Fleas: Winning the Battle Naturally
More than an occasional itch, more than mild discomfort, fleas can be deadly for humans, domestic pets, and all mammals and birds.
Yet even though we want to rid our homes of fleas, many chemical remedies can be quite frightening. When products have such warnings as: “Avoid contact with skin” or “Call poison control center if swallowed,” we can only wonder what these harsh chemicals are doing to our animals.
As safer products are developed, natural remedies can help manage fleas without resorting to pesticides in many situations. This article cannot give advice on what specific products are the best oral or topical treatments for your pet, but will outline some natural strategies to rid your home and companion animals of these dangerous pests.
Know Your Enemy
The most common flea is the cat flea or Ctenocephalides felis for both cats and dogs. Adult cat fleas often remain on the host where they feed, mate, and lay eggs (about 20 to 50 eggs per day). Generally reddish- brown in color and no bigger than a head of a pin, they have no wings but they can jump 7-8 inches vertically and 12-13 inches laterally. Their mouths have tube-like structures, designed for sucking blood. Their only food is blood, and they can’t reproduce without it.
Flea eggs are small, white, oval and about 1/32 inch long, and they often fall off the pet into bedding and carpeting. After 2-5 days, the eggs become wormlike larvae. The larvae feed on dried blood and excrement produced by adult fleas. The larvae usually live in bedding, carpeting, and cushions. In 1-2 weeks, they build cocoons and pupate, developing into adults. According to the University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program, the best way to manage flea infestations is to break the life cycle at several points, interrupting reproduction.
Here are some natural ways to combat fleas in the home:
• Vacuum regularly-not only the places where the pet lies, but throughout the home. A laboratory study done at the University of California showed that vacuuming catches about 96% of adult fleas.
• Wash the pet bedding, particularly putting fabrics through driers to kill flea larvae.
• Baking soda or salt can be used to kill flea larvae by dehydration. Sprinkle a layer onto a carpet and work it into the fibers down to where the larvae and eggs are, and that will dehydrate and kill them. It is easily vacuumed up afterwards.
• Bathing your pet with pet-safe soaps followed by brushing and combing with a metal flea comb is a safe way to reduce flea infestation. But realize that fleas rarely drown in a bath; they can revive after being submerged, so dispose of them carefully, and comb your pet with a metal flea comb.
• Flea trap: A well-known nighttime trap for fleas is to place a bowl with water under a nightlight and add some dish soap to the water. The fleas are attracted to the light and jump into the water. The soap keeps the flea in the water and it is unable to escape. (It has also been suggested that this method is very satisfying for all of those who want to count the bodies of their enemies).
• A number of natural herbs repel fleas: Eucalyptus, tea tree oil, cedar chips, cedar oil, lemon oil, lavender oil, vinegar and garlic can all be used in sachets that are unpleasant for fleas. These oils and plants can be placed in a muslin bag and placed around the pet’s bedding or places where they rest. Please note that you should never use essential oils on the skins of cats, and do your research if you are planning to use any of these topically for your dog. As an example, a spoonful of apple cider vinegar in your dog’s water is known as a helpful way to repel fleas, but not for cats, whose pH balance would be affected. Similarly, a little garlic mixed into a dog’s food can be effective, but it is not good for cats.
• Natural Pet Products: Take the time to explore the many excellent remedies offered and as always, do your homework, either doing the research online or asking your pet’s health care professional.