Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Fleas and other things

I have previously talked about the security perimeter that my cats have posted around my gîte complex. It doesn’t matter whether you like cats or not, if you live in rural France, living without them can cause all manner of problems. Besides the obvious advantage of keeping the rodent population, except lerots, under control they also keep other less obvious pests away. My friends and even my farmer neighbour are amazed at my vegetable patch, they all wonder why I have no damage from rabbits, hares which this year did severe damage to the local sunflower crop, and birds. I explained it’s quite simple “I have Cats” not only that but they are” feral cats” which means they are never allowed in the house or Gîtes and I only give them sufficient food to keep them loyal, working on the maxim ”keep them lean and mean”. My theory is that there is a mutual respect between the larger mammals and the cats, and in any event why have your baby rabbits and hares close to a gang of cats when there are much safer locations. This applies to larger species like foxes which are quite common in the area but not around me.

Cats are quite protective of their territory and of course their young. In one instance a very large hunting dog had got detached from the rest of the pack and hearing voices on the patio came around to investigate. At the end of the patio near the bushes a couple of young kittens were playing, the dog suddenly caught sight of the kittens and started to advance quite rapidly. The mother cat who was out of sight behind the dog saw the danger, she took off at lightning speed in a large arc around the dog and behind her kittens, she then flew at the dog stopping only a foot or so away standing on her hind legs with her front paws, claws out, waving furiously at the dog her mouth was open showing her teeth and she was hissing loudly. The dog didn’t wait to check out the situation it obviously felt that discretion was the better part of valour, turned tail and ran off into the distance never to be seen again. Neither my guest nor I had ever witnessed any thing like this before, but I’m sure it’s proof of why there are so few pests around.

You may well be asking what any of this has to do with fleas; the answer is that cats can have a down side. There are guests that don’t like cats or are allergic to them, this is one of the reasons why they are not allowed in the house and being feral cats they are a lot more timid, though if offered food this can quickly change. The other problem is fleas, it is true that feral cats do seem to be less susceptible than domestic cats to fleas, they seem to have an immune system which kills them off, I regularly check my cats and there are rarely any fleas to be found, kittens however are an exception, as they do not seem to get this immune system for several weeks, which in its self is not usually a problem. However mother cats like to have their kittens in quiet dark areas and the back corner of a shed or barn is ideal. After a couple of weeks they move the kittens to a new home, and this is the nub of the problem. The young kittens will have attracted fleas and when they are moved most of the fleas are left behind. With lack of a host the fleas often lie dormant or even multiply, only to come back to life weeks later. Now this is the time that they can become a serious problem, with no cats about they will spread out looking for a new host. They can quickly be picked up on clothing and transported into the house, once inside the house however they run riot trying to feed on anything (and that generally means anyone) that they can find. It is no consolation to know that once they’ve bitten you they drop off and die but it is good to know that inside they are reasonably easy to control. With all the windows and doors closed a simple “Flea Bomb”, which can be purchased from any Pharmacy and even some supermarkets, can be let off. The bomb takes 4 hours to work properly it is supposed to last for 6 months and you need a bomb for every 50 m³. You can also use Flea Smokes but you need to leave the building closed for 24 hours.

Out doors the problem is however more difficult to solve as they can spread themselves around. The most effective treatment I have found is to spray the ground with a strong solution of bleach. Another theory that I have is that Fleas are attracted to cats so if I put the food bowl where the out door infestation is, the fleas will attach themselves to the cats and the cats’ immune systems will do the rest, though I’ve yet to put this theory to the test.

Fleas are never a pleasant subject but I hope one of these remedies will help you if you have the problem.

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