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My daughter is allergic to cats...and dogs...and eggs. We don't have any pets, but my parents do. We live about 250 miles away from my parents, but we do travel to see them about once a month.

My parents have had cats my entire life and since before I was born. I would never dream of telling my parents they have to get rid of their animal(s). And, until recently, the presence of the cats in the home hasn't been a problem. We just give Charlotte Zyrtec while we're at their home, we keep Benadryl with us in case the Zyrtec just doesn't do it and, for the most part, everything is fine.

In October we went to visit them. On the Monday after we returned from the visit, I received a phone call from our daycare saying that Charlotte had a rash. I hadn't even noticed the rash when I got her dressed that morning, so I rushed her off to the doctor only to be informed that they were bug bites--probably flea bites.

I called my dad and explained to him what had happened and that we suspected she had gotten bitten at their house. He replied that this was entirely possible since the cat, for whatever reason, favors the bed my daughter sleeps in! But he assured me that he would take care of the problem.

Fast forward to this previous weekend. Another visit, this time for Thanksgiving. My daughter's legs are covered in flea bites. She seems to be the ONLY person who gets bitten (although my husband says he thinks he got bitten some as well this weekend).

This behavior from my mom is uncharacteristic. She adores both of her grandchildren and usually when anything involving their health or comfort is concerned she bends over backwards. But, for some reason, she's done nothing about this.

I obviously don't want my daughter sleeping in a flea-infested bed, but sleeping with us (in a non-flea-infested bed) is not an option. She simply does not sleep well when she sleeps with us, and the guest bed at my parent's house is a full size which will not accommodate myself, my husband, and my 2-year-old. There really isn't anywhere else to sleep at the house.

Also obviously, I could simply refuse to go visit until she deals with the problem, but I really hate to do that. I mean, this is my mom we're talking about who, as I said, is normally very attentive and normal.

So....any other thoughts?

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Can you ask your dad what is going on? –  Christine Gordon Nov 30 '12 at 1:17
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Sounds like less of a cat issue and more of a flea issue. And fleas aren't any good for the cats, either. Maybe volunteer to invest in flea collars and a bug bomb. –  DA01 Nov 30 '12 at 1:32
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Bring your own bedding (and a flea collar)? –  smillig Nov 30 '12 at 9:46
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Lots of great suggestions, guys. Thanks! The cat is all ready on a flea-drop treatment, but new research is showing that fleas are all ready evolving to be immune to the chemical in the topical treatments. My parents are pretty religious about using it which is why this is a bit of a shock. Also, my parents recently had to put their other cat to sleep and I suspect that my mom's reluctance to deal with the flea problem perhaps stems from that. It's the only thing that makes sense. Any suggestion that we stay anywhere else when we visit will be taken as a personal sleight by my mother. –  Meg Coates Nov 30 '12 at 14:00
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Not saying don't try it, but i'll bet the sheets/vacuuming has zero effect. The 4th law of aerodynamics says that you're not going to have enough suck to get deep enough to matter. Just sayin be prepared for that... so like have the healing salves and poultices avail in the morn. –  monsto Nov 30 '12 at 16:47
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10 Answers 10

Two things:

  1. I wouldn't take my child, especially young child, to flea invested anywhere. Even my parents' house.

  2. Since this is a deviation from the norm in your parents, I would be concerned for them. I think it's worth asking "hey is everything okay....? What can we do about this flea problem...?" Etc. No need for blame/shame (as in all my parenting approaches) but what are we going to do about it? Also, again, if this is unusual behavior from your parents, I think it's worth investigating further in its own right.

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If your parent hasn't treated for fleas (or just done a plain carpet wash) due to cost concerns, offer it as a gift or something? Beyond that, just keep in mind: YOU are the mama, YOU make the rules. –  Bryce Dec 3 '12 at 12:22
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I can't pretend to give a direct answer to the question, but I can give an answer. I suspect that it's obvious enough that you've already figured it out, but sometimes it helps to hear someone else confirm it.

The answer is a choice: You can either have a discussion with your mom where there's some sort of implemented solution or you can come down on the side of your daughters health... meaning taking a visit break.

This is NOT the same as saying "fix this or we're not coming over." That is an ultimatum and nobody likes being given ultimatums. This will clearly create more problems than it solves.

There's plenty of room for solutions. If the cat favors that bed, then you might have the daughter sleep with you on the next visit. See what happens.

