Fleas are not only a nuisance, driving the whole household crazy with itchiness and hot spots, but they can also carry disease and tapeworms. Worst of all, in most of San Diego County there is no flea off-season. Our temperate climate keeps fleas active year round, so you can’t afford to ease up the flea control for even a few weeks.
WHY FLEAS ARE TOUGH TO BEAT
Fleas are physically formidable.
They move very quickly, and can jump four feet horizontally and nearly a foot straight up. Their flat bodies make them hard to squish. They’re adaptable, quickly becoming immune to a wide array of chemical flea treatments such as spot-on treatments and pills.
Each female can lay thousands of eggs during its lifetime. In ideal conditions it can take only two weeks to develop from an egg to an adult.
Their bite can result in a severe allergic reaction.
When a flea bites, it injects an anti-clotting agent in order to keep the host’s blood flowing during mealtime. It’s this anti-clotting agent that, at a minimum, results in bump. In a very sensitive dog, cat, or human the immune system launches a full-blown attack.
Feed a quality diet — build defenses from the inside out.
Parasites look for a weak host. A healthy dog or cat is more able to fight off bugs of all sizes. Feed the highest quality food that you can afford. Avoid food and treats that contain corn, soy, wheat, artificial ingredients, chemical preservatives, and by-products. Named meat, fish, and egg should be the primary ingredient in your pet’s diet. To improve digestion, increase nutrient absorption, and improve immunity include a high quality such as Animal Essentials Plant Enzyme and Probiotics, Raw Goat Milk from Answers or Primal, and/or unrefined coconut oil such as Dr Bronner’s Fair Trade & Organic Whole Kernel Coconut Oil in your pet’s diet.
Find and remove fleas from your pet.
Run a flea comb through your pet’s fur to determine if fleas are present. These combs have narrow, closely spaced teeth that can trap fleas and flea dirt. Be sure to have a bowl of sudsy water nearby. If you trap a flea you drown it in the sudsy water. The soap in the water will break the surface tension, preventing the flea from jumping to safety. Fleas can carry a variety of very bad diseases — squishing them with your fingernail is not advised. Not sure if the dirt is from soil or fleas? Clean off the comb with a damp paper towel; if the bits of dirt turn a dark reddish-brown color then your pet has fleas. This dirt is actually flea poop, which contains blood.
Many common topical sprays and shampoos used for flea control contain ingredients that are toxic. Read all cautionary statements. If the product is not safe to use around children, they why use it on your dog or cat? Also, cats are very sensitive to many substances. A product used on your dog can easily be transferred to your cat, then ingested when she grooms herself. If you have a mixed household use only those products safe for the most sensitive family member.
If using essential oils it’s best to use products already diluted to a safe level. Remember, if the oil has more than a faint smell to you, it’ll be overpowering to a dog or cat. Visit GreenPaws Flea and Tick Product Directory for more information on a variety of flea and tick control products.
Keep your dog and his bedding clean.
Although essential oil shampoos, like Howlist's E.O.T shampoos and conditioning oil, DERMagic Flea Bar, or TropiClean NEEM Shampoo are effective ways to kill fleas and sooth your dog's skin any sudsy shampoo made for dogs (it'll be pH balanced for delicate dog skin) will trap and drown fleas.
Don’t let a reluctant bather discourage you. Have a friend help, and try to be patient and calm. If you’re stressed, your dog will be too. To be more effective, start by lathering your dog's neck, this prevents fleas from escaping to the ears and face. Really work the shampoo into the hair to trap the fleas and clean out eggs and dirt. Thoroughly rinse off the shampoo; dried residue can cause itchiness. Afterwards, spritz your dog with Dr Ben's Natural Cedar Oil. Go easy — it’s powerful and you don’t want to overwhelm your dog’s olfactory system. Be cautious around cats, most are just too sensitive for cedar oil.
Make your house a no-flea zone.
Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum! Even if you have bare floors you should vacuum daily, and be sure to dispose of the collected dirt and hair in a sealed bag. Flea eggs and larvae can live in tiny cracks between tiles and floor boards, where they are safe from brooms and dusters.
After a thorough vacuuming and cleaning, apply a light dusting of food-grade diatomaceous earth (be sure to use food grade, not the stuff from the hardware store) or FleaGo boric acid powder deep into carpet fibers and flooring, including along the baseboards and anywhere flea eggs and larvae may get trapped. Thoroughly sweep either product into the flooring and allow it to stay a couple of days before vacuuming. Reapply every few weeks, depending on how vigorous your cleaning methods are.
Diatomaceous earth (commonly referred to as DE), the powdery remains of fossilized diatoms, is a type of algae. Diatom cell walls are made of silica and are very sharp. These sharp edges cut through the exoskeletons of bugs causing them to dry out, making DE a very effective bug killer. Food-grade DE is non-toxic to humans, cats, and dogs so you can also work it directly into your pet’s fur. Go sparingly — less is more.
DE and boric acid work similarly, but are very different substances. Food grade DE is non-toxic to humans, dogs, and cats and can be applied topically as well as ingested. Boric acid powder is not as safe and should never be applied directly to your dog or cat, or otherwise ingested.
A word of caution: both diatomaceous earth and boric acid powder are fine powders and easily inhaled. It’s advisable to wear a mask to reduce respiratory irritation. Also, be sure that your pets do not help you with this task as they are much closer to the floor and should not inhale the dust. As always, we recommend using food grade diatomaceous earth — because you never know what your dog, cat, or baby will eat.
Manage your yard.
Fleas and larvae tend to avoid light so keep your grass short and rake up leaves. Spray patios and yard areas where your dog relaxes and plays with Dr Ben's Natural Cedar Oil. In addition to spraying cedar oil, diatomaceous earth (DE) can be safely used on your grass, just be sure to apply it evenly and not smother your lawn. DE can also be dusted at the entrances to squirrel and gopher holes. These critters often carry fleas. Although you can buy diatomaceous earth at your gardening store it will probably not be food grade, and therefore will contain various impurities. To be prudent always use food grade DE in areas where you pets will be — you’ll feel better knowing they’re stepping, rolling, and napping on a safer substance.
Also available at your gardening store are beneficial nematodes, tiny flea predators, which can be applied with a hose sprayer or watering can. Looks for the species that dine on fleas. Some nematodes have a different diet. Be careful to not release nematodes in the same ares that you are spraying cedar oil or dusting with DE — you’ll kill those little guys too!
A FINAL WORD OF CAUTION
We often think that if some flea control is good then more’s better, however, this isn’t the case with flea control, especially chemical and pharmaceutical methods. It’s extremely important that all product usage instructions are strictly followed. READ THE CAUTIONARY STATEMENTS BEFORE ADMINISTERING/USING THE PRODUCT! Never use flea control intended for a dog on a cat, and vice versa. Even when flea control instructions are followed, your dog or cat may still experience side effects. Consult your veterinarian if your pet begins to salivate excessively, has difficulty breathing, becomes lethargic, or just isn't himself after exposure to any pest control product.
Not all itching, scratching, and biting is caused by fleas. If your pet is itchy and scratches or bites himself excessively, consult your vet to determine the direct cause of this behavior. Most often itchy dogs and cats are suffering from flea dermatitis, allergies, or dry skin, but it's best to find out for sure.