If you are or have ever been flatmates with a cat that likes to jump out the window and take a stroll now and then, you have probably had at least one encounter with fleas.
My cat is not a strictly indoor cat; she likes to go out every day. This is the number one cause of a flea problem.
If you have a cat that goes outside, even if it’s just once a month, you should be aware that it will encounter fleas and there is a chance it can bring them home.
I have had three of these unfortunate flea encounters in three consecutive summers and I have yet to learn my lesson.
As a veteran flea survivor, I thought I would share my experiences with you.
How I Survived (!) Three Rounds of Flea Attacks
Cat fleas are a menace – for your cat and for you. Before I ever had cat flea infestations, I thought that fleas did not get too friendly with us humans.
I’m guessing this common misconception comes from the fact that unlike cats, we lack fur and it is in the fur that fleas cling on to the skin and thrive.
Although fleas do not cling on to human skin the way they do to our precious pets, they do jump onto your skin and enjoy a little bite when they get the chance.
Flea Bites on Humans
- Flea bites are most often start at ankles and wrists where there is a high concentration of blood circulation; however, they can be on any spot on the body that is exposed and unclothed.
- Bitemarks are extremely itchy.
- Itching causes a lot of pain.
- Slightly reddish bubbles appear on the skin.
- If they are not treated, the bitemarks may lead to infection.
When I discovered these unusual bite marks on my ankles and wrists, I was alarmed – to say the least.
I had no idea that my cat had brought in fleas till I started noticing tiny mobile black dots occasionally showing themselves through her smooth, white and ginger fur.
The first tell-tale sign for the presence of cat fleas: the bitemarks – on you!
Up until my discovery of those tiny black dots on my cat, I had given the credit for my weird bite marks to what must have been a new breed of mosquitoes and/or mysterious and very gourmet spiders that had a specific taste for ankles and wrists.
The bitemarks were extremely itchy, and once you made the mistake of scratching them, extremely painful. They appeared as little bumps on my skin, very similar to mosquito bites. Within a few hours, they transformed into bigger, slightly-reddish bubbles, looking like drops of water on my skin.
They were mostly on my ankles and wrists which made me consider the possibility of the mysterious biters’ having special tastes.
I have since learned that this species is purely due to logistics.
Where Are the High-flea Infested Areas in the House?
Rugs especially, because your cat frequently walks and lies on them and they provide a habitat like the furry animal skin.
When you stand on your rug, the fleas jump at your skin, usually reaching your feet and ankles.
I usually wear socks, so my bitemarks were all on my ankles and not any higher too.
I can hear you asking: this explains the ankles, but what about the wrists?
When you sit on your flea-infested couch, the fleas have access to your wrists because your torso is (usually) clothed, and your wrists are more likely to rest on your sides and have contact with the seat of the couch rather than your whole arms.
Also, the fleas have an opportunity to jump on you when you pet your cat when they will probably land on your wrists and forearms.
At the height of the cat flea infestations, I would usually catch three to four fleas on my skin.
Fleas are nightmares for you, but what about your cat?
Symptoms of Fleas on Cats
- It is quite hard to notice fleas on your cat at first.
- If you suspect flea presence, check behind the ears and around the neck area of your cat first.
- Your cat might not show symptoms of a poor mood, loss of appetite or sickness at first.
- As fleas increase in number, your cat may feel drained and less energetic.
- If your cat has dark fur, it might be very difficult to notice fleas.
- Brushing your cat regularly may help you notice a possible flea problem early on.
I did a lot of research after I discovered that my house was infested by fleas.
In most articles I’d read online, it said that
I am ashamed to say that before I had my own bite marks, I never noticed the fleas on my cat.
I think this is because unless your cat is completely taken over by fleas, they are very hard to notice.
If you don’t specifically go looking for fleas, it is quite rare to spot them hiding between the fur.
There is another reason why I never suspected fleas.
Since my cat liked to enjoy the outdoors, I adhered to a strict routine of using both internal and external parasite drops, aka flea drops.
It still puzzles me to this day how the fleas overcame that medicine. I have learned that cat fleas are extra-strong in the summertime and this may be one of the reasons why the cat flea drops could not protect my cat.
I never noticed any discomfort that my cat could have been going through. No unusual behaviors, no sickness that I could detect.
Later, when I talked to the vet, I learned that although cats might not show discomfort, they are indeed becoming more and more drained every day as fleas continue to live on them.
They grow less and less energetic and become more prone to getting sick.
My advice would be to check your cat’s fur as often as you can even though you do not suspect any flea presence.
If your cat’s fur is dark it will be extra hard to spot those fleas, so be very thorough in your search.
Inspect behind the cat’s ears and the neck area and look in between the fur where you can see the skin.
Another good idea is to regularly brush your cat – it will not get rid of a flea problem, but it might help you spot them and take timely action.
If you spot fleas, keep in mind that it is very tricky to kill them yourself. They are very elusive because they jump from surface to surface.
Once you catch one between your fingertips, you need to crush it with your fingernails and nothing else will do.
Next steps: fighting the enemy.
