My Cat Has Fleas: Earth-Friendly Solutions

Her situation is so bad she has even tried tearing her fur out to get some relief. I won’t use the bee-killing flea meds. Yes, they work. But every time they are used we are breeding fleas that will eventually become immune to the neonicotinoids. Which means we will have to use stronger poisons in the future. And I did mention the bee-killing, right?

So what to do? Since my prayers went unanswered the job now falls to Science. I realized I have two problems here:

1. Controlling the flea population
2. Relieving my cat’s misery

If anyone has ANY Earth-friendly suggestions I am all ears. Here’s my plan so far:

Flea Life Cycle

Electron microscope photo of a flea from WIkipedia. Public domain.
Electron microscope photo of a flea from WIkipedia. Public domain.

What do I know about the flea’s life cycle? Fleas go through a complete metamorphosis: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. What is the weakest link?

Not the adult flea. It has a hard exoskeleton and moves very quickly.

The weakest link has to be the egg. How do you kill tiny flea eggs? I dunno but I do think I can remove them so I bought a flea comb a couple of days ago. At first Pyewackett was unimpressed and would only tolerate my administrations briefly but today I spent a good half hour gently combing her. She purred and purred. Though I do pride myself on knowing a few phrases of the cat language, I wasn’t sure if this was the masochistic purr of giving birth or the purr of pleasure. Let’s just go with the happy purr for now.

Flea Dirt 

You can catch an adult flea on the comb and try to drown it but I find they usually just jump away. Onto me. Yech. And yes, I am allergic to cat fleas. But catching fleas is not the main purpose of the comb. I am using the comb to remove eggs and the ‘dirt’ left behind by flea bites. People say ‘dirt’ but it is really dried faeces made up mostly of cat blood! I was going to make this into a Real Science Project and measure the amount of flea dirt each day but I found my kitchen scale isn’t up to the task. Hopefully, I think I will be able to tell over time if things are getting better by the cat’s behaviour.

Flea eggs will usually just fall off a cat but the comb makes sure they fall onto a contained surface that I can clean and remove immediately. Some people lay out paper. I just used the floor. After a quick vacuum (and throwing the dust away immediately because the larvae can pupate in the vacuum cleaner) I spritzed the area with a vinegar solution. Not sure if vinegar is toxic to fleas or necessary but it seems to be the bomb for every other household cleaning job so why not.

I read one source that recommended using the comb 5 times a day. Yeah. Well. Let’s start with once a day. But, I will also sweep the floor every day and spray any hard surfaces she lays on. Soft materials will need to be washed or vacuumed at least once a week.

And For Her Misery?

In an ideal world, I would keep fleas from coming in contact with her in the first place. That sounds like a job for a repellent. There are some promising things being done these days with essential oils. Plants have evolved all kinds of neat ways to keep bugs off. But the problem with essential oils is that most are toxic to cats. So toxic that even inhaling them can create a life threatening situation.

I think spending the time each day combing her is a psychological boost and keeping her hopeful will help ease some of her suffering. Will that be enough? While I am open to the possibility I won’t leave it to chance.

Because I still think that buying things solves problems (working on that issue), I impulsively bought two products in a late night internet panic. If they actually work I will give them a shout-out later. (I plan on doing a regular update on this project so I don’t lose momentum and also to monitor if an earth-friendly approach can work. If we are going to stop using neonicotinoids we are going to need alternatives.)

The most promising product I bought is a dry shampoo made especially for cats. One of the ingredients is diatomaceous earth. Another is dried horsetail. Both are sharp enough to scour any insect body that would come in contact with the powder. The micro-abrasions should cause any fleas that come in contact to die from dehydration. One reservation: will these ingredients irritate her already inflamed skin?

Another promising ingredient in the dry shampoo is catnip. Evidence is piling up that catnip is an effective mosquito and tick repellent. I am hoping the fleas won’t like it either. Doubts: it is in a dry form and not highly concentrated so we will see. Silver lining: she will like the way she smells.

The other product I bought is an anti-itchy spray to be used for hot-spots or allergic responses. In theory it is supposed to be safe for cats. When a flea bites someone’s skin, its saliva has some nasty properties. It softens the skin to allow the puncture and then acts like an anticoagulant to keep the blood flowing. A veterinarian once told me that with hyper-sensitive animals (and me apparently) even one flea bite can cause an allergic response or “insane itching that won’t go away until you flay the skin off your body” as I like to call it. Unfortunately, I have since found out that some of the ingredients (aloe vera and calendula) are sketchy for use with cats so I think maybe I won’t use the spray on her but on me. hahaha. I’ll let you know if it brings any relief to humans. Note to self to contact the people I bought it from. Is there some mitigating feature that makes it appropriate or were they just unaware of the potential hazards?

For the cat’s hot spots I will use something less fancy. I am going to try coconut oil. Cats are indifferent to the taste and I haven’t been able to find any cautions against its use. I am hoping it will ease some of her discomfort and give her skin a chance to heal.

to be continued ….