Along the lines of what BaMama said, I think you shoudl go all the way or not at all... changing the sheets and vacuuming the bed aint gonna do it if there's an infestation. Going all the way would be getting a mattress, but then you have to deal with keeping the cat off of it which could be problematic. A new roll away or portable bed of some sort would work as well... something that you can drag out when you get there then put away when leaving. That would completely solve the bed-flea problem.

But, and it's a big butt, think down the line a bit. . . consider what you're going to do after you've spent a fair sum of $$ and several months and it's not cleared up. Just sayin.

Here's hoping you can get it worked out.

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As Christine already mentioned, since these are your parents and you have a good relationship could you ask what's up and see if there is a way you can help to remedy the situation? If you are concerned about your mom you might ask your dad if he has noticed the difference too. Talking with both of them might solve the problem and also help to put your mind at ease in regard to the unusual behavior from you mom.

If that doesn't work, are you close enough that you could easily pack an extra set of sheets or sleeping bag? For the fleas, something like what DA01 mentions? Purchasing advantix or some similar thing? Then, you could strip the bed, give the whole room and bed a vacuuming which will reduce the flea population significantly (but only very temporarily), she could still make use of the mattress but have something clean and bug free to sleep in. For a resource with more detail and all the steps to do this and general info about fleas, this article is fairly succinct, and clear. It is also a little scary (sorry) but goes over how to care for your daughter's rash too (though I'm sure that part is already covered by you anyway). You might show the article to your parents if during your discussion you think they aren't taking it very seriously.

It seems like some flea repellent for the cat, and a good cleaning + a little time should clear things up. If your mom and dad can't agree to these actions on your part then - especially if it is out of character for them, you might need to take a stronger action. It seems as though, talking should clear things up, but if that doesn't work, you going to all the trouble should also make a point, if that doesn't work I'd have to say invite them to your house instead - while you seek the help for them you feel is most appropriate. I'm sorry I can't offer more about your concern over your mom.

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I agree with Christine that taking her to a place that is infested with fleas, even if it is your mother's house, should be off the table.

The two choices are either stop staying there (I wouldn't try switching rooms, because if the cats have fleas, the only difference is there will be less fleas in areas the cats don't favor), or fix the flew problem.

Note that not staying there does not necessarily equate to not visiting. You could potentially arrange to stay at a hotel, and minimize time spent inside your mother's house without minimizing time spent with your mother.

However, fixing the flea problem is by far the better choice. Fleas are annoying, and uncomfortable, and its not an ideal situation even for the cats (cats and fleas are not a "natural combination").

The first question is: are the cats exclusively "indoor"? I suspect not, since that usually prevents fleas from becoming an issue altogether (in addition to being significantly safer in general for the cats by a large margin). However, if they are exclusively indoor, it makes it easier to eliminate the flea problem.

Even if they spend time outdoors, the problem can be solved.

Here are a couple of good resources on do-it-yourself flea elimination:

However, I'd strongly recommend instead having your mother contact her veterinarian. There are flea treatments (in the form of a few drops of liquid applied to the back of the neck, iirc) that essentially make your pets into a particularly unhealthy meal for fleas for a few days; long enough to break the reproductive cycle of the pests (if you couple it with adequate cleaning of bedding and other flea-infested areas).

Its worth noting that most cats loooove being combed, and using a flea comb is one of the best ways of preventing fresh outbreaks of an infestation (combined with regular cleaning of their bedding).

Helping your mother get rid of the fleas is by far the best choice for you, your daughter, your mother, and, in particular, your mother's cats (since they're the ones who otherwise have to deal with constant flea bites on a daily basis).

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Something I just thought of a minute ago and completely unrealted to my other answer: You said your mom is uncharacteristically tight-lipped about this. Kinda like someone that's just hoping the problem will go away.

Question: How old is the flea-infested cat?

I know my exwife was inconsolable for about a week after her cat died (a cat that we got together) and my mom too with their 3rd dog. In both cases, they knew the pet was nearing Time and just simply didn't want to talk about it.

If it's getting up there, 12+, it may be about that time... and the bottom line is "what are you gonna do about it?" Nothing. You (rhetorical you) will do nothing. No new pills or bath treatments, or even chastising it for biting/scratching Charlotte. You just let the cat pretty much do what it wants for it's last however long.

