The effectiveness of vacuum cleaners in cat flea environmental control

I’ve always said that if you have a cat companion, or especially in a multi-cat home, it is better to have a hard floor. No carpets is best. But if you do have a carpet you might like to know how effective vacuum cleaning the carpet is in order to control the flea population living in it. 😒

Carpets are good places for the flea to complete their life-cycle. Fleas feeding on the cat deposit their eggs on the cat where they fall into the carpet and hatch into larvae which become pupae and eventually an adult flea which jumps onto a passing cat.

In a nutshell that’s the life-cycle as illustrated below which is courtesy of Elanco Companion Animal Health and published here via a Sage Journals study entitled “Flea Control in Cats: New concepts and the current armoury” published in 2012. It is still relevant.

It’s a good study because it also tells us how effective flea treatments are and I touch on this below.

Vacuum cleaning the carpet is effective as part of a holistic plan to get rid of fleas
Vacuum cleaning the carpet is effective as part of a holistic plan to get rid of fleas. Imag: MikeB from images provided by the study referred to.
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

Vacuuming carpets

The study tells us that the best kind of vacuum cleaner to get rid of flea larvae and pupae in the carpet is a “beater-type vacuum”. These are normally upright vacuum cleaners. They vibrate the carpet which makes particles within the carpet pile jump up and down which in turn makes sucking them up into the vacuum cleaner more efficient.

If you want to maximise the effectiveness of your vacuum cleaner in getting rid of fleas in the carpet buy a beater-type model. I have one. It’s very effective but old.

A study found that this type of vacuum cleaning “can remove about 90% of eggs and 50% of larvae from carpets”. I think that’s pretty effective.

Vacuuming also “stimulates emergence and therefore continued vacuuming is essential to remove newly hatched adult fleas.” This means that the beating effect of the vacuum cleaner stimulates the emergence of larvae and pupae. This probably happens because fleas respond to vibrations as it signals the presence of a host on which to jump and feed.

Density and carpet cleaning

The denser the carpet the less efficient this process will be. You might think that carpet cleaning equipment would help to get rid of fleas but the same study concluded that “carpet cleaning equipment and solutions provides inconsistent results.”

The best place to vacuum

I’ve mentioned that when fleas on the cat deposit eggs in the cat’s fur they fall to the ground and therefore to the carpet. In a further study, the conclusion was that “eggs and dried-blood faeces fall or are dislodged from the pelage [the fur] of the host at sleep or resting sites.”

This means that there is a congregation of cat flea larvae within the carpet where your cat normally sleeps and rests. Cats have their favourite places. Some cats don’t rest directly on the carpet. In which case the cat flea larvae will be in their bedding. I’d hoover it. And when you wash bedding it should be at the highest possible temperature, probably 60°C.

Pedestrian traffic

The movement of flea larvae in the carpet is dictated to by pedestrian traffic and I would cautiously suggest that the other best places to hoover would be where people walk on the carpet because they might be the place to where the larvae have migrated.

RELATED: Reason why cat fleas congregate around the neck of a domestic cat

Insecticides

Flea treatments are insecticides; very toxic chemicals. Their toxicity is highlighted by the fact that the manufacturers of spot-on treatments tell cat caregivers to wear gloves and not get it on their skin. It’s that bad. I have an article on why you should wear gloves which may interest you. The point here is that when you wash your hands afterwards the insecticide goes into the drainage system and ends up in watercourses poisoning aquatic wildlife! Sounds remarkable but it’s true. That’s how toxic the stuff is.

Fipronil as a common insecticide in flea treatments. As an example, when applied as a topical spray it has a 99.5% efficiency against adult fleas within 48 hours. And it provides a greater than 98.2% and 99.5% control of adult fleas in a production respectively for two weeks in cats.

RELATED: Advantage Cat Flea Treatment better than Frontline?

My research on the effectiveness of these insecticides is that they are generally very effective with some variations. But they are toxic. I don’t know how many cats are poisoned by the treatments. It might be because the owner uses a dog flea treatment on a cat which is going to harm the cat. What they might overdo the treatment.

Great care needs to be exercised in using cat flea treatments. They also kill bees. Without pollinating insects like beeds humankind would become extinct.

“If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live.”

Albert Einstein

The safest methods are the physical ones namely vacuuming the carpet and using a flea comb daily. Proactive measures are better than reactive measures. Maintaining a very low level of flea infestation or none at all is the better way to go. Letting things get out of hand means conducting a rearguard action with probably less than optimal effect.

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