Non-Toxic Tips for Flea SeasonAnna Maria Greene April 1, 2023
Such a little thing really – a flea. But when we find them among us, a common reaction is to call in the big guns and blast those bloodsuckers to kingdom-come. But do you really want masked men touting toxic-laden apparatus to be your perennial pals, along with a bunch of wee nasty nippers?
The natural approach to any health-related issue (human or animal) is holistic and individualistic – and fleas are no exception. This means putting time and effort into understanding all aspects of your flea dilemma, and the best place to start is by being preventive (a core philosophy of alternative medicine). If you already have an infestation and are counting the flea bites as we speak – there’s still hope. Read Part 2 of this article: “Bye Bye Fleas.”
Three Steps to a Flea-less Pet
There are several things to consider when dealing with fleas (your pets, home, garden, and de-flea products). Let’s start with your pets and how to make them undesirable to the flea.
A three-pronged approach is the cornerstone to keeping your pet(s) happy and protected from those itchy tormentors: a healthy diet and supplements, good grooming techniques, and a natural flea collar for outdoor pets.
Fleas like places to hide, so grooming is paramount. If your pet’s coat is sleek and shiny it’s harder for fleas to make a nest in there than if it’s all matted and dirty. So brush your pet as much as they’ll let you – especially before and after you’ve taken your dog for walks in the park and woods, or when you let kitty out to roll around in the garden grass.
No matter what you do, a flea or two will make their way onto your pets’ coat. So a fine-toothed flea comb is the primary tool for catching these strays.
Using the flea comb: Set up a jug of soapy water and a glass of water with a capful of apple cider vinegar (ACV) in it, and sit down on the floor with Mr. Itchy on a blanket. Comb him and dip the comb in the soapy water (any fleas on the comb will drown), then dip the comb in the apple-cider water for rinsing, and keep going. Make it part of a regular regimen, until flea season is over. The ACV will also serve to kill leftover fleas; and when your pet licks their fur, the nutrients in ACV will be ingested, rather than chemicals.
Fleas aren’t just annoying. They can cause sickness in pets, such as anaemia and infections from scratching, as well as emotional distress. They can also transmit other parasites.
As with the matted coat, fleas will infest a weakened animal more quickly than a healthy one, so it’s important to boost your little buddies’ immune systems and make sure their diets are rich with nutrients that help their bodies fight germs and deter invaders. Here are some tried and true tips to prevent fleas from hitching a ride on your furry friends:
Feed pets organic, not commercial foods that contains unmentionable by-products. Some pet vets and owners swear by a raw food diet. If you use meats, choose a local organic farmer as your supplier.
Add a good general immune booster and infection fighter to their diets. In 50 Ways to Pamper Your Pets, writer Arden Moore recommends a diet rich in omega-3 and omega-6 oils. You can also add a small amount of brewer’s yeast to meals. Garlic is also an option for dogs (not for cats as it can be toxic to them). Fleas despise garlic.
A parasite cleansing would be helpful, too. Colloidal silver (which you can put in your pet’s drinking bowl and is known to kill more than 500 strains of bacteria)(1), as well as the herbs wormwood and black walnut hulls, are common parasite killers (make sure the hulls are green as they lose their medicinal properties when they turn colour). Some owners have professed that ground pumpkin seeds also work well.
3) FLEA COLLARS
Ingredients in standard flea treatments have been shown to cause severe problems for animal health.(2) Natural options are available though. Some pet owners have used home-made eucalyptus collars for dogs (not for cats), with success. Others owners have claimed that simply spraying their dogs’ coats with water and lemon juice keeps the fleas at bay.
For cats, you can make a homemade collar stuffed with finely ground red cedar chips. Studies have found that a specific species of red cedar (Juniperus Virginiana) is non-toxic and kills all stages of the flea.(3) However, be careful using any essential oils as many can be highly toxic to cats in particular.
Consult a natural pet vet before using any homemade treatments on your beloved animals if you are at all unsure. Size and health history will be factors to consider in the application of any natural remedy on animals.
Part 2: De-Fleaing Your Home
THE DIRT ON FLEAS
If you find yourself with a severe flea infestation, it would behoove you to get to know your tormentor. This begins with learning how it thrives.
Knowing the flea’s life cycle puts you ahead of the game, because now you can focus on catching the eggs before they hatch. During its brief life, a single flea can produce up to 50 eggs. It takes two to 12 days for the hatching, and for 21 days thereafter they feed on flea feces.
In the final stage, the pupa can lay dormant for up to eight months. So, let’s suppose you have 100 mama and papa fleas bunking in your condo – a very conservative figure – and each mama pops out 50 babies. Do the math and you‘ll get a scenario you’d probably rather not have in your head, let alone your house.
