First of all, 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.
They’re abundant! 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.
In San Diego, flea season is year-round. You can’t afford to ease up the flea control for even a few weeks.
1) Treat Your Pet: Diet and Grooming Tips
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. Identifiable meat, fish, and egg proteins should be the primary ingredient in your pet’s diet. To improve digestion, increase nutrient absorption, and improve immunity include a high quality probiotic and digestive enzymes such as Animal Essentials Plant Enzyme and Probiotics and raw, unrefined coconut oil such as Dr Bronner’s Fair Trade & Organic Whole Kernel Coconut Oil in your pet’s diet.
Run a flea comb through your pet’s fur to determine if fleas are present. Be sure to have a bowl of sudsy water nearby. These combs have narrow, closely spaced teeth that can trap fleas and flea dirt. 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. If you trap a flea 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.
An essential oil shampoo, like Howlistic’s E.O.T. shampoo, or TropiClean Neem Shampoo is an effective way to kill fleas and sooth your dog's skin. 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, suds up the neck first, this prevents the 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.
Wash your dog or cat’s bedding each week! Spritz the bedding and 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 with cats, many are just too sensitive for cedar oil.
Diatomaceous earth (commonly referred to as DE), a fine flour-like powder, is the microscopic remains of fossilized diatoms, a type of algae. Diatom cell walls are made of silica and are very sharp. It is these sharp edges that cut through the exoskeletons of bugs causing them to dry out, making DE very effective bug killer. Food-grade DE from Earthworks Health 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.
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. Neem products are generally safe for use on both dogs and cats. 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.
2) Mechanized Warfare in Your House
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.
Two products that work similarly, but are very different, can be safely used against fleas: diatomaceous earth and FleaGo boric acid powder.
After a thorough vacuuming and cleaning, apply a light dusting of diatomaceous earth or FleaGo 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.
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 don’t need to inhale the dust. As always, we recommend using food grade diatomaceous earth -- because you never know what your dog, cat, or baby will eat.
Although food grade diatomaceous earth is non-toxic to humans, dogs, and cats and can be applied and even ingested, boric acid powder is not as safe and should never be applied directly to your dog or cat or otherwise ingested.
3) Mechanized Warfare in 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 Nature’s Defender Cedar Oil. Diatomaceous earth can be safely used on your grass, just be sure to apply it evenly and not smother your lawn. Apply it also to squirrel and gopher entrances. 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.
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. 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 vet if your pet begins to salivate excessively, has difficulty breathing, or becomes lethargic after exposure to any pest control product.