Up to Scratch Remedies
They might be tiny, but they’re tough, hardy and persistent. If you share your life with a dog or cat, fleas are often a fact of life during warm weather months, which can be year-round in some climates. Implementing a holistically designed prevention and control program is the way to go. These seven suggestions will help you get through, flea-free.
Start with Prevention
Don’t wait until fleas make their appearance before acting. Taking preventative steps before flea season starts will help your dog or cat repel any they happen to pick up and minimize the chance of an infestation.
The healthier and stronger your companion is, the less he will be affected by fleas. A primary way to keep in peak condition is providing a quality diet of whole, natural ingredients, free of hormones and pesticides. Try a raw frozen or premium canned food.
Flea-repelling supplements are generally good for overall health, as well. Salmon or flaxseed oils are full of essential fatty acids that promote healthy hair and skin. When introducing any supplement to an animal’s diet, it’s good to first consult with a holistic veterinarian.
Adding a clove of fresh grated garlic to a dog’s food each day helps build his immunity, while generating an odor fleas find unattractive. Note that many vets don’t recommend feeding garlic to cats, because it can sometimes damage their red blood cells and cause anemia. Try brewer’s yeast instead; it acts as flea repellent and is a good source of vitamin B1.
Frequently brushing your dog or cat removes the dead hair, mats and tangles that provide a perfect hiding place for fleas. Also invest in a flea comb, a fine-toothed grooming tool designed to snag adult fleas. Pay special attention to areas where fleas can congregate: under the legs, around the head and tail and on the belly area.
Regular bathing helps keep fleas off your animal. Use a gentle shampoo with natural ingredients that won’t dry out or irritate skin; aloe and oatmeal is an excellent choice. Soap well, especially in areas where fleas typically collect, and try to leave the lather on for 10 to 15 minutes, to drown existing fleas. Rinse thoroughly.
With dogs, product selections include natural shampoos, conditioners and rinses that contain flea-repelling essential oils such as lavender, rosemary, tea tree, mint, neem and citrus. These oils soothe and refresh skin and cut through odor and grease without drying the coat. Remember not to use essential oils on cats, as they are toxic to felines.
If you already have a serious flea problem, you’ll need to take additional measures. Because fleas reproduce prolifically and rapidly, you need to break their life cycle to get rid of them. While direct flea-repelling product applications can help, they don’t actually kill the fleas, eggs or larvae. So, in addition to looking after your animal’s hygiene and health, you also need to tackle his immediate environment.
For dogs with fleas, topical applications of essential oils can prove an effective alternative to traditional chemicals. Tea tree oil is especially good and will kill fleas. Keep in mind that essential oils are strong and should be used sparingly; it’s best to dilute them with water. Consult with a professional aromatherapist for more detailed advice.
Again, do not use these oils on cats. Use aromatic hydrosols, instead. Herbal flea powders and collars are another alternative—be sure to get a natural product.
Inside the House
The next step is to go on a major cleaning spree. Thoroughly vacuum all carpets and upholstery, taking care to penetrate dark corners and crevices and along baseboards; dispose of the vacuum bag promptly. Launder anything washable in hot water, such as cushion covers, curtains or bedspreads; otherwise, use a green dry cleaner. Frequently wash the animal’s bedding and regularly clean all surfaces he lies on. To help keep fleas from returning to the bedding, try sprinkling cedar shavings or lavender seeds in and around it.
You can also carefully sprinkle natural, unprocessed diatomaceous earth on carpets, along walls, in corner and cracks in the floor, even under sturdy upholstery. It will interrupt the fleas’ interior functions and kill them. Helpful, sodium-based flea-killing products act as a dessicant and work to break the life cycle by drying out flea eggs and larvae.
Outside the House
In warm weather, fleas can live happily in the backyard, ready to jump on your animal companion as soon as he walks past. Clear the area of any piles of dead leaves, brush or other yard and garden debris where fleas like to hide. Also, keep dog houses or cat enclosures clean and dry.
Consider buying beneficial nematodes, naturally occurring microscopic worms that kill fleas by infesting their larvae. Steinernema (Sc or Sf) varieties are the best. Nematodes usually are available in a pellet or powdered form; just mix them with water and spread them over the area you wish to treat, using a watering can or sprayer.
In many regions, it’s still early in the year to be thinking about fleas. But, the sooner you put a prevention program in place, the better your companion will cope and the easier it will be to keep the situation under control.