One of the biggest headaches a pet owner can face is the dreaded flea. If you are one of the unfortunate flea-fighting warriors reading this, and you want to know how to get rid of fleas, hopefully this post will help you finally free your home and pet from the annoying little pests. If you are fortunate enough to be flea-free, I think you’ll find some valuable tips to ensure your home and pets stay that way.
In his book, Dr. Pitcairn, a well known holistic veterinarian, explains that adult fleas live about 3-4 months during which time they are steadily laying eggs on your pet. The eggs look like dandruff or salt crystals that will then hatch out into larvae that live in cracks and crevices of rugs, upholstery, blankets, floors, sand, earth and the like. They cannot travel farther than one inch, so they feed on the specks of dried blood that fall off your pet, along with the eggs, during grooming and scratching. After 1-2 weeks, the larvae go through a cocoon stage and 1-2 weeks later, they hatch out as small fleas that hop onto the nearest warm body passing by. They bite the person or animal for a meal of blood and start the whole process over again. Depending on the temperature of the house or environment, this cycle takes anywhere from 2 to 20 weeks. During summer, which is prime flea season, the entire cycle is usually just two weeks long.
If you currently have fleas that you want to be rid of, I’ve checked my reference books and online resources for the easiest and most successful methods to help. Keep in mind that you can’t just do one of them and expect to permanently rid your home and pet of fleas. Getting rid of the fleas currently on your cat or dog isn’t going to do much good if you don’t get rid of the eggs and larvae in the bedding and other areas. Fortunately, I found some tips and tricks that will hopefully help solve you and your pets’ current flea problems and prevent future ones from occurring.
One common theme in all my research was that a healthy pet will have an immune system that fleas find unattractive, so making sure your pet is healthy with a strong immune system will help you in your fight. Just a couple of things that are recommended to help boost health and immunity include a species appropriate diet and immune boosting supplements like mushrooms and echinacea. Unfortunately, this topic isn’t cut and dry and I don’t want to get off topic here, but it’s definitely worth the time and effort to invest in to make sure you get as many happy and healthy (and flea-free) years out of your pet as possible. I’ll be covering this topic in more detail in future posts.
Some of my resources recommended using garlic (grate or chop a clove or two in each meal) and brewer’s yeast (1/2 T. for small dogs and cats, 1 T. for large dogs) in each meal. The theory is that this makes the pet emit an odor and taste that fleas find unappealing. One even suggested using brewers yeast on your pet’s coat 1-2x a week, applied outdoors, since fleas may desert your pet when it’s applied. Results for these and similar treatments are mixed if you read online, and there is controversy about brewer’s yeast being allergenic when so many pets suffer from some form of allergy nowadays and garlic being touted as great by some and harmful by others, so depending on your feelings about these two subjects, they may be things you try more as a last resort or as a first line of defense.
Citrus based d-limonene products were also mentioned in one or two of my reference books, but from an amazon search, results also seem to be mixed and it is kind of expensive. Herbal collars, also mentioned as a safer alternative, had even worse reviews on amazon. I mention safer, because in his book, Dr. Pitcairn details how the active ingredients in most flea and tick repellents can have long-term health risks and add to the toxicity load your cat or dog already has from everything he or she touches and ingests, which is counterintuitive to having a strong immune system. If you must use the hardcore treatments to rid fleas on your pet, make sure you have all of your other household treatments (vacuuming/washing/etc.) done so you aren’t possibly just making the fleas more resilient to the chemicals, while not interrupting their life cycle that’s happening on the bedding/carpet/furniture, etc. You should also consider detoxing your pet with something like milk thistle if you go with the harsher treatment.
