Ahhh the dreaded flea.
Know your enemy
By the time you can identify fleas on your pet, it is likely that your home is already infested. While adult fleas reside on your pets, the earlier life stages of the fleas live and grow in your carpets, pets’ bedding, etc. A single female flea can lay 10 to 50 eggs per day and upwards of 2000 eggs in her lifetime. Thus one adult flea can literally lead to an infestation of tens of thousands. Only 1% of the flea population will actually live on your pets which leaves the other 99% lurking in your house and yard in various live stages. The adult female will lay eggs on your pet, who will then act something like a salt shaker, spreading the eggs in the house. The larval stage will emerge within 1 to 10 days. The flea will remain in this stage for 5 to 11 days. This stage is the period of vulnerability where you can kill the juvenile pest. Next the flea will spin a cocoon where they will safely rest for one day to six months. During this stage your only hope is to vacuum or wash bedding where the cocoon lies. The flea will remain in the protective cocoon until conditions are right and then emerge to begin the life-cycle all over again..
Now you understand why flea bombs or one time sprays and treatments do not work to rid you of your problem. These products only kill the adult and larval stages of the flea population leaving 8 to 10% of the population to later emerge from their cocoons and then we begin again.
Treatment options vary widely. There are a number of effective chemical flea treatments these days and generally they are much less toxic than the older organophosphate type treatments. Many of these newer treatments work in ways that are specific to fleas and will not affect mammals (dogs,cats,people). That said, side effects are seen and recognized with all of these treatments and many people continue looking for alternatives.
Arming Your Pet for Battle
Let me first begin with a note that healthier animals DO repel fleas better and lets further this by recognizing that nutrition is the foundation for health. Efforts to improve your pet”s nutrition and supplement with a vitamin, preferably a whole food supplement such as Juice Plus can help your pet repel these pests and greatly reduce your chances for re-infestation in the future. Some supplements of particular value when fighting fleas include Fatty acid supplements to improve your pet’s skin and hair coat, Probiotics and Digestive enzymes to help your pet make the most of his meal, Garlic and Brewers yeast will make your pet “less tasty”.
Of course this will not fix your immediate problem so let,s continue…
The Battle Begins
There are numerous natural treatments for fleas. I will try to talk about some of the more reliable options that are out there. Generally, when treating for fleas, you need to think of both killing the adults that are on your pets and also the younger life stages that live in your house. As I mentioned earlier, the pupal stage that exists in your home is sheltered in a cocoon and is almost indestructible. To complete eradication, you need to encourage these pupa to hatch by increasing the temperature in the house and allowing the animals to move around freely. Both heat and exhaled carbon dioxide will stimulate hatching. These young adults, ready for their first blood meal, will quickly jump on your pets and can then be killed.
The Battle in the Home
In the home, begin simply by washing all bedding that the pets sleep on and thoroughly vacuuming the house. You can put moth balls or borax in the vacuum cleaner bag or better yet dispose of the bag outside immediately after vacuuming. A safe cleaning solution for surfaces in the house can be made with 1 cup rubbing alcohol, 1 cup distilled water, 5 to 10 drops lavender, and 5 to 10 drops peppermint oil. Finally, at night, set up flea traps in areas needed. To do this you need a bright night light or a table lamp placed on the floor. Place shallow bowls of soapy water around the lights. The fleas will be stimulated to hatch out and come to the heat of the light and will die in the water baths. This will work most effectively if there is not another heat source in the room- animal or other.
Boric acid is a very effective way to treat the home. Boron is generally considered safe with at least limited exposure. What I consider Flea Busters signature product is a borate powder to spread throughout the home. They claim it is 33% less toxic than regular boric acid. This works by drying, or desiccating, the younger life stages of the flea.
The Battle on your Pet
Topically, a simple bath in any soap will kill many of the fleas on your pet. Follow this up with a good flea combing to brush out the remaining slowed or stunned fleas. I often recommend Neem shampoos. The neem seed is generally considered safe although there are reports of neurologic toxicity when infants and young children have ingested neem products. There are also neem sprays and powders that you can use to kill those fleas who linger or hatch out after the bath.
Dips made with 3 Tablespoons of Apple Cider Vinegar per gallon of water are sometimes helpful. I have also had clients use a solution of 1% hydrogen peroxide saturated with borate powder. Other people use Avon Skin So Soft at a concentration of 2 oz per quart of water to use to dip or spray.
Dr. Pitcairin recommends making a flea powder with one part each eucalyptus, rosemary, fennel, yellow dock, wormwood and rue. Use as many of these as you can find, put them in a shaker bottle and apply liberally as needed.
Many people like to use essential oils to treat fleas naturally. PLEASE remember that natural does not automatically translate to safe. Sassafrass and Pennyroyal oils have both shown efficacy in killing fleas but both can cause skin irritation and pennyroyal oil can cause liver and neurologic damage and can even be deadly when ingested. What ever you put on your pet topically, you shouldexpect to be consumed as your pet licks and cleans himself.
Orally you can dose garlic safely at 1 clove per 40# per day for most animals. Do be aware that garlic in excess can be toxic to dogs and cats and please check with your veterinarian to be sure that this dose would be safe for your pet. 1/2 teaspoon of brewers yeast per day can be dosed to cats. 1 teaspoon per day for a small dog up to 2 heaping teaspoons per day for a large dog.
The Battle in the Yard
The yard can be a source of re-infestation, so do not forget to address this as well. Squirrels and other hosts are constantly spreading flea eggs where ever they roam. To begin, keeping the yard free of debris will help. Even a thorough watering can drown the larval stages. Using a nematode product is another non-toxic method to explore. Sold commercially as Flea Busters nematodes, Interrupt and Flea Halt, these products are quite effective. These nematodes have wonderful appetites and love to help you clear your yard of juvenile fleas. Many people also spread diatomaceous earth on their lawns. Be careful to limit exposure to the dust when applying.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you need some help from science. One of the breakthroughs of the newer flea control medications is that one product will affect both the adult population on the animal and also the earlier life stages living in the house. Of these products, I find Advantage to be the safest and most effective option. I am by no means suggesting that Advantage is a natural product or that it is without side effects. That said, many of my clients have not been able to win the battle naturally or are looking for an easier way to treat fleas that is not too toxic and Advantage seems to fit the bill. Given busy schedules and lives, regular pet bathing and more extensive house treatments may not be an option or just may not be working for you. If this is the case in your situation, do not fret. Try to minimize applications. For those living with animals who do not have severe flea allergies, I often recommend waiting until you see the first signs of fleas to treat. Treat with chemicals when things get out of hand and try to use the more natural means to decrease your dependence on chemicals.