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FIELD GUIDE to FLEA CONTROL for CATS

A flea control/prevention treatment is strongly recommended for each cat planning to visit any boarding cattery. Unfortunately, indoor-outdoor cats often encounter and catch stray fleas, even indoor-only cats may harbor fleas introduced to their homes aboard unwary humans, and unwittingly infested cats will inadvertently carry fleas into a cattery. To protect your cat apply (at least 48 hours prior to check-in) a topical flea control product like Advantage or FrontlinePlus for cats.

To check if your cat has fleas part the hair and look at the skin on its belly or look on the back just in front of the tail for fleas or "flea dirt." Flea dirt is digested blood in the fecal matter of fleas. It can also be seen in or under your cat's bedding, in its brushes, or by using a fine-toothed "flea comb". Flea dirt looks like pepper, tiny black dots, or comma shaped structures. Put any suspected material on a light colored surface or paper towel wet with water. After about 30 seconds, any dissolved flea feces speck will turn the water around it reddish brown. Should you find an infestation on your cat, where your cat sleeps, or anywhere your cat can access, your cat may carry adults or droppings despite treatments. We'd advise you bathe or diligently comb kitty with a soapy solution then clean and treat your cat's carrier with flea powder.

Cat Flea Life-Cycle Basics - The ordinary cat flea - (Ctenocephalides felis) is the most common parasite on the cat’s skin. Fleas survive by jumping onto a host animal, cutting open their skin, and feeding on the blood. In most cases, they cause only a mild itch; but a heavy infestation, especially of kittens, older, or ill cats might cause severe anemia or even death. An effective and safe flea control strategy requires an understanding of the flea life cycle and what flea control products are safest for cats.

  • Eggs - After taking a blood meal, fleas mate on the skin of the cat. The female lays eggs within 24 to 48 hours, and may produce up to 2,000 eggs in a four-month life span. When your cat scratches, jumps, moves and sleeps, the eggs fall off and incubate beneath furniture, in carpets, and cracks, with the highest concentration in your cats preferred spots or bedding.
  • Larvae - In 10 days the eggs hatch into larvae that feed on local debris, and avoid light by residing deep in carpet fibers under furniture or rugs and in crevices. In approximately 7-18 days flea larvae spin a cocoon and go into a pupal stage.
  • Pupae - Fleas are most resistant to insecticides in the pupal stage. It takes approximately 7-10 days for the pupae to develop into a pre-emerged adult flea but the flea can remain in a ready-to-emerge state for days or months.
  • Adult flea - The adult flea emerges within seconds when stimulated by vibrations, warmth or the exhaled carbon dioxide in the breath of a host. Immature adult fleas search for a host immediately after hatching, but can live for one or two weeks without feeding.

Environmental Flea Control – To immediately reduce fleas in your home, thoroughly clean the entire house by vacuuming and washing bedding and rugs, then applying environmental flea products, sprays, or powders containing insecticides or IGRs on the carpet. Vacuuming only removes eggs and food sources from the carpet. Larvae curl up around carpet fibers and pupae stick to the carpet. For effective control, the home must also be treated where eggs and larvae are developing, especially in areas most frequented by your pets.

In conjunction with carpet shampoo, I.G. Regulator with Nylar may be combined with a liquid, non-heat extracting, carpet shampoo application. Prior to treatment, carpets, draperies and upholstered furniture should be vacuumed thoroughly and the vacuum cleaner bag disposed of in an outdoor trash receptacle. Remove pets and children from the area to be treated. Following dilution instructions on carpet shampoo and in IGR product instructions, add IGR to shampoo dilution to be applied to carpet. Mix well and shampoo carpet as per instructions on the shampoo product label. After treatment, do not allow children and pets into treated areas until carpet is completely dry and thoroughly vacuumed.

