Effective Flea Control
By Richard H.
Pitcairn, D.V.M., Ph.D.
and Susan Hubble
Authors of Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide To Natural
Health for Dogs & Cats
The best approach to
controlling fleas is to start with the least toxic and most natural
choices, resorting to stronger measures only if reasonable control
is not achieved. As a prerequisite to any flea-control program,
I recommend building up your animal's health and resistance
as much as possible through a healthy diet and lifestyle. Along
with that, it's important to practice thorough sanitation and
Understanding the life
cycle of the flea makes it clear why cleaning is so important.
Adult fleas live about three to four months. During that time
they are steadily laying tiny white eggs on your pet that look
like dandruff or salt crystals. Flea eggs hatch out into larvae
that live in the cracks and crevices of rugs, upholstery, blankets,
floors, sand, earth, and the like.
Because these tiny
larvae cannot jump or travel very far (less than an inch), they feed
on the black specks of dried blood ("flea dirt") that fall off
along with the eggs during grooming and scratching. After one
to two weeks, the larvae go through a cocoon stage (pupa). A
week or two later, they hatch out as small fleas that hop onto
the nearest warm body passing by (usually your pet -- sometimes
you!), bite it for a meal of blood, and then start the whole
process all over again. This cycle takes anywhere from
2to 20 weeks, depending
on the temperature of the house or environment. During summer
-- flea season -- the entire cycle is usually just 2 weeks long.
That's why fleas increase so rapidly at that time.
The bad news is that,
no matter how many adult fleas you manage to kill, numerous future
fleas are developing in the environment simultaneously. The
good news is that these eggs, larvae, pupa, and the flea dirt
they feed upon can be sucked up by a vacuum cleaner or washed
away in the laundry. And because the developing fleas are so
immobile, they are most concentrated wherever your pet sleeps,
so you know where to focus your efforts.
Your important ally in
the battle against fleas is cleanliness, both for your pet and
your home, particularly in your pet's sleeping areas. Regular
cleaning interrupts the life cycles of the fleas and greatly
cuts down on the number of adult fleas that end up on your pet,
especially if you act before flea season begins. So start your
program with these nontoxic steps.
clean your carpets at the onset of flea season (or whenever
you begin your flea-control program).Though it is somewhat
expensive, steam cleaning is effective in killing flea
vacuum and clean floors and furniture at least once a week to
pick up flea eggs, larvae, and pupae.Concentrate on areas
where your pet sleeps and use an attachment to reach into crevices
and corners and under heavy furniture. If there is a heavy
infestation, you may want to put a flea collar (or part of a flea
collar) in the vacuum bag to kill any adult fleas that get sucked
up and might crawl away. Or else immediately dispose of the
bag or its contents because it can provide a warm, moist, food-filled
environment for developing eggs and larvae. Mop vinyl
your pet's bedding in hot, soapy water at least once a
week.Dry on maximum heat.
Heat will kill all stages of flea life, including the eggs. Remember
that flea eggs are very slippery and easily fall off bedding
or blankets. So carefully roll bedclothes up to keep all the
flea eggs contained on the way to the washing machine.
the animal with a natural flea-control shampoo.Use a nontoxic shampoo
as recommended above, such as one containing d-limonene (dogs
a flea comb to trap and kill fleas that are on your
pet.Most pet stores carry
special fine-toothed combs that trap fleas for easy disposal. Make
a regular habit of flea-combing your pet while you watch TV
or talk on the phone. Depending on the degree of infestation
and the time of year, this might be daily (at the onset of the
flea season), weekly, or monthly.
Gently but thoroughly
comb as many areas as your pet will allow, especially around the
head, neck, back, and hindquarters. As you trap the little buggers,
pull them off the comb and plunge them into a container of hot,
soapy water (or dip the comb and pull the flea off underwater).
Cover your lap with an old towel to catch extra clumps of hair
and flea dirt and to wipe the comb off as you work.
When you're finished,
flush the soapy water and fleas down the toilet.
If your pet goes
outdoors, follow these steps as well.
and water your lawn regularly.Short grass
allows sunlight to penetrate and warm the soil, which kills
larvae. Watering drowns the developing fleas.
ants.Perhaps I should say
"do not discourage ants." They love to eat flea eggs and larvae.
