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Natural Flea Control for Your Healthy Pet
Dr. Gaia J. Mather, Naturopathic Physician

We have a popular phrase here at Healthy Pets Northwest: “A healthy pet is a happy pet.” As animal lovers and pet owners we see this especially during flea season. The pet that is in optimal health is better able to defend itself against parasitic infestation, which also includes external pests such as fleas and ticks. Each summer, as the temperature rises the warm weather encourages the growth of flea eggs and larvae. The average life-cycle of the adult flea is approximately 3 to 4 months, and each female flea can lay up to 30 eggs per day. Within one month, a group of 10 female fleas can produce over 267,000 offspring. Depending upon temperature and humidity, the average maturation cycle from egg to adult varies from 2 to 20 weeks, and in the summertime, when heat the humidity reach a peak, the cycle completes itself about every other week. It’s easy to see how quickly a flea infestation can occur in the summer.

Many people want to avoid the strong chemical pesticides that have recently been used to keep fleas under control: the flea sprays, powders, dips, bombs and collars. We support our customers in maintaining the health of their animals, their personal habitats and the environment by helping them to find alternative ways to keep fleas under control. It is possible to decrease the numbers of fleas by adopting a multi-level strategy which includes diet, some topical treatments and consistent care of the animal’s environment.

Of course, the first step in natural flea control is a healthy diet; one that includes a good balance of nutrients which are free of chemical additives, colorings, artificial flavors and preservatives. A high quality diet is the first step in assuring a strong immune system for your pet. To a healthy natural diet you may want to add some brewer’s or nutritional yeast flakes and fresh or powdered garlic. To this, some also add kelp and bone meal which combined gives the animal a subtle odor which is repellent to fleas. As a bonus it gives a natural boost to their overall immunity. There are convenient garlic and yeast tablets available to give your pet as well.

Of primary importance in flea control is getting to the eggs before they hatch. This is done by regular cleaning of the environment which the pet inhabits. During the summer months vacuum weekly and if flea numbers are out of control vacuum daily. Remember to toss out the vacuum bag when done, because inside the bag is a warm, moist, food-filled environment perfect for nurturing newly hatched flea larvae. Concentrate your cleaning efforts on the areas where your pet sleeps. Use an attachment on the vacuum to get into cracks and crevices where fleas eggs may roll and hatch. Roll up the pet bed (to keep eggs from falling off) and launder it weekly in hot water, using a hot dryer afterward.

Using a mineral salt on the carpet, such sodium borate, will dry up fleas and their larvae for up to one year, if applied properly. There are sodium borate products available or you can call FleaBusters at 1(800)6NO-FLEA. Using a flea comb regularly serves several purposes. First, it helps to strengthen the bond between you and your pet by engaging in “grooming” activity. Diane Stein, in her book Natural Healing for Dogs and Cats, recommends giving a regular “diagnostic massage” to your pet. While your pet will love the extra time and hands-on attention, you may be the first to notice a problem such as an injury or a lump. Flea combing will also give you a very clear idea of the numbers of fleas on your companion. Place a towel over the work area to catch flea eggs and debris. Focus on the areas around the head, neck, back and hindquarters. Dip the flea comb into hot soapy water to drown the fleas once they’re captured.

Bathing your pet regularly will keep flea numbers down as well. Many natural flea soaps use essential oils which help to repel the fleas after the bath. Aside from the common essential oils (citronella, eucalyptus, etc.), some newer products are using neem, an herb from India that has been used to combat pests for centuries. Neem not only kills fleas, ticks and other pesky insects, it can actually condition the skin and coat as well. After the bath you can apply a natural spray containing neem and essential oils to continue the repellent effect. There are also natural flea collars containing essentials oils that act similarly.

Flea powders containing pyrethrums (derived from Chrysanthemum flowers) will discourage fleas as well. Dr. Richard Pitcairn in his book Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, suggests a flea powder that you can make yourself. Combine powdered eucalyptus, rosemary, fennel, yellow dock, wormwood and rue and mix well. Place in a shaker top jar (like the kind you use for Parmesan cheese), then apply it sparingly at the base of the coat. Brush the hair backward and concentrate on the neck, back and belly. Put your pet outside afterward to let the fleas jump off.

Another haven for fleas in the summer can be your yard. Like sodium borate, diatomaceous earth (DE) will act to dry out the fleas and their larvae. You can sprinkle DE indoors or outdoors along cracks and in crevices. Be cautious using DE as it is a fine powder which can irritate the nose and lungs if inhaled. Use a mask when applying and keep your pets from inhaling it as well. If used in the yard it can also be hazardous to beneficial inhabitants as well, such as earthworms.

A natural product that is not harmful to humans, pets or earthworms is the beneficial nematode. They will attack flea larvae as well many other larvae which are pests in the garden. The soil must be sufficiently warm and moist for the nematodes to survive. You can contact your local nursery for more information. And please don’t kill the ants, they are another form of natural pest control, including fleas.

If you have tried regular and consistent flea control and find yourself still battling the problem, or you have a pet with a special condition such as flea allergy dermatitis (in which even one bite can cause uncontrollable itching), then you may wish to contact your veterinarian for information on topical flea control medications.

At Healthy Pets Northwest, we are committed to keeping your companion pet and the environment healthy. We encourage limiting all uses of pesticides in your home and on your pets. With early prevention, consistent care and attention many problems can be avoided with great savings to your pocketbook and the environment. We hope the information here will help you and your pet to have a happy, healthy summer.

As always we welcome your feedback and comments.

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