Make no mistake about it: a full-fledged fall flea infestation is terrible. It turns life into an itchy, irritable misery for everyone in the household. furry and otherwise, and it can lead to real health problems for animals and humans alike. It’s an awful situation but it’s one that can be solved with patience, persistence, and consistent effort. And a whole lotta salt and Borax.
It seems incredible that a household with totally indoor cats could pick up a major flea infestation, but I can tell you from experience that it absolutely can happen. The last flea inferno here was three years ago, and I’m still so flinchy about it that the sight of a few stray coffee grounds on the counter can send me into hyperdrive. We’re still not at all sure about how the fleas got a foothold, but for a couple of months life was just barely worth living around here. We tried a WHOLE lot of things and learned some valuable stuff. I hope to God it never happens again, but if it does we’re prepared as follows:
1. Call the vet immediately. If not sooner. This should absolutely, positively be your first step. Tell your vet what’s going on and ask for recommendations. Chances are he/she will prescribe something, and I’m here to tell you it probably won’t be cheap. But it will be SAFE, and it will be effective. I won’t kid you – when we first saw signs of the last Big Infestation we headed for the pet aisle in our local box store and picked up something with a recognizable brand name and a low price tag. HUGE MISTAKE. It made a couple of our cats really sick, and it did nothing at all to stem the tidal wave of fleas. We only used it a couple of times before tossing it. And then we tried a couple of home remedies (which didn’t hurt, but didn’t really help either). And THEN we finally called the vet … I’ll be the first to say that postponing that call was cosmically stupid. Don’t risk your pet’s life and health for the sake of saving a few bucks!!! They’re your furry family – you love them, and they trust you to do what’s best for them. Just call the vet, for God’s sake. And follow the instructions on the medicine to the letter.
2. As soon as you’ve treated the cats, start treating the house. This is where the grunt work of it all comes in, and this is also where you really can save some dough by coming up with your own flea killers (as opposed to buying them). The stuff you need for an effective household flea offensive is really cheap and easy to get, which is great because you’re gonna need a ton of it. Run, don’t walk, to the nearest grocery store and get as much ordinary table salt and 20 Mule Team Borax laundry booster (NOT boric acid!) as you can carry. And make sure your vacuum is in good order, cause it’s gonna get the workout of its life.
Mix equal parts of the 20 Mule Team Borax and salt together and figure out some kind of shaker contraption; if you happen to have one of those old-fashioned glass shakers with the perforated metal top they work pretty well, but an empty coffee can with a plastic lid (use a nail to poke holes in it) works just as well and doesn’t have to be refilled as often. The salt and Borax both act as dessicants and they work their lethal flea magic by literally drying the nasty little bastards up, so the idea here is to liberally (and I do mean liberally) sprinkle the salt-Borax mixture all over every surface in your home where fleas or flea eggs could possibly be.
Get a good coating of the salt-Borax mix on every surface in your house – carpets, upholstered furniture, bare floors (especially around the wall boards), beds and bedding (both yours and your pets), pillows, cushions, throw rugs … you name it, if you can shake that mix on it, do. And not just a teensy sprinkle of it, either – give everything a good visible coating of it. If you have dense or deep carpeting, follow up your sprinkle tour by giving it a good going over with a broom to work the mix deep into the fibers.
Now let that sit for a few hours. No kidding. Yes it looks like hell, but it’s better than having a carpet that’s hopping with fleas. The schedule that really worked for us was to give the whole house a heavy-duty sprinkle right before bedtime so it could sit overnight. In the morning we vacuumed everything as thoroughly as possible and (during the height of the infestation) immediately went over everything with another layer of Borax and salt, which didn’t get vacuumed up until right before we were ready to put down the nightly sprinkle.
Be sure to empty the vacuum every time, and if you have the type that has removable filter inserts take them out and clean them too. If you skip this step you’re drastically reducing the effectiveness – the fleas will simply jump out of the vacuum and back onto the floor, upholstery, the cat herd, and you.
We kept up this schedule of sprinkling and vacuuming for about two weeks. My carpets were never so clean before (and will probably never be as clean again), and it really did do the trick. After the initial two weeks we cut it back to only sprinkling at night and vacuuming in the morning. We kept that up for a good two or three more weeks.
3. In the meantime, do as much on-hands flea removal as your felines will put up with. Follow through with whatever your vet recommends – that’s the most important step of all – but do whatever additional flea removing your cat herd will allow. I don’t know about anyone else’s cats, but mine take immediate and vehement exception to any type of well-meaning interference. Some people do seem to have success with a homemade flea spray of water and lemon juice or vinegar, but that was a total no-go here; as soon as they got the vaguest whiff of either lemon or vinegar they immediately buggered off and hid for hours. Ditto sponging them down with cotton balls soaked in a mild mixture of water and Dawn dishwashing liquid; this apparently really does work for some people but my cats simply weren’t having it. The only active measure we managed was combing them (and half of them weren’t having any of THAT, either). You can get special flea combs just about anywhere (like at any grocery store, for instance) and if you can get the cat to hold still for it, you can literally trap fleas in the comb and get them off. Keep a jar of soapy water nearby to dip the comb in; you have to clean the fleas off it between strokes.
4. Don’t give up and don’t slack off. Getting the better of an infestation is a time consuming process. If you skip a day of sprinkling or vacuuming you’re courting an itchy, misery-making setback. Be persistent and patient and you’ll win.