Fleas! They aren’t just annoying; they can also carry parasites (such as tapeworms) and diseases (Lyme disease, among others). Fleas are tough, highly evolved ectoparasites (ecto- means that they live outside the body) that, once entrenched, are not easily eliminated.
Fleas are attracted to warmth, moving shadows, and the vibrations from foot (or paw) steps. When dealing with fleas, you need to protect your cat as well as reach fleas and larvae hiding in carpets and yards. Even exclusively indoor cats can get fleas, which travel in on shoes and clothing or even on their own, jumping through open doors or other cracks and crevices. (Keeping your cat indoors, however, will eliminate the risk of ticks.)
Flea collars (whether herbal or insecticidal) don’t work! They don’t kill fleas, and they don’t even particularly repel them, except for the area right around the collar. The grocery/pet store variety contains concentrated toxic chemicals, and the herbal ones are irritating to odor-sensitive cats.
Topical (spot-on or pour-on) flea preventatives are associated with liver disease and other adverse effects in cats. Permethrin, pyrethrin, or pyrethroid-containing products intended for dogs are extremely toxic to cats and have caused many feline deaths. Putting a dog product on a cat causes neurological signs (twitching, disorientation, seizures) that ultimately kill about 10 percent of exposed cats.
Healthy cats eating a balanced raw species-specific, carnivore diet, properly supplemented with a rich source of Omega-3’s, such as greenlip mussel oil, are much less susceptible to fleas and other parasites and also help your cat to heal during and after a flea attach. If your cat is experiencing a flea problem, work on improving your cat’s overall health and deal with the immediate parasite situation. This is a “holistic” approach in the truest sense of the word! The conventional thinking that fleas are the problem is like saying “flies cause garbage” just because the two are often found together. It is the unhealthy state of the animal that attracts the parasites, just like garbage attracts flies.
Consider establishing the rule that shoes must be removed when entering your home. Fleas, flea larvae, and life-threatening viruses such as feline panleukopenia (also called feline distemper) can be tracked onto your floors and carpeting. This is especially important when bringing a new kitten or cat home. Therefore removing shoes at your front door keeps fleas out and helps keep other germs out as well. This is a simple yet effective prevention method.
Adult fleas spend most of their time on the cat, where they feed on blood several times a day. Flea eggs are slippery and quickly fall off the cat and onto the cat’s resting areas, floors, rugs, bedding, and furniture. The eggs hatch and go through several intermediate stages before emerging as adults in as little as two weeks, but they may remain dormant for months. That’s why even if you get rid of the fleas on your cat, reinfestation is a common and very frustrating phenomenon.
A Three-Pronged Approach to Treating Fleas
Try this one-two-three punch to eradicate fleas from your—and your cat’s—life.
ON YOUR CAT:
Use an ultra-fine-tooth flea comb daily. Pay particular attention to the neck, tummy, and base of the tail, which are favorite flea hangouts. Have a glass or bowl full of warm, soapy water at hand to drown any fleas that turn up.
You may also need to bathe your cat, especially if a lot of fleas are present. Bathing your cat will drown a lot of fleas, but apply soap around the ears and neck first to keep the fleas from rushing up to the cat’s head and face. The herb Erigeron canadensis (Canadian fleabane), found in some herbal shampoos, will help kill fleas. Bathe no more than once a week.
IN YOUR HOME:
Floor/carpet treatments such as diatomaceous earth (the fossilized shells of one-celled organisms called diatoms) and boric acid–derived powders will kill flea larvae, primarily through dessication (drying). Exterminators use borates; you can either hire professionals to treat your home or do it yourself. For a serious flea problem, it may be worth paying a professional since their work is guaranteed.
Vacuuming is very effective against flea eggs and might even catch a few adults. To keep the eggs from hatching or the fleas from escaping, discard the bag immediately or use an herbal flea spray in the vacuum bag or container, either before or right after you vacuum.
IN THE YARD:
Beneficial nematodes eat flea eggs and will help control flea populations outdoors.
Garden-grade diatomaceous earth is very effective outdoors as well. Concentrate on areas under shrubs and decks and other cool shady spots where animals (such as rodents, raccoons, and outdoor and feral cats) have access.
It takes patience, diligence, and persistence, but you can win the war against fleas!