How to Get Rid of Fleas in the House
So, you have a flea infestation, or as I like to call it – you are under a flea attack.
What are you going to do? There are three things you should deal with:
- Take your cat to a vet.
- Get a flea exterminator person to your house.
- Take yourself to a dermatologist.
The first two steps should ideally be done simultaneously, by which I mean the same day.
The reason for this is that if you take care of your cat first and bring her to a flea-infested house, she will definitely get fleas again.
If you get the house disinfected and delay your cat’s treatment, then your house will probably be infested again.
So, doing these two things on the same day is key.
This is exactly what I did.
Flea Treatment for Cats
I took my cat to the vet and witnessed her becoming extremely agitated (I’m talking foam coming from her mouth) as the vet sprinkled some sort of white powder all over her fur.
I later learned that this magical white powder is called Diatomaceous Earth and it is made up from ground marine animal fossils which for some reason fleas hate.
As I’ve later learned online, there are other treatments besides this powder which you can administer yourself on the spot without going to the vet.
These include drops like Fipronil and Imidacloprid from different brands. These treatment drops are easy to apply yourself but can take about 36-48 hours to kill fleas and ticks on your cat.
However, if your house has been infested, you probably need to get your cat out of that environment first.
That is why I chose to go to the vet. Also, I would recommend having a professional deal with the treatment rather than yourself.
It would be a more guaranteed and safer way to deal with fleas and any other health issue your cat may have.
As my cat stayed at the vet with a brand-new flea collar around her neck for extra measure, I ran home to meet the flea exterminator guy and show him the situation.
Flea Control Service: Getting Rid of Fleas in My House
There are some things the exterminator will ask you, and if he doesn’t, tell him anyway.
First, he asked me if all our food and things like water glasses, toothbrushes, the tip of the water dispenser were either covered up or put away.
Secondly, he asked me to show him where our cat usually spends its time and where its litter box is.
These are high-flea areas and the exterminator uses more pharmaceuticals for those places.
Thirdly, he asked me to make sure all the windows were closed.
The application of the disinfection process takes roughly 10-15 minutes depending on the area of your house. Then you should leave the house for about 2-3 hours with all the windows and doors closed.
After returning, you should open all windows and air out the house for at least 30 minutes. It is a very quick and easy process.
The pharmaceutical they used at my house was odorless and effective.
After the Flea Control Service
The trick to fighting the second generation of fleas is to refrain from cleaning your house for a week.
You can vacuum and dust, but do not use liquid soap and water.
The eggs from the first generation of fleas that have been exterminated may hatch in this one-week period, so the pharmaceuticals must stay on the surface of your rugs, couches, etc.
You may wash your bed sheets and clothes and do not forget to change the litter in your cat’s litter box.
Once the week is over, don’t forget to thoroughly clean everything.
Also, do not forget the third step of the battle: get yourself to a dermatologist.
If you have bite marks as I did, show them to a doctor and get the appropriate medicine.
Once the fleas are gone you will not get newer bitemarks, but you should apply medicine to the existing ones so that they heal quickly and properly.
So, this is it! You have won the battle against fleas!
Try to take the necessary precautions so it doesn’t ever happen again.
Never skip or delay the administration of the external parasite drop (a.k.a. flea drops), constantly inspect your cat’s skin, and make her wear a flea-collar during summertime. This is something I clearly overlooked because the next summer, I found myself in the same situation: itchy bite marks and tiny black spots everywhere.
My Second Battle With Fleas
The second battle was especially dreadful for a couple of reasons.
First, I couldn’t help but feel very stupid for having this happen to me a second time.
I had done nothing wrong, but here I was scratching painful bite marks that were all too familiar.
I tried denying it, but there they were: little tiny black spots on my cat.
The second reason that this time was worse was that in the midst of all this, my cat disappeared for about a week and then was found dead in the backyard of my apartment building.
It was a horrible week in which I was left living with my missing cat’s fleas.
This way I also found out that even though your pet is not at your house, the fleas do not eventually die out.
Sidetrack: How I Lost My Cat
The reason my cat died is the same reason how I came to adopt her in the first place. Let me be more clear.
Our neighborhood has a pack of dogs that go around at night terrorizing cats. In the mornings they hang out individually and are quite cute and calm. However, when they get together at night, they become a ruthless gang of bullies.
One rainy night four years back, I heard a lot of barking and looked out my window to see my soon cat-to-be being thrown around in the middle of six large dogs. My neighbors noticed this too and together we started shooing away the pack of dogs.
As soon as they were gone, I went to retrieve this poor cat and took her to a vet. She stayed in intensive care for two days.
After she got out, I took her home thinking that I’d have her stay for a week to get better and on her feet. This turned into a couple of years.
So this is what happened again, four years later – but this time I didn’t hear anything and could not save her.
Although she was a bit on the heavy side, she was a perfectly agile cat. During the four years, she was living with me, she always went outdoors and sometimes even stayed out during the nights and nothing ever happened to her.
Maybe she was too weak from having them and could not react to the dogs as quickly as she could. Maybe she was sick and trying to recover and that’s why she couldn’t return home that night. I don’t know for sure, but I think fleas had a part to play in this.