One of the more popular, effective, and safer (albeit messier) flea treatments I found in my research was diatomaceous earth (only use the food grade version). Due to its very fine consistency, it works by rubbing off the waxy coating of bugs and essentially drying them up. The biggest downside to diatomaceous earth is that because it is so fine, and can irritate the nasal passages and lungs, wearing a mask is recommended while applying it, and caution should be used when putting it on or near your pet. Once you put the DE down, you should wait as long as possible for it to damage the exoskeletons of the fleas and their developing young, ideally a couple of weeks, before vacuuming it up, to give it plenty of time to kill the fleas and their eggs. Here’s a brand with several good reviews from people who had a flea problem: http://amzn.to/2sMRtH2
Another safe and very inexpensive option that got a lot of positive reviews for getting rid of fleas came from one of my top go-to sites that I always check out when I’m looking for a remedy to a particular issue for myself or my animals. Here’s a recent post I did about that site: http://savingcatsdogsandcash.com/one-top-go-sites-ailments/ This very diverse, affordable, and effective product hailed as a great help in eliminating fleas by many, was apple cider vinegar. The most common treatment method people used was mixing half apple cider vinegar and half water in a spray bottle and spraying their pet daily with the solution, while avoiding the eye area. More information can be found here: https://www.earthclinic.com/apple-cider-vinegar-for-fleas-in-dogs-and-cats.html
There are also several flea-fighting options available for treating the yard and outside. They include sprinkling diatomaceous earth (the DE must be dry to work) in areas where your pet sleeps or lies, keeping your grass mowed short which allows the sun to heat the soil and kill the flea larvae, and by watering your yard regularly to drown developing fleas. Also mentioned in my research were encouraging ant populations, which love to eat flea eggs and larvae, and spraying nematodes, microscopic worms (found in pet and garden stores) that are dispersed via hose sprayer, with special attention paid to making sure they are placed in damp, shaded areas where fleas thrive. The nematodes prey on flea larvae and pupae. The nematodes will eat the ants, however, so you have to do one or the other, not both, to help eliminate fleas. Once the fleas disappear, so will the nematodes.
When starting your journey of flea eradication, a good starting point is to first bathe your pet with non-medicated shampoo, soaping from around the neck back, forming a barrier to keep fleas off your pet’s head and face, where trust me, they will try to get to to avoid the soap and water. Let the soap sit as long as possible, ideally at least 5-10 minutes, before rinsing. Once you have rinsed your pet, hopefully eliminating most fleas, you will want to wash all of the bedding your pet(s) lies on and dry it on high heat, then vacuum the floor and other pet areas (furniture, rugs, etc.) very well. Dr. Pitcairn recommends putting a flea collar or part of one in the vacuum bag to kill any fleas you vacuum up, while other sources recommended emptying the contents of the bag or completely replacing it, while another suggested putting it in the freezer to kill the fleas and all their offspring.
Whatever method you decide to use, remember that washing the bedding and vacuuming every week are two of the most important things you can do to interrupt the life cyle of the flea, so you must be consistent and thorough with this. Spraying the apple cider vinegar and water mixture on your pet and also the bedding has been reported to be very helpful as well. In between the washing, vacuuming and whatever other (if any) method you may use, it is also very important to continue checking your pet with a flea comb. This may be a couple or few times a day, once daily or even weekly, depending on what your flea situation warrants. The goal is to catch any stragglers before they have a chance to get the vicious cycle back going in full force. Use a container of warm soapy water to dip the comb in in case you find any fleas that you need to kill, as you comb. I recommend doing the combing on a white or very light surface, such as a sheet, towel, or flooring, so if the flea tries to escape, and it will, it is easier to spot and kill.
Personally, I’ve never had any major flea outbreaks, and after thoroughly researching this topic, it could partly be due to the fact that I do most of the recommended things every week, including keeping my yard mowed often and short (usually 2.5″ to 3″). Despite having six cats and two dogs that are indoor/outdoor, with currently ten cats and dogs total, fleas have never been an issue, despite new animals I’ve taken in having them. I’ve found that quickly spotting and eliminating the fleas at the first sign through bathing and/or very frequent flea combing prevents a few from turning into many. I’d rather be vigilant and not have to use anything that could potentially injure or kill my pets after killing one once from a vet prescribed (non-flea related) medication I’ll be writing about soon. I also learned a long time ago that to protect my carpet, furniture, and bedding from cat and dog hair, dirt, debris and other pet related ick, having designated towels on the furniture as well as a flat sheet on top of my comforter (for the cats), and sheets on the floor for the dogs and their beds to lay, make it much easier to keep the house and carpet clean.
Here’s a picture of Cooper sleeping on the designated towels on the couch, which can be quickly removed in case of company, and my living room floor with Stormy (L) and Ruby (R) on their designated sheet (drop cloth I picked up years ago at Home Depot for this purpose) and bed (which has an easily removable cover). Every weekend, we just gather up the towels and sheets and wash them. The rooms, and if not being washed, the dog beds, are all thoroughly vacuumed before the sheets are put back down.
After reading this article, I’m sure you can see that it’s much easier to prevent fleas than it is to get rid of them, but it is possible with diligence and consistency. If you are interested in reading more tips from Dr. Pitcairn, as his book had a lot of information and many more possible solutions in regards to flea treatment, including a table with the effects of the chemicals used in conventional flea medications, than any of my other four holistic pet health books, and is a pretty good resource for other natural treatments in cats and dogs, here’s the link: http://amzn.to/2thHLKc