Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I rescued a 3-1/2 week old kitten from someone that had no idea what they were doing and had already watched four other littermates die. I have bottle-fed a kitten about this same age before, but that was seven years ago. I’m not sure if this kitten is a boy or girl. She (I’ll use that pronoun for now) is active and healthy, but she has a very bad case of fleas. I know I can’t use normal flea products on a cat this young, so what should I do? Also, can you give me a refresher course on how to care for this beautiful baby?
~ Lovie’s Mommy
Siouxsie: Thank you so much for rescuing this sweet baby kitty and giving her a chance at a good life! We can definitely help you with some safe flea control methods for tiny kittens.
Thomas: As you know, standard flea treatments are not safe for kittens that young. Neither, for that matter, are flea collars — they contain chemicals that irritate the skin and can be more toxic to the cat than they are to the fleas.
Dahlia: The safe way to get rid of fleas is labor-intensive, but it’s worth it for the sake of your baby’s health.
Siouxsie: The first step is to bathe your kitten in soap and warm water and comb out any fleas. You don’t have to (nor should you) use a standard flea shampoo because of the toxin concerns. But the truth is that any soap will do.
Thomas: The purpose of bathing is to drown the adult fleas and/or get them to come to the surface of the fur. We recommend Dr. Bronner’s Soap, a real, organic soap without any harmful ingredients. The Baby Mild unscented formula doesn’t have any essential oils, either, so you don’t run the risk of toxicity from those.
Dahlia: Dr. Bronner’s soap is available in any health food store or supermarket that has a natural products section. If you can’t find it locally, you can order it online through the Dr. Bronner’s website.
Siouxsie: You can get a flea comb in pet stores. A flea comb is specially designed with very narrow teeth so that it picks up any fleas in your cat’s fur.
Thomas: This website has instructions on how to go about bathing your kitten. Although their bathing instructions say to use Dawn dish detergent, we think you’re better off going with the Dr. Bronner’s.
Dahlia: After the bath, go over the kitten with a flea comb to remove any half-dead bugs. We also recommend that you have a jar containing water and soap so that you can pick off and drown any fleas you find on your kitten as you’re sitting with her. Don’t stir the soap into the water; the layer of soap sitting on top of the water will help to drown the fleas.
Siouxsie: Bathing the kitten is a great first step, but then you also have to treat the cat’s environment. That’s because most fleas — and their eggs and larvae — don’t live on the cat. This non-toxic method is going to be a labor-intensive process, but it’s worth the effort because you’ll keep your baby safe.
Thomas: The first step is to spread a mixture of standard non-iodized table salt and baking soda (you can also use food-grade diatomaceous earth, but the salt/baking soda mixture is less expensive and just as effective) all over your floors, carpets and furniture. Pay extra attention to dark corners, places under furniture, and crevices. After about 15 minutes, vacuum everywhere, put the bag or the contents of the dust receptacle into your garbage and immediately put the garbage bag outside in a dumpster or trash cans.
Dahlia: Wash all your bedding, furniture covers, pillow covers and your kitten’s bed, and put them in the dryer for a long cycle. This will kill any flea eggs and larvae.
Siouxsie: Put small trays of salt and baking soda under your furniture to attract any fleas that hatch. Spread the salt and baking soda mixture and vacuum your home thoroughly and wash the bedding at least once a week for the next month, so that you can get rid of all the fleas that hatch after the first vacuuming.
Thomas: You’ll want to watch your kitten for signs of tapeworms as well. Fleas are the primary carriers of tapeworm eggs, and any cat that has fleas will almost inevitably develop tapeworms as a result. Consult your vet to find out about safe and effective tapeworm treatment for your kitten.
Dahlia: You also asked about a refresher course in bottle-feeding and rearing very young kittens. KittenBaby.com is a wonderful resource for anything you need to know about bottle-feeding kittens. They can give you more information, based on experience with hand-rearing kittens, than we could ever provide.
Siouxsie: Good luck, Lovie’s Mama. Please let us know how things turn out. We love to get follow-up e-mails from our readers because it helps us to learn if our advice worked for you or if you got additional information that helped you even more.
Thank you for the wonderful information. I didn’t know about the baking soda and salt combination! I do have one question about that.. is it a 50/50 combo? I am assuming so.. but would rather be sure. I try to use as few chemicals in my house as I can for myself and my fur babies.. at this point.. we are flea free.. but I am always on the look out for non-toxic remedies.. my mother and her cats have some flea issues and any help is always welcome! I love reading your columns.. you always have such great advice!
Yes, it is a 50/50 mixture. We’re sorry we didn’t specify that in the column. Siouxsie said the treatment program we recommended worked really well for her and Sinead when they got fleas as little kittens.
Check out this website and store for more info on cats / kittens and flea products. http://tinytimmy.org/ Tiny Timmy is a kitten that has serious neurological deficits due to flea products being used on him. They sell a NON-TOXIC soap for bathing kitties to get rid of the fleas. This is where I learned a LOT about these kind of products. The website tells his story and now he and his momma are going around the country helping inform people about the serious issues surrounding flea products and their toxicity. Take a look, I’m sure you’ll find some interesting information here. I really found it useful and I use the soap on our 9 cats.
Does the baking soda/salt mixture work for any bugs other than fleas? My kitty Sonsy has asthma and is acutely sensitive to almost everything. She can’t take rabies shots or vaccinations. I am always looking for non-toxic household products!
Nothing like getting the information right from the kitties’ mouths! Thanks so much for explaining so clearly and for adding the adorable photo of the kitten to make sure people pay attention. I’ll be sure to share this.
Hi, Rosemary. We’re not sure whether the salt/baking soda mixture works for other creepy-crawly bugs, but we do know that diatomaceous earth has been well-recommended as a way to manage bedbugs as well as killing fleas.