Thursday, March 17, 2011

Me vs. Flea (part one)

Lately I've been experiencing a bit of a problem at my apartment....

Photo Courtesy of: How Stuff Works

You see, about 2 months ago my oldest cat, Periwinkle, was at the vet's office for a skin irritation on her chin. While the tech was checking out her skin & fur, she noticed a bit of flea dirt in her coat. I had no idea was flea dirt was. Apparently, it's what fleas leave behind after they've digested the animal's blood.... gross, right? So, they decided it was time to put Periwinkle on a monthly flea/tick treatment.

Why wasn't she already on flea/tick prevention? Well, I guess it's time for a little background on how Periwinkle came into my family. In my parent's neighborhood there are a lot of stray cats that roam around. Many of them would wander into my parents' backyard. Occasionally my mother & I would put out scrap food for the strays (no wonder they all "wandered" into our yard, huh?). Periwinkle wasn't like the other strays though - the second I put down food & backed away, she sniffed the food, then came directly over to me and started weaving between my ankles. Seriously, what stray does that? I assumed she belonged to someone else, but she continued to come back week after week, and eventually day after day, until she basically set up camp on our back porch. I like to say that she adopted us rather than the other way around.

Being that my stepdad is highly allergic to cats, Periwinkle had to stay an outdoor cat. One afternoon I noticed a flea on her neck. Now, I was in college & practically broke, so I couldn't afford to run out and buy the behind-the-neck treatments. Instead, I drove to the nearby Wally World (a.k.a. Wal-Mart) and picked up a cheap-o $5 flea collar. I only half expected it to work. But let me tell you what -  I never saw another flea on her! So that became my treatment of choice for her. When I moved out on my own, Periwinkle of course came with me and became an indoor-only cat and I stopped stressing over flea prevention.

Obviously, my methods failed because now my legs & arms are covered in bites. I can see the little buggers  crawling on both cats. It seriously makes me shiver and cringe every time I see one. I was desperate for methods to get rid of the fleas, so I started doing some research online and asking other pet owners what they did in the same circumstance. With all of their advice, here's what I've done so far:

Washed all bedding, bath rugs, and throw blankets in hot, soapy water. The heat from the water is suppose to kill any adult fleas or eggs. Now, I washed my bed linens in this methods (both cats will sleep in my bed occasionally), but decided to just throw out all the cat beds in the apartment. Neither one of them ever used them anyways, so I didn't see the point in keeping them. Not only did it eliminate another place for the fleas to hid, but it also decluttered the apartment some.

Sprinkled salt on the floors, couches, and mattress. Now, I don't totally understand the theory behind this. Supposedly it works as a dehydration agent and kills the fleas. But with how itchy my skin is, I was willing to do anything! Some recommended Epsom salt, others just plan table salt. I used Epsom salt on the carpets and table salt on everything else. Personally, the table salt was much easier to vacuum. And, I think it got into the crevices better than the larger crystals. I maybe let the salt sit for about an hour or two. I chose this route instead of the carpet powder sold in stores because with this I didn't have to monitor where my cats were laying or worry that they would digest it.

Take out the trash after every time I vacummed. This was something that I heard numerous times from many people. As soon as you're done vacumming, empty out the vacuum bag/container into the trash can. Then, immediately close the trash bag and take it outside of the apartment. I've been setting it outside the front door and at the end of whatever cleaning spree I'm in walking it down to the trash compactor. In my opinion, this is probably one of the most crucial aspects of the process - if there is any fleas still alive in the vacumm container, simply emptying them into the trash won't keep them from jumping back out and going right back into your carpet.

Gave the cats a bath. And let me tell you, that was quite an experience! I've never given a cat a bath before, nor had I ever used a de-fleaing (is that even a word??) shampoo. I relied on the advice of my local pet supply store and decided to use Natural Chemistry's De Flea Pet Shampoo specifically for cats and kittens.

Brush, brush, and brush some more. I bought a flea brush from the same pet store. It reminds me of a lice comb - really narrow plastic bristels that trap the fleas between them. I then would dunk the brush in warm, soapy water to drown the fleas. I know this may sound wrong, but this is probably the part I took the most pleasure in. Why? Because I was watching instant results; I was able to see that the method was working right then and there.

So, I'm sure you're wondering where all of this has gotten me. Well, let's put it this way: I'm still finding fleas on the cats and I'm still finding new bites on my skin. :(

But, I still have one more trick up my sleeve! I've talked to the apartment complex about pest control and I've now got an appointment for tomorrow to have the place de-fleaed. Downside: the cats and I have to be out of the apartment for FOUR HOURS!

I promise to update you on how the pest control treatment works and all the preparation that has gone into getting the apartment ready before the guy(s) show up tomorrow. But in the meantime, anyone have suggestions for how to keep two cats entertained for 4 hours?? Right now I'm thinking we're going to sit in my car and just hang out, but I would love other suggestions!

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