Flea Control, a battle plan for you and your cat

Sooner or later, flea control is an issue for anyone with indoor pets. Flea bites cause not only itching, but indirectly, through scratching they can be responsible for many more skin disorders. Once fleas have colonized your cat it isn’t too long until they are in the carpet, and furniture. It’s easy for these little devils to get around, since they can jump more than a foot high. I have good news though. Flea control does not have to be a difficult process. In fact, with just a little persistence, it can be almost easy.

If your cat is scratching and you’re unsure if it is fleas or not, use a flea comb (available at pet stores) on your cat and look for what is commonly called "flea dirt," tiny crumbles of a dark colored material which is the feces created by fleas. To confirm, put some on a damp paper towel and squish them. If it turns a reddish color - that's the residue from having feasted on blood. Your cat's blood - and a sure sign that flea control is needed. To effectively control fleas, it is helpful to know more about them, so I’ve outlined their life cycle below.

The Life of a Flea

Adult flea: Mature Fleas lay their eggs on the host animal. Usually they stay there for the entire cycle, but sometimes the eggs fall off and land on your carpeting or your cat's bedding, or even (Ugh!) your own bed.

Flea Larvae: The larvae feed on the blood-rich feces left by the adult, and continue to grow for a week.

Pupae: When ready, the larvae spins a cocoon for itself, where it continues to grow for another week until it emerges as an adult flea.

Adult: The new adult flea feeds on its host animal, then breeds and starts the life cycle all over again. This could be happening with many fleas right on your cat, right now. So it is very important to get things under control ASAP.

Fleas Be Gone!

Fortunately there are many products and resources available to us these days, and properly used, they can break the life cycle of fleas and keep them gone. You must make the effort to attack the flea problem on all levels and follow it up with a regular flea prevention program. In this way, you and your cat can be flea free and happy.

Seek out and destroy all eggs

Obviously, you’ve got to stop the cycle and the first step is getting the eggs gone. You can work on this as you go along in your efforts to kill the live ones. Here are some steps to take:

Wash all pet beds and blankets thoroughly and in hot water. Do the same with your bedding as a precaution. Vacuum the mattress, floors, couches and cushions, anywhere where eggs might be lurking.

Vacuum your carpet every day and throw out used vacuum bags. Do not store used vacuum bags inside the house where live fleas could escape back into the carpet. I’ve heard of people placing flea collars in the vacuum bag, but please don’t do this. Vacuums may generate enough heat to create toxic fumes, so don’t take chances. Just get the bags out of the house.

Steam-clean your carpets and rugs. If you have access to a steam cleaner for hard surfaces, by all means do that, too. Otherwise, mop thoroughly, making sure to pay attention to baseboards and corners. The steam will effectively kill any eggs that you might have missed while vacuuming and mopping the corners of flat surfaces will eliminate another hiding place.

Get a Pro to help

Have a professional pest control service treat outdoor areas with a cat-safe product. If you ask about cat-safe products and get a confused response, go elsewhere. If your cat goes outdoors, be sure to keep him inside on the day your pest control is done on the outside. Ask about indoor-outdoor flea control. Some companies offer packages that include monthly maintenance. Always make sure products are pet safe, of course.

What you can do now

First, you have to get rid of as many fleas as possible from your cat. Combing and bathing are good options. I like to use Adams Flea Control Mist which was recommended to me by my veterinarian years ago. It only needs to be sprayed lightly unto fur that has been brushed the wrong way, and the doomed fleas begin to bail out like crazy! Great for pets and bedding alike, this product really works. You can continue your flea control with the same product if you and your cat like it. OK, so the cat’s not gonna like any flea treatment. I know. But he will like being free of itching!

Combing your Cat: You may want to get your cat’s harness on before attempting this. Using your flea comb, gently yet carefully run it over your entire cat. Especially watch for underarms, near tail and behind ears. Keep jar of hot, soapy water with a bit of bleach in it nearby to put the stuff from your comb into. That way you kill the fleas you catch instead of just redistributing them. Flush water down the toilet as soon as you are through with combing.

Give your cat a bath: Stop laughing! It can be done, but you will probably want your cat to be on harness for this one too. Run the water first so the noise doesn’t scare your cat. Keep the temperature comfy warm, neither too hot or cold. Have towels ready for drying and the bathroom door closed in case of escape. This is sometimes a challenging procedure but well worth the effort because a bath will drown any remaining fleas.

Don’t worry about flea soap or dips. Skip the harsh chemicals in the bath. Just a good cat or gentle human shampoo works fine. Be sure and immerse your cat as fully as possible without scaring him too badly, and use a large plastic cup to keep dumping water over his coat. It's best for your cat's comfort to clean the face and head with a washcloth. Be careful not to get soap into the eyes.

Be sure and suds up the toes, where fleas like to hide, and around the rear end. When finished, rinse thoroughly, and then rinse again. No residue must remain on the skin. Residue can cause skin irritation and if you’ve got flea problems, your cat has already had more than enough of that. After the bath, provide loving aftercare by wrapping him in a soft blanket or towel and keeping him warm.

Topical Flea Control

There are now many topical cat flea control products available. They are usually applied to the cat's skin at the back of the neck where they can’t be licked off.

Cat Lady Note: Never put a product labeled for dogs on your cat. The formulas are different and it can be harmful. When choosing flea control products, read labels carefully and be sure that the ingredients are safe for cats and kittens.

Some topical products for flea control

Any ONE of these topical products may be used, but ONLY one at a time. Play it safe by reading labels completely and strictly following the directions for the age and weight of your cat.

Advantage: Active Ingredient: imidacloprid
This product is considered safe for cats and kittens over six weeks of age. This product does not kill ticks, but if fleas are your only problem this is fine.

Frontline: Active Ingredient: fipronil
Kills both fleas and ticks, but the active ingredient may cause a temporary sensitivity in the area where it is applied.

Bio Spot for Cats: Active Ingredients: permethrin and nylar
Bio Spot combines a product that kills live adult fleas (permethrin) with an insect growth regulator (nylar) which kills eggs and larvae. It lasts for three months, when used as directed. This product has been known to cause sensitivity where applied and should never be used on kittens less than twelve weeks of age, elderly, pregnant, or nursing cats.

Revolution: Active Ingredient: Selamectin
The active ingredient in Revolution kills not only fleas and some ticks, but also ear mites! According to the manufacturer it also offers protection against heartworms. This product stays in the bloodstream, and should never be used on kittens under six weeks of age. Regardless of size. It has been known to cause allergic reactions in some cats.

I hope you never have a problem with fleas and need to use all this information. But should it ever become an issue in your household, I want you to be armed and ready to launch a counter attack as soon as you become aware of the problem. The procedures I’ve told you about above have worked for me and many other cat lovers for many years. I know they will prove helpful to you also. Here’s wishing you and your cat many happy, flea-free years together.

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