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Lonas is certainly an older cat, probably over 10, but he doesn't show any signs whatsoever of giving it up any time soon. But they did just have to put their other cat down who was probably almost 15. I think that's where most of this is coming from. Lonas is now their only cat (at one time they had 5) and I think she just feels bad for him. Or something. Strangely, the cat doesn't show any signs of having fleas. He isn't scratching or doing any of the tell-tale things that cats do who have fleas. –  Meg Coates Dec 3 '12 at 14:43
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Are you certain that what you see on your daughter's body is flea bites and not hives? If the cat sleeps on the bed where she sleeps during a visit, the she could be reacting to the hair/dander in that bed/bedroom.

I would try having her sleep on an air mattress on the floor in your bedroom, to see if that helps. If she still has the rash/bites, then I would guess that it's the prolonged exposure to the cat and its hair/dander. I would gently explain to parents that, while you would love to stay with them, your daughter's allergies to the cat won't allow her to sleep there. And then stay with another relative or in a hotel. Your parents might be a bit upset at first, but will quickly get used to the idea. Your daughter's health is more important - if you aren't going to stick up for her in this situation, no one else will!

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These are bites, not hives. We've done the hive thing. She only gets those when she eats eggs. –  Meg Coates Dec 12 '12 at 3:31
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I bet the fleas are not from the surviving cat. Fleas would rather bite a cat and pretty much just settle for people. It's very common for people to only start getting bitten after a cat leaves the household (however it does) since the eggs, larvae, and pupae don't live on the cat, but rather in bedding, carpets etc. (And they can go dormant before adulthood for as long as a year if they don't get indications that there's a host nearby.) Once they are adults, they get hungry, there's no cat any more (since the remaining cat is treated to repel them) - what are they going to do? Adults can apparently go a long time between meals too, and don't always spend that time on the cat. This happened to friends of mine who bought a house - the cat moved out with the owners, but at least some of the fleas (and all of their eggs) stayed behind, and my friends were bitten for months.

Wikipedia has more on their lifecycle and some approaches to getting them out of the home. It seems very fond of vaccuuming, especially if you use plenty of baking soda first in an attempt to dehydrate eggs.

The simplest thing to do if all 3 of you can't fit in the "safer" bed is to put two of you in it and the third where she slept before, or on the floor next to the bed in the same room and people can think all three of you are sleeping in the bed. Bringing a sleeping bag or other bedding for the baby might help - or might result in the fleas coming back with you! I don't think I could suggest to my mother that I vaccuum a room in her home for her, but yours might be different. One thing's for sure though - this isn't a short term thing that will clear up in a few weeks, so it's worth working out a solution.

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After my mom saw how bad the bites were after Thanksgiving, she felt extremely guilty and immediately took measures to eliminate the fleas. They weren't in the bed, they were apparently in the carpet! Since my kids play in the floor a lot, it's not surprising that she got bitten. Since then, we've visited my parents a couple of times and returned with no flea bites so apparently the solution worked. Sadly, my parents just had to put this cat down so they are currently cat-less. On the plus side, hopefully that means no cat-related issues including fleas anymore! –  Meg Coates Mar 27 '13 at 14:24
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Express your concern about Charlotte's health to your parents. Work together to come up with some solutions.

It sounds like the biggest issue is getting rid of the fleas. Do some research about how to eliminate fleas. You will need to both treat the animals and all of the bedding/mattress/etc. You may wish to purchase a bug/allergen-resistant mattress cover that completely covers the mattress and zips up, so that if there are flea eggs in the mattress they don't escape into the bed to bother her.

Secondly, from the perspective of her allergies, having her sleep on a mattress that is in the cat's favorite is a recipe for dander and disaster. I would either bring a blow up air-mattress with you for her to sleep on, or suggest your mom replace the bed frame with a trundle bed frame, where your daughter will not be sleeping on the same mattress the cat naps on.

If you can't eliminate the flea problem don't stay at your mom's house. I'm not saying don't visit, I'm saying, sleep in a hotel for the night when you aren't hanging out with mom anyway ;-). It may help her enjoy the daytime parts of her visits significantly more if she's feeling well and not dealing with allergies 24 hours a day when you visit.

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Talk to your parents about this situation. As you said, you have good relationship with them, wny not tell them what your daughter, for sure, if its your child's health which is at risk, your parent will try to do something to solve the problem. You need to step up and offer them suggestions, so you can resolve this as soon as possible.

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  1. Encourage your parents to visit you more
  2. Rent a hotel room
  3. Take an inflatable mattress
  4. Bring a bottle flea killer each visit as a "guest gift"
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