I love my kitties, but I hate giving them medication, either orally or topically, because afterwards they always hate me, at least for little while (dogs, meanwhile, are usually much easier to treat because they are usually less wary). But I also hate parasites, and so I regularly treat my cats with some sort of flea medication. I have now developed a technique to minimize the stress on my cats and to at least make them hate me, well, less than they used to after a dosing. This Instructable will lay out how I do that.
There are several Instructables already on how to treat flea problems in your home, and none of these should be dismissed. Dusting with diatomaceous earth is always good and always safe, for example. But when you are finally done with "natural" treatments which may or may not work completely, and your kitties are still scratching, it may be time for imidacloprid. Note that scratching alone is not the only symptom of flea bites: cats will also suddenly lick themselves in a spot where they have just been bitten (as opposed to the regular lengthy "grooming" licks which are much more methodical and casual). If you notice your cat suddenly and briefly lick itself on any specific spot on its body, this may be a sign of a flea bite (flea bites cause pain, cats react to pain by licking the site of injury, therefore sudden licking is sometimes a sign of pain from a flea bite).
Imidacloprid is the main (though not only) ingredient in the topical flea ointment "Advantage" both for cats and for dogs. Advantage is expensive as flea medications go, but it is also highly effective (note that there is no difference in the ingredients between the cat version and the dog version— its all the same stuff, just in different size packaging). The good news is that it can sometimes be bought in bulk online at a greatly reduced price. The bad news is that if you get it this way, you have to do more of the application work yourself, including measuring actual dosages. The good news is that this is not very difficult and certainly should not deter you from bulk-purchasing it... If you can find it in bulk.
You will need the following things in order to get the most out of this Instructable:
- Advantage flea medication. If bought in bulk, this will usually include the following:
* a small empty amber glass vial
* a single large tube of Advantage imidacloprid medication suspended in a clear oil
* a small blunt syringe for measuring dosages
(This medication in bulk is occasionally but inconsistently available through Amazon.com. The last seller I bought it from no longer carries it; the seller I bought it from before that also no longer carries it. When it was available, however, I was able to purchase a very large dose for only $23 which has lasted me for many months with two cats.)
[Warning: although any imidacloprid-based topical oil-based medication is likely suitable for this exercise, do not, I repeat do NOT substitute any Hartz-related flea medication for Advantage. A number of pets have apparently died as a direct result of the use of and subsequent allergic reactions to Hartz flea products (read the Amazon.com reviews for ample evidence of this tragedy) and the fact that it is still available for purchase anywhere in United States is a travesty worthy of multiple lawsuits. Do not buy Hartz-anything unless you are looking for an excruciating way to kill your pet.]
You should also obtain:
- A fine-tooth metal flea comb such as this one
- Some catnip, either dry or fresh depending on your cat's preferences, as bait — note that not all cats are responsive to catnip and some cats are only responsive to dried while others only respond to fresh; if your cat is not responsive to catnip consider trying Tatarian honeysuckle sawdust (about a third of house cats that don't respond to catnip will respond to this kind of sawdust as if it were catnip— Note that not all kinds of honeysuckle will work, only Tatarian seems to be effective as a catnip substitute). It is important to have either catnip or a catnip analog for this Instructable to work.
- Some form of cat treats, i.e., a special food the cat will never refuse, as further bait. Mine are especially fond of Temptations bite-size treats, and I can highly recommend them. If you can get your cat to respond to the sound of the shaking bag as a summons, then all the better. Mine come running whenever they hear the crinkle of the plastic bag. Without fail.
- A cat
[Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons]
Step 1: Prepping Your Cat and You
Acquaint the cat with a flea comb
A cat which has never been introduced to to a flea comb before will need to be exposed to one before being treated with imidacloprid. Flea combs are good for removing fleas, of course, but that is not why we will be using one here (more on that in a minute). Make sure your cat is comfortable being combed with a flea comb: let the cat smell it, rub his or her chin against it, and come to enjoy being brushed with it (maybe catch a few fleas while you are at it, even though all of these are about to die anyway). This may take some time, but it will be very important later. Even when I know my cats do not have fleas, I brush them with a flea comb simply to keep them accustomed to it. And they seem to like it quite a lot! Conveniently, my cats are both short-hairs which makes using the flea comb on them very easy.