This is another reason not to use pesticides that kill all the
insects in your yard.
bare-earth sleeping spots.If your pet
likes to sleep or hang out in a certain bare or sandy area,
occasionally cover the spot with a heavy black plastic sheet on a
hot, sunny day. Rake up any dead leaves and other debris first. The
heat that builds up under the plastic does an excellent job
of killing fleas and larvae. Of course, this is not appropriate
to use where you want to preserve live grass or plants.
agricultural lime on grassy or moist areas.This helps to dry out
the fleas. Rake up any dead leaves and grassy debris
Along with the above
steps, you might try these methods to repel fleas that may try to
jump back on your pet, especially those harder-to-kill ones
hanging out in the backyard.
an herbal flea powder.You'll
find them in pet stores and natural food stores, or you can make
your own. Combine one part each of as many of these powdered
herbs as you can find: eucalyptus, rosemary, fennel, yellow
dock, wormwood, and rue. Put this mixture in a shaker-top jar,
such as a jar for parsley flakes.
Apply the flea powder
sparingly to your pet's coat by brushing backward with your hand
or the comb and sprinkling it into the base of the hairs, especially
on the neck, back, and belly. To combat severe infestations,
use several times a week. Afterward, put your animal friend
outside for awhile so the disgruntled tenants vacate in the
yard and not in your house. Some herbal flea powders also contain
natural pyrethrins, which are not strong flea-killers but do
seem to greatly discourage them.
an herbal flea collar.These are
impregnated with insect-repellent herbal oils. Some are made
to be "recharged" with the oils and used again. Buy them at
natural food stores.
a natural skin tonic.The
animal herbalist Juliette de Bairacli-Levy recommends this lemon
skin tonic, which many of my clients successfully use on their
pets for a general skin toner, parasite repellent, and treatment
Thinly slice a whole
lemon, including the peel. Add it to 1 pint of near-boiling water
and let it steep overnight. The next day, sponge the solution
onto the animal's skin and let it dry. You can use this daily
for severe skin problems involving fleas. It is a source of
natural flea-killing substances such as d-limonene and other
healing ingredients found in the whole lemon.
ample nutritional or brewer's yeast and garlic to the
diet.Some studies show
yeast supplementation significantly reduces flea numbers, though
others indicate no effect. My experience with using yeast is that
it has some favorable effect, particularly if the animal's health
is good. You can also rub it directly into the animal's hair.
Many people also praise the value of garlic as a flea repellent,
though so far studies do not support this.
If these methods do
not control the fleas sufficiently, take the following
your carpets treated with a special anti-flea mineral
salt.There have been some
developments in safe flea control. My clients report success with
a service that applies or sells relatively nontoxic mineral
salts for treating carpets. (Fleabusters is the company recommended.)
Effective for up to a year, the products safely kill fleas and
their developing forms over a few week's time.
or twice a year, sprinkle natural, unrefined diatomaceous earth
along walls, under furniture, and in cracks and crevices that
you cannot access with a vacuum.This product,
which resembles chalky rock, is really the fossilized remains
of one-celled algae. Though direct skin contact is harmless
to pets and people, it is bad news for many insects and their
larvae, including fleas. The fine particles in the earth kill
insects by attacking the waxy coating that covers their external
skeletons. The insects then dry out and die.
I do not recommend
using diatomaceous earth frequently or directly on your animal --
mostly because of the irritating dust that can be breathed in
by both of you. It is also messy. Be careful about breathing
it in. Wear a dust mask when applying. It is not toxic, but
inhaling even the natural, unrefined form of this dust can irritate
the nasal passages.
Important:Do not use the type of
diatomaceous earth that is sold for swimming pool filters. It
has been very finely ground, and the tiny particles can be breathed
into the lungs and cause chronic inflammation.
a spray or powder containing pyrethrins or natural
pyrethrum.These are the least
toxic of all the insecticides used on pets, and they are found in
both conventional and natural flea-control products. For a more
lasting effect, use a microencapsulated product, which is perhaps
labeled "slow release." Repeat the applications as you
simultaneously use the carpet treatment system or diatomaceous
earth. This will help kill both adult fleas and developing fleas
at the same time.
Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to
Natural Health for Dogs & Cats by Richard H.
Pitcairn, D.V.M, Ph.D., and Susan Hubble Pitcairn (September
2005;$18.95US/$25.95CAN; 1-57954-973-X) Copyright © 2005
Richard H. Pitcairn, D.V.M., Ph.D., and Susan Hubble Pitcairn.
Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA18098. Available wherever
books are sold or directly from the publisher by calling (800)
848-4735 or visit their website at http://www.rodalestore.com/
H. Pitcairn, D.V.M, Ph.D., opened the
AnimalNaturalHealthCenter, a clinic offering
only holistic animal care, in 1985. Recently retired from practice,
he teaches post-graduate courses in homeopathic medicine to
Hubble Pitcairnwas a major
contributor to the first two editions of this book. As the third
edition goes to press, she is splitting her time between artistic
pursuits and the support of positive social change.
For more information, please visit http://www.drpitcairn.com/