Update here

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25 thoughts on “My Cat Has Fleas: Earth-Friendly Solutions

  1. I admire your dedication to finding a natural solution! I haven’t had to deal with fleas since around 2003. Back in 1999, our cat had a bad case of fleas. We lived in a state where there are documented cases of plague and I must admit that I didn’t hesitate to use topical Advantage. I used Advantage for years after that until we moved to Las Vegas where thank God there are no fleas or ticks! It was wonderful. (Well, I shouldn’t say “no” fleas. Technically our Vet said there were spots where fleas existed, but for the part, there weren’t any fleas.)
    I hated those horrible flea collars and back in the 90s I made natural flea collars for our Lab – a tube of cotton fabric stuffed with some herb and fastened with Velcro, but I can’t remember which herb! I also remember putting something in the water bowl for both dogs and cats, and I’m wondering if it was vinegar? Can’t remember that either! But I also think what ever it was gave my cat urinary track problems. But maybe not. (Sorry I can’t remember. :( )
    We are back in an area where plague is a threat (2 cases this year) and where a lot of wildlife like skunks and squirrels and coyotes pass thru. This cat is an indoor cat so I don’t worry about fleas. (Although I have no doubt that I brought the 1999 fleas home from an abandoned property I had to tend to, so I know that’s always a possibility.)
    I wish I could help… but wish you the best of luck! Looking forward to reading the “to be continued”…

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  2. I have no real knowledge about cat ailments, but if you are using vinegar to clean up, how about dipping the comb in vineger (or a diluted vinegar solution) every so often while combing through the hair. I do know that some (human) eczema sufferers swear by apple cider vinegar (or even just plain vinegar), so maybe by directly introducing it to the skin, it might attack a few eggs? If Pyewackett’s skin can handle it of course.

    Maybe even a vinegar-olive oil mixture.

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  3. Sorry your kitty is suffering :(

    Beneficial nematodes sprayed over your entire yard, especially early spring, helps immensely. For prevention.

    FOOD GRADE dia. Earth broadcast over yard , and in kitty fur helps too…especially in the stage you are in of the life cycle.

    I’m sorry!:( keep us posted

    I wash floors with a splash of oran

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    1. Thanks for the tips and the concern. I had forgotten about the nematodes. Treating the surrounding environment makes a lot of sense. Next year! The dry shampoo does have diatomaceous earth. So far it doesn’t seem to be a problem for her inflamed skin. I was worried about that.

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          1. I don’t have much to add, except “Poor kitty” and we also use a topical on our dog, though our cats don’t typically have fleas. Not sure why, but I’m not complaining. There are topicals available for cats. Good luck with the fleas. I mean, the cat.

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            1. Pyewackett and I both thank you for your concern =) The silver lining is that she seems to be really enjoying the attention and grooming. =) I am also learning a lot as I search for non-toxic solutions.

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  4. We use a topical anti-flea/heartworm/parasite formulation on our indoor cats (because mosquitoes do get in our house) that does not rely on a neonicotinoid formulation. I’m not saying it is perfectly safe, nothing is, but I accept the dosing as a measure to prevent our cats from getting fatal heartworms from mosquitoes.

    After a lot of thought we decided years ago to keep our cats indoors except for brief front porch smellathons. That lack of access really helps with the flea and tick issues. Do our cats suffer from watching nature through the windows or because they were neutered before having offspring? I think about that a lot but have no way to know. It feels an acceptable trade off to me.

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    1. It is all about choices and finding a balance that works. Since her infestation I have kept her inside. If the comb doesn’t work — or doesn’t work quickly enough — I may apply a pesticide since I don’t want her to suffer. I do want to know if older nontoxic ways will work and if I can avoid using a pesticide entirely. I am surprised there are so few home remedies.

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    1. That’s a fair point. I can’t remember if Advantage is the internal or topical version. The internal version of course gets excreted into the environment eventually. You can’t throw trash ‘out’ because there is no out. It is one planet. The topical treatment seems like less of an obvious threat. I can’t really imagine a honey bee landing on my cat and then flying off dusted in poison. But, I just don’t want to support the pesticide industry by giving them any encouragement/money to continue creating these poisons. If I buy a neonicotinoid for my pet, the industry can continue making the stuff, continue trying to broaden its use, continue earning a profit and continue developing even more toxic substances. Insect generations are so short it does not take long for them to develop immunities so new and more deadly toxins have to be developed. Also, the idea that there is ANY safe dosage for a pesticide is a lie. That was just a legal shortcut to allow these things to be marketed. Even back in the day of Silent Spring scientists knew that minute quantities accumulate in a body over time until they greatly exceed the original dose. I want to support industries that are less dangerous and so this is an experiment to see if a low tech solution can be effective.

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      1. That is true. They will continue to make them. Advantage is topical, a liquid that is applied to the back of the neck. The problem is both my dogs were allergic to fleas, so it was very necessary for them. I wonder if flea allergy in pets has anything to do with the insects ability to tolerate these chemicals and the pets immune system diminishing because of repeated use of chemicals?

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        1. Oh gosh. Flea allergies are so horrible. My old dog also had a terrible flea allergy and just suffered. I tried everything on the market and I hate to admit it but the neonics at that time really worked well. They eased her suffering and seemed to solve the problem. That’s a really interesting question about what these things do to our pets. I have a terrible story about these meds. I remember when they first came out my vet actually said: “This stuff is so safe I don’t hesitate to recommend it. You could drink it and not feel any effect at all.” !!!!! I’m pretty sure he has a different story to tell now. Yipes.

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  5. Hi Debra, there is a mosquito repellent made by the cosmetics company Avon called “Skin so Soft” It is not actually marketed as an insect repellent but it has a fantastic reputation. I have heard that this is the product used by the Special Forces (S.A.S.) only they call it “Mozz Off For Men” :) I remember reading that it was perfectly safe to use on children and pets. I don’t know what is in it or how it has been tested. I don’t use insect repellents myself as I try to get close to them but maybe it could help your cat. That is a fantastic picture of a flea BTW they are so beautiful :)
    Colin

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    1. Fleas are pretty amazing creatures I have to admit. I have heard that can be a good repellent. Thanks for the tip. =) Right now I am open to any and all suggestions. I’ll have take a look at the ingredients to see if any are toxic for cats specifically. Sometimes things that are safe for dogs or humans can be deadly for felines.

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