Withhold treats and catnip
Cats like treats, and they also like catnip, but it is important not to expose the cat to either one ideally for several hours or even a day before attempting the following treatment. The excitement of the catnip and the treats must be relatively fresh for the cat, and if you just gave the cat these things earlier in the day, you will not get the necessary response later during this treatment routine. Treats, like catnip, should be special infrequent events in order for them to be their most powerful, and we need them at their most powerful for this regimen to succeed.
Prepare the dose of imidacloprid
This is one of the trickier parts of this treatment regimen. The adult dosage for most cats is 4 mL of the imidacloprid oil. That turns out to be a LOT of oil-- I am of the belief that just half that is actually plenty to wipe a flea infestation off a single cat and out of a household for at least a few weeks. The oil has a vaguely unpleasant smell but an extremely unpleasant bitter taste (though apparently not considered poisonous) for cats. Once a cat has tasted imidacloprid it will never forget the memory of the smell. This is why you must act with great stealth and under cover of catnip. When you are ready to begin treatment, and you have withheld treats/ catnip for hours, and your cat is already quite familiar with the flea comb and you have this comb nearby, you should proceed by opening the tube of imidacloprid and emptying its contents into the glass vial. Now suck 2-4 mL into the syringe which should have come with your kit. Then turn the syringe upside down so that it is pointing upward and gently tap/ shake out any bubbles while avoiding spilling the medication out the tip. Working the plunger up and down a bit can help with this. We do not want to waste any of this precious, expensive stuff, but it is VERY IMPORTANT (for reasons you will soon understand) that in the end there be no bubbles in the syringe itself!!!
Once you have the syringe filled with the imidacloprid and evacuated any air, you should tuck the syringe under your arm in order to warm the fluid up to body temperature (imidacloprid oil may stain clothing, so I recommend doing this while wearing a tank top or something similar). The imidacloprid will not harm YOU in any way, so do not be afraid to get a drop or two of it on your skin while it is warming under your arm. Allow the syringe at least two or three min. to become properly warm. This is critical: Immediately wash your hands so that there is no trace of the medicine on your fingertips, and do not handle the syringe again until you have dispensed and resealed the bags of treats and catnip (see next step)-- if there is even a small amount left on your hands, you may contaminate the catnip and/ or treats, which will lose all appeal for your cats and this whole exercise will be for naught.
You have now prepped for the act of dosing your cat. If you have two or more (?) cats, you will have to figure out a way to do one and the other at about the same time: if one catches the smell of the medicine on another, it will become wary and suspicious and may then become evasive. I manage to do both my cats in the same deceptive moment, but it is not simple. The kitties are very clever. Yet they must be de-fleaed, for their sake as much as my own. Onward!
Step 2: Dose!
It is time for the treatment:
Summon your cat by shaking your bag of treats. Scatter several in front of the cat to give it lots of visual and olfactory targets. Next, shake a bit of catnip around the food as well to intoxicate the animal. The cat will conveniently place its head down towards the floor and be holding its shoulders and neck in the perfect position for treatment. Rub and gently scratch the cat between its shoulderblades as it indulges. Make it feel comfortable. Then, when least expected, remove the syringe from under your arm with your free hand and, without skipping a beat, deliver the squirt of medicine to the cat's neck/ shoulderblade area in a single, silent, warm, discrete, squirt (NOT TOO FAST!). Then rub it in as best you can with your fingertips, trying to work it down to the animal's skin. With any luck, and if you have followed these instructions carefully, the cat won't even notice what has happened for at least 5 minutes. Once you are done, go wash your hands again.