Sprays or Powders to be applied to carpeted floors may contain: Diatomaceous earth; Sodium polyborate powder (electro-statically charged); Pyrethrins- derived from chrysanthemums; Methoprene- IGR; Fenoxycarb-IGR; or Nylar-IGR. Insect growth regulators (IGR) disrupt egg and larval development, but do not kill adult fleas. IGRs are often sold through veterinarians and pest control operators and are available in environmental sprays, some topical flea treatments like FrontlinePlus, and fleas collars.

Foggers, many are toxic to cats, usually contain: Pyrethroids- synergized natural pyrethrins or; Permethrin a neurotoxin that is highly toxic to cats. Some foggers also contain IGRs. Mist may not settle into cracks in upholstery and beneath furniture. Do not use foggers in rooms inhabited by young children because high residue levels can remain for a week or longer. It is important to restrict cat access from areas that are hard to treat, such as children's playrooms, crowded garages, and work areas.

Light traps placed around the home may collect fleas upon emergence from their cocoons, but it is doubtful that this trap will attract fleas off your cat.

Topical Flea ControlAvailable flea control products include sprays, collars, washes, combs, powders, oral suspension and spot on treatments. Scientific evidence regarding adding vitamin B, Brewer's Yeast, or garlic to your cat’s diet suggests these methods are of little value. Scientific evidence has also shown that ultrasonic and insecticidal flea collars are not effective.

Flea powders, sprays and shampoos will only kill the adult fleas on your cat at the time of application. At any given time, only about 1 percent of the flea population is composed of adult fleas, while 99 percent remain in the egg, larval, and pupal stages An effective flea control program requires killing adult fleas PLUS their eggs and developing larvae in the environment.

Program, an insect development inhibitor (IDI) sold through veterinarians, is given orally or by injection and disrupts egg and larval development, but does not kill adult fleas. Capstar given orally kills adult fleas. Because all of these products prevent fleas from reproducing they eventually rid the environment of fleas.

The most effective Spot-on products include an IGR ingredient to treat infestations on the cat and in the environment by killing three stages of the flea’s life cycle. Frontline, Frontline Plus, Advantage, Advantage Multi, Revolution, Biospot Topical, and Advocate are some spot-on brands. Frontline Spray and Biospot Mist act similarly to their spot-on counterparts. Note that many products that are safe for dogs are not safe for cats. Please consult your vet for the best treatment for your cat.

(From the NRDC article Poisons on Pets) Flea control products now on the market also include seven "organophosphate insecticides" (OPs). OPs work by interfering with the transmission of nerve signals in the brains and nervous systems of insects, pets and humans alike. In overdoses, OPs can kill people and pets as well as insects. But even with normal use of flea-control products containing OPs, pets and children may be in danger.

The seven OPs are chlorpyrifos, dichlorvos, phosmet, naled, tetrachlorvinphos, diazinon and malathion. They are the active ingredients in dozens of pet products. (A comprehensive list of products appears in Table 1 of the NRDC article.) It includes major pet pesticide brands, such as Alco, Americare, Beaphar, Double Duty, Ford's, Freedom Five, Happy Jack, Hartz, Hopkins, Kill-Ko, Protection, Rabon, Riverdale, Sergeant, Unicorn, Vet-Kem, Victory and Zema.

The continued exposure of people and pets to OPs contained in pet products is distressing because safer alternatives are available. Physical measures, like frequent washing and combing of the pet and vacuuming carpets and furniture, can bring mild flea infestations under control. Alternatives include insect growth regulators, or IGRs, which are chemicals that arrest the growth and development of young fleas. These include methoprene, fenoxycarb, pyriproxyfen and lufenuron (Program®). Alternatives also include newer pesticide products sprayed or spotted onto pets, such as fipronil (Frontline®) or imidacloprid (Advantage®). When used in combination with physical measures, the safety and effectiveness of these newer chemical products makes the use of pet products containing OPs rash and unnecessary. Cats are particularly vulnerable, since they often lack key enzymes for metabolizing or detoxifying OPs. As with children, a cat's small size and unique behavior -- in this case, grooming -- work against them as well, making them particularly vulnerable to OP poisoning.