A classic test to determine the degree of your flea infestation is to walk down your hallway barefoot; if five or more fleas land on your feet within seconds, this puts you in the severe category. (Why five is the tragic number I have no idea; it would seem to me that one flea nipping at your heels is an ominous sign not to be ignored). It means by now you likely have thousands of starving insects in attack mode, out for all the blood they can get, and that figure will multiply rapidly.
First, try not to freak out and phone the 911-pest hotline. We want quick fixes in our society, but these Band-Aid solutions (like so many wonder drugs and treatments such as antibiotics and pesticides) have proven to be about as healthy as the nuclear arms race. There are natural ways to handle the problem. Here are some top tips from alternative pet healers and owners to help you deal if you find your pets or you scratching.
1. NATURAL BORN KILLERS: non-toxic solutions for an infestation
Diamatreous Earth (DE) – a finely ground powder of fossilized sea algae – has been often recommended as a natural solution to killing mature fleas. There are two types of DE; you want to get the benign kind available at eco-friendly stores such as Grassroots.
How it works: When fleas move through the sharp grains, it cut their bodies and they die. Some controversy surrounds DE. The dust arising from the sprinkling process can cause respiratory problems, so you should not have your pets present when applying it and you’ll need to wear a protective mask. Scatter the powder at the hotspots – baseboards, carpets, and on pets’ bedding as well as your own, if they’ve taken a shine to you. Leave it for a few days, then vacuum these areas. If you treat your bed, seal the mattress with a cover; give it time to work, then remove the cover, drop it in a hot soapy bucket, and vacuum the mattress. Dispose of the vacuumed contents in a well-sealed bag as there may be flea eggs in the mix.
DE is very effective and safe if you take these simple precautions. Unlike with chemical sprays, there is no toxic odour and residue does not linger when you vacuum.
For those still hesitant about DE, mineral salts or borax on carpets and bedding are other popular options. Follow the same protocol as with DE.
2. CLEANING OUT THE COCOON
To make sure the cocooned eggs do not hatch and escape, timing and fastidious cleaning is key. Again, vacuum everywhere daily during the first few weeks of infestation – especially carpets and places where the pets sleep. Seal the contents of your vacuum bag well (some suggest putting it in the freezer to kill the larvae; others use wintergreen oil sprayed in the vacuum bag, as it kills eggs on contact). Wash all bedding and dry at high temperature, as extreme heat kills all stages of the flea cycle (a steam cleaner is an excellent tool that can be used on upholstery as well). Thoroughness is your ticket out of flea hell.
Others have recommended stuffing eucalyptus leaves along the baseboards or spraying areas with the oil, but not if you have cats. Always take care when using essential oils with animals; consult a specialist beforehand.
The Flea Bath
If your pet is severely infested, you can bathe her using a natural de-flea shampoo. The Soap Works Pet Shampoo, available at Grassroots, has the following ingredients and qualities: all vegetable contents, pH neutral, chlorophyll and cedar leaf essential oil – a mild deodorant and repellent. But don’t let Fluffy run off while still wet, as she will shake her fur and the hardier fleas that have survived the bath will leap for cover.
3. YOUR OWN BACKYARD
The Birds and the Fleas
One of the beauties of nature is that it really does have an answer for everything. And one natural solution to flea overpopulation are birds. Amazingly, our fine-feathered friends find fleas scrumptious. So hang a bird feeder on a tree near your house and put tempting seeds in it. The birds will come and feast on them as well as on your garden fleas, and you’ll get to hear some pretty songs and see colourful little bodies flit past your window.
Ants and spiders also keep the flea population down but, like anything, you want balance. The last thing you need is an ant colony taking over your basement. However, as usual, there are healthy ways to handle this problem too.
The process of managing fleas naturally is a fair undertaking at first, but the more you learn about it and how to handle it yourself, the more empowering it is. It puts you, not the fleas and your local pest-control company, in charge of your home, your life, and the lives of your loved ones.
References and Sources
- Powell, Jim. “Silver: Our Mightiest Germ fighter.” Science Digest. March 1978.
- Dudley, Kathleen. “Are ‘Spot-On’ Flea Killers Safe?” The Whole Dog Journal. February 2002.
- Moore, Arden. Fifty Ways to Pamper Your Cat. Storey Books
- “The Wonders of Colloidal Silver.“ https://www.cs.kestar.com.au/general.htm [extracted from the World Wide Web, April 9, 2010]
Anna Maria Greene is a Toronto-based writer, editor & book coach with a niche in memoir writing and more than 30 years experience. She is also an animal lover who believes in the power of natural healing for all life on Earth. Anna Maria is published extensively on many topics, including numerous success stories using natural remedies to heal both humans and animals. She can be reached at: amgreene.wixsite.com/writer/contact