Caution should be exercised when trying to eradicate fleas from carpets because some carpet treatments are toxic to cats. Vet’s say that prevention is probably more important than treating cats with fleas. There has to be an holistic approach and that starts with prevention. The carpet is a place where fleas can reside before jumping onto a cat but the question is how to safely clean a carpet? This is a particularly important question because cats are on the carpet a lot. Cats lie on carpets, they play on carpets and are therefore in contact with the carpet.
New carpets have chemicals in them to preserve the carpet. Are these toxic to cats?
Professional Carpet Cleaning
Vacuuming carpets and even having your carpets cleaned will not, apparently, get rid of fleas. It would seem that the only way (best way?) to get rid of fleas is to have your carpets cleaned professionally and there lies a problem and a warning. A cat owner should really know what chemicals are in the professional carpet treatment. Note: Thorough and regular vacuuming combined with disposal of the bag must be helpful at the very least.
Dr Fogle, DVM states1 that “professional carpet treatments with sodium polyborate, sodium tetraborate or sodium borate are highly effective and usually come with guarantees for a year.”
This well-known vet/author is stating that borate carpet cleaning treatments are safe with respect to the cat and effective in terms of killing fleas. However, my research on the internet (and it is difficult to research this subject on the internet) indicates that there is such a thing as ‘borate poisoning in dogs and cats’. This information comes from a respected website, peteducation.com, which is written by two American veterinarians.
We don’t know what quantities of borate are required to cause poisoning and we don’t know the mode of action of the poisoning but poisoning there is. The symptoms of borate poisoning in a cat or dog include drooling, vomiting, abdominal pain and depression including damage to the nervous system.
There would appear, therefore, to be some confusion about the safety of professional carpet treatments which contain various borate chemicals. Personally I would avoid them and I would ask the carpet cleaning company what is in their carpet cleaning treatment. If the answer is unsatisfactory don’t employ them. Cat safety is the first consideration.
Dr Fogle does say that we shouldn’t treat our carpets with ‘laundry-grade borax’. As I understand it, you can buy borax over the counter and therefore you don’t need to go through a carpet cleaning company to obtain it. In fact, a well-known website called buzzle.com recommend borax as a carpet treatment to get rid of fleas. They say it is effective and it is perfectly safe for us. They make no reference to how safe or unsafe it is with respect to the domestic cat.
The National Animal Poison Control Center in the United States has reported that laundry-grade borax increases cases of serious eye, respiratory and kidney problems in cats. Therefore, quite clearly, borax powder sprinkled onto carpets as a way of cleaning the carpet and of ridding the carpet of fleas is a domestic cat heath hazard.
Dr Fogle goes on to say that people should use powder that has been altered for safe pet use but he does not tell us the names of these powders or where we can acquire them.
On the People’s Pharmacy website, Joe Graedon explains his experiences under the title, “Will Borax Kill Cat As Well As Fleas?” He had problems with pesticides. I suppose none of us like to use pesticides and therefore we try and find alternatives. No doubt he was one of these people and his vet suggested borax. In fact, his vet suggested borax because Joe was sensitive to insecticides.
Joe had acquired a kitten from the local rescue centre. The kitten had fleas and he put borax on the carpet and carefully vacuumed it up afterwards. He says it worked beautifully and that he only had to do it once. He says that since he has done it he rarely finds fleas on his cat. More importantly, he says that the powder did not make his cat sick and neither did it affect him (he has bronchitis). He used 20 New Team Borax. I presume he is an American living in America.
Joe’s story contradicts the advice of the National Animal Poison Control Center – confusing. I’m sure that the situation regarding borax and whether it is poisonous or not to cats has confused other people.
Another contributor on the same website says that his Siamese cat was poisoned by borax causing a tumour. He had used borax for flea control and it seems that borax can produce boric acid (perhaps this happens when it gets wet). This person’s Siamese cat inhaled boric acid causing a brain tumour which, incidentally, was successfully operated on.
What conclusions can we draw from these stories? I have to say that the position is confusing in general and, disappointingly, I was unable to find clear information on the internet on this occasion.
We have to conclude that any carpet cleaning treatments are at least potentially poisonous to a cat and therefore they should be used with great caution. I would not use borax or any of the borate chemicals. A known safe way of killing fleas in carpets is to use food grade diatomaceous earth. This is a very fine powder which is sprinkled on the carpet and sits at the bottom of the carpet. It kills fleas by cutting open the exoskeleton of the flea. The killing process is physical rather than chemical and therefore very safe. However, I’m not sure that people will like to use it or, to be honest, how successful it is. However, its use is probably similar in terms of disruption to using borax.
Diatomaceous earth, which is food grade, is even safe to be eat because it is used by farmers to kill internal parasites in livestock.
One of the great difficulties in parasite control is to find ways to do it which are safe for the domestic cat because flea treatments are insecticides; nasty chemicals which are potentially extremely dangerous.
I would always ask a good vet for advice and even then check it. This article throws up more questions than answers but if there is uncertainty about the safety of a product it should not be used.
Note: (1) source: Natural Cat Care ISBN 0-7513-0611-8