The issue of fleas

Hi friends. I was honestly not intent on starting my year with an issue like this, but life clearly had other plans. You might have spotted this story on my Instagram…my two very furry cats have fleas. You might think that it’s not a big deal, but while I am battling the crisis, some interesting information found its’ way to me and I’d like to share.

The Problem

My cats have fleas. This also means that my house has fleas. We don’t know where said fleas came from but one thing is clear – we don’t want them. I have three possible scenarios related to their sudden appearance:

  • The cat sitter brought them (accidentally, obviously) in while she was with them over Christmas. She has a cat at home too, so who knows.
  • We brought them back from Paris. My partner’s parents also have a cat and despite being an indoor cat, she had a health complaint over small bites appearing around her ears
  • One or both of the cats picked a flea up when walking around on the communal walkway or perhaps in the garden (most likely scenario).

Regardless of which is true, we (and by that I mean mostly me, the boyfriend is keeping out of this one for his own sanity’s sake apparently) have to deal with the fallout of this issue. There are precisely three categories of the main ‘victims’ of this unwelcome infestation, and a couple of auxiliary ones. Our main ‘victims’ are:

  • The cats (duh)
  • The house (ugh)
  • Mr and I

The auxiliary list involves all my friends who have pets. You might wonder why – fleas cannot breed on humans and therefore in theory I cannot ‘pass’ the infestation onto my friends. But in practice, the reason why the species is so ubiquitous is simple – their eggs are hardly visible, easy to miss and light to carry. Given that I am unwilling to accidentally spread the issue to my friends, we cancelled social engagements until the situation is under control.

Now, let’s look at each actual victim and aspects associated with being in this situation.

The Cats

They itch, they are subject to tiny parasites drinking their blood and they are at risk of developing anemia and being infested with tapeworm, which fleas are carriers of. There is only one course of action and that is – to provide them with a flea-ridding treatment. The most common treatments include flea shampoos (most are unsuitable for cats), flea tablets (good luck convincing your cat to take oral medication frequently) and spot on treatments (they’ll flinch, but they’ll be fine). A small number of sprays suitable for your pet and home also exist, but more on those in the next part.

We opted for spot-on treatment as the quickest and most effective. It is worth noting that collars only work where infestation is not present, where actual treatments need to be used where you already have fleas. One of the most common prescription-free treatments is Frontline, which sadly does not do s*it. It used to be one of the most effective flea killers, however with the amount of time it has been on the market without a change in formulation, it just doesn’t work anymore. So after spending £19.95 on Amazon and subjecting my cats to the effects of Fipronil, I watched with a sinking heart as nothing happened (other than my cats being miserable) for 48 hours and called the vet. The vet confirmed my worries that Frontline is no longer effective and recommended Advocate –  a prescription only treatment combined with a worming tablet. £49.99 per cat later, I keep finding dead fleas in random places. Guess that’s good? The treatment covers 3 months and in theory should suffice to get rid of the infestation fully.

Additionally I spend my evenings brushing my cats with flea combs – a set can be purchased inexpensively (mine was £6.59 for a set of 6). Although they don’t mind that for the most part, it’s boring for them. Being a longhair and medium-length hair, a proper brushing can take as long as 30 minutes of sitting still. No young cat is willing to put up with that daily without some bribing.

 

The House

Even though fleas cannot breed on humans and you have treated your pets, the environment you are in will also need handling to prevent the return of the infestation. What does that mean? Well…you have the option of fumigating your house or opting for something a little less invasive.

Bearing in mind that I live in a block of flats and with animals who cannot be taken out of the property for few hours while the place is covered in a chemical fog, the only realistic option is non-invasive house treatment. This means:

  • Doing a lot of laundry – everything needs to be cleaned frequently, including human and cat bedding
  • Treating fabric-upholstered furniture, mattresses and carpets with appropriate flea spray (we used Rentokil on carpets and furniture and Bob Martin on bedding) and vacuuming thoroughly daily
  • Wiping down all wipeable surfaces the cats tread on daily

It might sound excessive, but the problem with fleas is that the adults only make up a small percentage of the population. The rest are the larvae, pupae and the eggs. It is only unfortunate that those little f*uckers are hardly visible, love carpets and can stay dormant for months. So unless you literally poison your environment and fog the place, you will have to clean like you never cleaned before. Tis my life now – vacuum in hand.

Mr and I

Having a pet with fleas is a problem for the owner. Not just because it will be their job to deal with the infestation, but also because fleas are disgusting and are associated with dirt and poverty – not exactly an aspirational picture. Given that we in general are responsible human beings, Mr and I opted to be upfront and cautious about the sudden issue. This meant:

  • Telling our friends and colleagues who have pets and cancelling certain social engagements, including visiting their homes and hosting at ours, until we are satisfied that our house if flea-free
  • Telling our immediate neighbours who also have pets so that they can take precautions (one of the interesting problems related to living in older buildings is that pest travel through cavity walls, chimney stacks and lofts from unit to unit)
  • Spending money (£99.98 vet, £6 Bob Martin Spray, £5.98 Rentokil Spray, £6.59 for brushes, £19.95 for Frontline which I demanded a refund for) and time (hours of cleaning and treating of the house, laundering everything washable, brushing the cats to help them clear their coats of any dead fleas, eggs etc)

We have dealt with occasional flea bites, general feeling of itchiness (a common issue brought on by the mere thought of bugs for many people) and some mild paranoia (is it a flea or just a bit of dirt?). And of course we’ve dealt with the emotional discomfort and guilt of knowing that our adored, pampered cats are having to put up with parasites.

And if there is any one thing to be learned from our experience, it’s that pet ownership comes at a cost and it’s worth being prepared for the dirtier aspects of it before you take on pets.

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