So, if your cat is not strictly an indoors one, please take the flea problem seriously and treat it as soon as possible.
The outdoors is fun but also might pose a lot of threats for your cat. If your cat is not feeling well and is even a bit drained, it might not be able to protect itself from dangerous situations.
My Second Battle With Fleas (Continued)
Having this explained, let me continue with the details of my second battle.
During that week as I was out all day searching for my cat and hanging missing posters all over my neighborhood, I could not get myself to call the flea exterminator and schedule an appointment.
Frankly, I did not even care, all I wanted to do was find my cat, and then I would deal with the fleas.
During those days, whenever I was home, I would wear long-sleeved shirts and tuck my pants inside my socks so that I would be bitten less.
Let me remind you – this was the height of summer.
In the end, I found my cat dead but a little part of me was relieved that the search was over.
Missing is worse than dead I thought because when she was missing there was a range of horrible scenarios in my mind.
The uncertainty itself was overwhelming: will I ever see my cat again?
It kept me in a limbo state and denied me entry into the period of grief. It is counter-intuitive, but this is what I felt.
After the search was over, I called the exterminator. The same guy came to the house, and the fleas were defeated once again.
Yes, It’s True… My Third Flea Attack
By this point, you are probably thinking that I am incapable of learning from past experiences.
That’s what I thought too. However, this time I had done nothing wrong, especially since I didn’t even have a cat! So, what happened?
During the winter I had another cat that had been living with me.
I call her Gray because she has beautiful silky gray fur (I know it is a very original name!)
I had known her for a while from my neighborhood and once the weather started getting too cold, I began taking her into my house as I no longer had a cat that would be annoyed by this new visitor.
My new cat companion Gray stayed with me the whole winter, occasionally going outside but always returning within a few days.
As soon as she moved in for the winter, I started buying internal and external parasite drops for her so that we would stay clear of a flea problem among other things.
As the weather grew warmer, Gray started going out for longer periods and as summer came, she started living outside once again.
So by my third flea attack, I knew Gray could not have been the culprit as she was roaming the streets and not coming indoors at all.
By the end of summer, I had slowly gotten used to the absence of a cat in the house and had consoled myself by thinking that there was at least one upside to not having a cat, which was that I would be safe from fleas.
As had happened two times before, I noticed the first tell-tale sign: the weird bite marks.
I could not believe it and had every reason to deny a flea problem.
I thought I was being paranoid and that they were just mosquito bites.
However, a few days later as I was walking out of my apartment building, I noticed a sign on the door. It went something like this:
I could not believe it; the fleas had snuck into my flat from our apartment!
Here is the twist: I could immediately guess the source of the fleas in our apartment building.
You see, I was aware that a street cat had recently moved into the basement of our building to give birth to three adorable kittens.
I knew this because I was regularly bringing them milk and water.
Even though I’d had two flea attacks by then, it never even crossed my mind that one street cat and its three kittens could cause a flea outbreak in a whole building.
I did not even know that I could carry them inside my flat on myself – on my clothes and my shoes.
Another lesson learned: Never underestimate the sufficient power of fleas!
The building was going to be disinfected, but I would also have to call my own exterminator guy for the fleas inside my flat.
By this point, I was so seasoned that arranging the disinfection date and getting ready for it came very naturally.
It was like an errand I had to run every summer; a fact of life. I had known the exterminator guy for a while now, so we had some friendly catching up to do.
He had had a baby the last summer he had come for the disinfection and we chatted about how much his baby had grown in a year.
I asked him about his most interesting experiences with the most shocking insects. He told me heart-racing thrillers about city dwelling scorpions that liked to hang out as couples.
Once the disinfection was completed, we said see you next summer to each other as our farewell.
I really hope next summer I will not have to call him, but who knows?
So… Is It Possible to Avoid Fleas?
I can’t avoid but I know how to deal.
I don’t know if you can trust my words on the issue of flea prevention.
Clearly, I have not figured out a way to successfully avoid fleas. However, I do know very well how to deal with fleas once you have them.
I also know the things I could and could not have done. As is the point of this flea memoir, there are things you really cannot control or foresee.
I could not have known that my cat’s external parasite medicine could not fight the extra-resilient fleas of summer.
This made me realize that there is a need for an-extra strong flea medicine and maybe putting on a flea collar for an extra measure in the summer.
However, these are things you should discuss with your vet because fleas are different everywhere and of course, each cat is different.
A very strong flea drop might not be a good idea for a cat that has liver problems. The strength of these drops also depends on the weight and age of your cat, therefore it’s best if you disclose everything to your vet and get what is right for your cat.[/su_service][/su_note]
As I just mentioned, you cannot control and foresee everything – like I couldn’t in my third flea attack where there wasn’t even a cat in the house.
Therefore, do not panic and get angry with yourself if you find out you have fleas in your house. It is a fact of life and it is not the end of the world.
If your cat likes to go outdoors, there will always be a chance of a flea encounter.
Hopefully, I have succeeded in conveying to you that fleas are easy to deal with once you know what you are doing.
It is a very small price to pay for having a lovely, free-spirited cat living with you.