Pet fleas & ticks
By the time you can identify fleas on your pet, it is likely that your home is already infested. While adult fleas reside on your pets, the earlier life stages of the fleas live and grow in your carpets, pets’ bedding, etc. A single female flea can lay 10 to 50 eggs per day and upwards of 2000 eggs in her lifetime. Thus one adult flea can literally lead to an infestation of tens of thousands. Only 1% of the flea population will actually live on your pets which leaves the other 99% lurking in your house and yard in various live stages. The adult female will lay eggs on your pet, who will then act something like a salt shaker, spreading the eggs in the house. The larval stage will emerge within 1 to 10 days. The flea will remain in this stage for 5 to 11 days. This stage is the period of vulnerability where you can kill the juvenile pest. Next, the flea will spin a cocoon where they will safely rest for one day to six months. During this stage, your only hope is to vacuum or wash the bedding where the cocoon lies. The flea will remain in the protective cocoon until conditions are right and then emerge to begin the life cycle all over again.
Now you understand why flea bombs or one-time sprays and treatments do not work to rid you of your problem. These products only kill the adult and larval stages of the flea population leaving 8 to 10% of the population to later emerge from their cocoons and then we begin again.
Treatment options vary widely. There are a number of effective chemical flea treatments these days that are generally much less toxic than the older organophosphate-type treatments. Many of these newer treatments work in ways that are specific to fleas and will not affect mammals (dogs, cats, people). That said, side effects are seen and recognized with all of these treatments and many people continue looking for alternatives.
Healthier animals DO repel fleas better. Nutrition is the foundation for health. Efforts to improve your pet’s nutrition and supplement with a vitamin, preferably a whole food supplement can help your pet repel these pests and greatly reduce your chances for re-infestation in the future. Some supplements of particular value when fighting fleas include fatty acid supplements to improve your pet’s skin and hair coat, probiotics and digestive enzymes to help your pet make the most of his meal, and garlic and brewers yeast will make your pet “less tasty”. These are some small steps you can take to help deter fleas, but will not be full-proof and will not treat an infestation problem. Even better is to look at foods other than the traditional kibbles or canned foods as less processed foods are better for bodies whether humans, dogs, or cats.
There are numerous natural treatments for fleas. Generally, when treating fleas, you need to think of both killing the adults that are on your pets and also the younger life stages that live in your house. As mentioned earlier, the pupal stage that exists in your home is sheltered in a cocoon and is almost indestructible. To complete eradication, you need to encourage these pupa to hatch by increasing the temperature in the house and allowing the animals to move around freely. Both heat and exhaled carbon dioxide will stimulate hatching. These young adults, ready for their first blood meal, will quickly jump onto your pets and can then be killed.
In the home, simply begin by washing all bedding that the pets sleep on and thoroughly vacuuming the house. You can put moth balls or borax in the vacuum cleaner bag and dispose of the bag outside immediately after vacuuming. A safe cleaning solution for surfaces in the house can be made with 1 cup rubbing alcohol, 1 cup distilled water, 5 to 10 drops lavender, and 5-10 drops of an animal safe lavender or peppermint oil. Finally, at night, set up flea traps in areas needed. To do this you need a bright night light or a table lamp placed on the floor. Place shallow bowls of soapy water around the lights. The fleas will be stimulated to hatch out and come to the heat of the light and will die in the water baths. This will work most effectively if there is not another heat source in the room- animal or other. Boric acid is a very effective way to treat the home. Boron is generally considered safe with at least limited exposure. Flea Busters’ signature product is a borate powder to spread throughout the home. They claim it is 33% less toxic than regular boric acid. This works by drying, or desiccating, the younger life stages of the flea.
For your pet, there are a number of options. Topically, a simple bath in any soap will kill many of the fleas on your pet. Follow this up with a good flea combing to brush out the remaining slowed or stunned fleas. Neem shampoos can be used. The neem seed is generally considered safe although there are reports of neurologic toxicity when infants and young children have ingested neem products. There are also neem sprays and powders that you can use to kill those fleas who linger or hatch out after the bath. Dips made with 3 Tablespoons of Apple Cider Vinegar per gallon of water are sometimes helpful. Dr. Pitcairin recommends making a flea powder with one part each eucalyptus, rosemary, fennel, yellow dock, wormwood and rue. Use as many of these as you can find, put them in a shaker bottle and apply liberally as needed. Many like to use essential oils to treat fleas naturally. PLEASE remember that natural does not automatically translate to safe. Sassafrass and Pennyroyal oils have both shown efficacy in killing fleas, but both can cause skin irritation and pennyroyal oil can cause liver and neurologic damage and can even be deadly when ingested. Whatever you put on your pet topically, you should expect to be consumed as your pet licks and cleans himself. We offer essential oils that are safe for both cats and dogs if this is the route that you would like to take.
Wondercide and Cedarcide are great natural oil-based products that repel fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes from pets and the yard.
Orally, you can safely dose garlic at 1 clove per 40 pounds per day for most animals. Do be aware that garlic in excess can be toxic to dogs and cats so please as at your next appointment check with your veterinarian to be sure that this dose would be safe for your pet specifically. Additionally, brewer’s yeast can be given at 1 teaspoon daily for small dogs and up to 2 heaping teaspoons daily for larger dogs. Check in with us during your next visit cats can be given 1/2 teaspoon daily. Again, please be sure to consult with your veterinarian to ensure this is safe to give to your pet specifically.
The yard can be a source of re-infestation, so do not forget to address this as well. Squirrels and other hosts are constantly spreading flea eggs wherever they roam. To begin, keeping the yard free of debris will help. Even thorough watering can drown the larval stages. Using a nematode product is another non-toxic method to explore. Sold commercially as Flea Busters nematodes, Interrupt and Flea Halt nematodes, these products are quite effective. These nematodes have wonderful appetites and love to help you clear your yard of juvenile fleas. The Spartan Mosquito Eradicator is a great natural mosquito repellent for the yard.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you will need some help from science. We will be happy to discuss the responsible use of flea and tick medications and give recommendations based on your pets’ health and lifestyle.
If you have further questions or would like to schedule an appointment to discuss what treatment options are best for your pet please call our office.