Alternate delivery method: As one of the tactile clues for the cat that something is "up" is the feel of the medicine against its skin/ hair, you may be better off (and are unlikely to be at all worse off) applying the medicine to your OWN fingertips while the cat has its head down in the catnip and treats and then using your fingers to work it into the fur between the shoulder blades. Consider this approach. The medicine will do nothing to you, and this may be better/ easier than the cat feeling the stuff oozing onto its skin causing a flight reaction before you get a chance to rub it in.
Now, why do you suppose I emphasizes how important it was for you to make sure there were no bubbles in the syringe? If there were, when you emptied the syringe onto the cat, the cat would hear a bubble or two go "pop" behind its head, and immediately turn and become suspicious. We need a silent syringe, silent and warm and well disguised. No bubbles. They are a giveaway. They are like the creaky floor or door hinge when you are trying to sneak across a room in the dark.
And yet we are not quite finished. Not long after the cat discovers that something has happened, it is likely to want to go and hide. This is natural. The cat will also attempt to lick itself clean of the medicine — if you applied it to the correct place on the neck, this should be difficult or impossible. But imidacloprid is a liquid, and does run a bit when it is first applied. This is why you must attempt to get it deep into the cat's fur and close to its skin with your fingertips immediately upon application. Once it hits the skin, the medicine will soon disperse over the cat's entire body in an even, microscopic layer of flea-death. That is the magic of the alcohol solvent in which the imidacloprid is suspended. If the medicine only gets on the fur, it will not spread so far or so effectively and you will end up having a lot of fleas around that you should not (you may need to retreat the cat if you still are noticing fleas after 48 hours or so).
The real magic is next: in the comb...
Step 3: Comb, and Recover
The flea comb is your best friend:
If everything has been done according to plan, and if your cat is at all social, it will soon come round to see you again and to cuddle up. This is your chance to make sure the imidacloprid gets where it needs to go: once your kitty is comfortably by you again, have the flea comb handy and begin gently combing the imidacloprid through the cat's fur around its neck. The cat should welcome and enjoy this experience, having no association between the comb and the medicine and only associating it with the pleasure of being combed. The cat may also perceive the comb as something like a giant tongue attempting to lick the sticky stuff off of its neck, which the cat will welcome (even though this is a mistaken belief, of course). Do not use the comb on any part of the cat other than its neck right now. We do not want to spread the imidacloprid to parts of the cats body which it will be able to lick later, we only want to work imidacloprid down through the fur and to the skin around the back of its neck and shoulder blades. Also note that we are not attempting to remove fleas here: imidacloprid will take care of that on its own within the next 12 hours. The fine teeth of the comb, however, are excellent for working the medicine down through the fur to the skin where it needs to be to kill the fleas. Also, the comb is perfect for dispersing the stickiness of the oil: your cat will hate, hate, hate the feeling of a wad of oil on its neck, but if you brush this oil down to its skin with the flea comb, the cat soon will barely notice the oil is there (other than the smell of it, which the cat will still hate, of course). This makes for a happier kitty. Getting dosed with imidacloprid is bad enough— if you can make it easier by combing it down to the skin, your cat will appreciate this (in a way).
Once your cat has enjoyed the pleasure of your combing it with the flea comb, your job is done: the cat has already forgiven you or never got the connection in the first place, and the fleas are going to die, die, die like the irritating demons they are. Wash out the flea comb with soap after you are done to remove the traces of imidacloprid which it has just picked up, and continue to give your kitty lots of loves, even if he/ she smells a little funny for a day or two. Remember that imidacloprid is non-toxic to mammals, so don't worry about getting it on you and don't let its presence keep you from petting your cat (but still, I wouldn't eat it).
Practice on all of this will make perfect: about once a month, depending on how much scratching and licking you see and on whether or not the flea comb, when used as originally intended, starts catching actual fleas.
I pass my wisdom on to you, and I wish you good luck!!!