleas are the main carrier of tapeworm eggs, and when a cat eats a flea that has eaten tapeworm eggs, those eggs are carried into the cat’s intestines, where they hatch out. In fact, you may want to have your vet give you a broad-spectrum deworming medicine proactively.

Tara: What about you other readers? Do you have other tips on how to control a flea infestation? Please share them in the comments!

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