Here in the Pacific Northwest it’s about that time again. Time for spring to happen, time for the dormant flea stages in the outdoors (the eggs and pupae) to start maturing so they can enjoy the warm weather and feed off of our pets.
What’s a concerned pet parent to do about fleas? Sure, you could buy pesticide products like Advantage and treat all the time as a cautionary measure, but I don’t recommend that for several reasons. For one thing, if you don’t have fleas, there’s no need to be putting those chemicals on your pet every month.
Additionally, parasite resistance is an emerging concern. Much like antibiotic resistance, because of the constant exposure to chemicals like Advantage (are you using it monthly all year like the company recommends?), fleas are evolving resistance to those chemicals. The really not good news is that there are no big advances that appear to be coming soon in the pesticide industry. That means that if what we have stops working, then the individuals who really need it like those with badly infested homes and neighborhoods or severely flea allergic pets or humans will be without a good way to clear out their environment. Next week we’ll talk about what to do if that does happen to be your situation.
So, if your pet and other family members aren’t severely allergic and you don’t have a current infestation, how can you keep the little guys at bay without your dog or cat wearing a hazmat suit every time they go outside?
There are two components of a successful flea eradication or prevention program:
- Environmental treatment
- Treating fleas on your pet or preventing them from getting on in the first place
I’m sure you’ve heard of chemical sprays for your house or your yard, but this doesn’t eliminate the concern with parasite resistance, nor does it help to decrease the amount of chemicals in you and your family’s lives. Fortunately there are other options!
Parasitic Nematodes: Most everything has a predator. While fleas are busy preying on your pets, there are natural flea predators as well. These tiny worms live in the soil and eat the flea eggs, larvae, and pupae. Most of the flea population in an area at any given time is comprised of these life stages with the adults you see making up a small portion of the population. If you want to use these in your yard, now is the best time of year to do so before too many of the immature life stages become adults. You can get them on Amazon, among other places.
Ladybugs will also eat fleas, but I think the beneficial nematodes are far more effective because they eat the more numerous life stages.
Diatomaceous earth (DE): This is a great solution for both indoors and out. Diatomaceous earth is a powder made from the tiny silica skeletons of diatoms. The way this product works is to physically cut up the fleas. This works on all life stages. Please only use food grade DE instead of garden or pool grade. The garden and pool grade DE has been processed in a way that makes it bad for lung health. These particles act like asbestos and will not leave the lungs if they get in there. Food grade DE does not do this, though I certainly recommend keeping it away from faces in the powder form, it can be drying to skin and irritating to mucous membranes like eyes, noses, and airways. You can buy food grade DE on Amazon, at pet stores, and at some health or feed stores.
I recommend using food grade DE on pet beds, furniture, and carpet, basically anything that can’t go in the washing machine. If you aren’t trying to eliminate an infestation and are just preventing, you may not need to get that crazy with it, though.
Preventing fleas from getting on your pet. Chemical pesticides can certainly work for this, but again, there is that concern about resistance developing and reducing chemicals in your environment. I have already seen several flea populations that are resistant to Advantage or Frontline, one that was resistant to both, and one population that seemed resistant to Comfortis.
If you don’t have a current infestation, the goal is to keep fleas from the environment getting on your pet and coming home with them. If you have a cat or dog that mostly stays in your yard, nematodes and food grade DE might be enough to keep your house and pet clear. If you go to dog parks (or other parks), have wild animals, or neighborhood cats that come through your yard, you may need an extra layer of protection.
Essential oils: This is the best, least toxic way to repel fleas from your dog or cat. Just remember that cats are very sensitive to essential oils, so make sure to use a product that specifically states it’s safe for cats and always use it according to the directions. There are lots of products on the market now: My own Bug Off concentrate blend (this is a concentrate and will make a lot of usable product when diluted), Vetri Science’s Vetrirepel spray, Wondercide, or Cedarcide. Be cautious with the cedar based products, they are very effective and generally quite safe, but more pets are allergic to cedar than most other essential oils. Additionally, cedar oils can be very irritating to the skin even if there is no technical allergy. I recommend generally using these sprays once daily on dogs before they go outside, and a couple of times a week on cats. Directions vary, though, so be sure to read the label on the product you decide to get.
Remember that cats (and some dogs) may not appreciate being sprayed. You can certainly spray the product onto your hands or a towel and wipe it onto their coat, or Vetrirepel comes in a wipe product as well as spray bottles.
Please, if you are finding and using an essential oil flea recipe from the internet, check the ingredients out for toxicity first, always dilute, and use only high quality oils like doTERRA, Young Living, or Original Swiss.
Sometimes in some situations I do recommend pesticides for short time periods. Stay tuned next week for my thoughts on this.
Have questions? Email me! I love blogging, especially when I know it’s answering my tribe’s questions.
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