Fighting fleas on Fido or Feefee? Fleas can bite, annoy, induce allergic reactions and even transmit tapeworms or other pathogens, but the chemicals sometimes used to kill fleas could cause even bigger problems. Cancer, birth defects, asthma and other health problems are linked to several products used for flea control. Fortunately, those products and their risks are unnecessary if you follow simple steps to improve hygiene, diet and use the least-toxic products as a last resort. Carl Grimm from Metro had tips to help you win the battle against fleas without toxic chemicals.
Pet hygiene prevents problems
Reduce the number of areas where your pet sleeps or hangs out
Keep your pet in as few indoor areas as possible, and ones that are easy to clean - ideally with no carpet and no clutter. Try to establish one sleeping area and use easily washable bedding.
Vacuum pet areas and wash bedding often
Thoroughly vacuum all indoor areas accessible to your pet at least weekly - especially pet sleeping areas. Be sure to include upholstered furniture, cracks and crevices. Vacuuming catches adult fleas as well as some eggs, larvae and pupae. It also removes the little bits of dried blood adult fleas leave for the young and other dirt and debris that feed flea larvae. To keep fleas from jumping out of your vacuum, seal the vacuum filter in a plastic bag and dispose of it in the trash. Alternatively, put a plastic bag over the end of the vacuum hose between vacuuming and be careful to not let the fleas out of the bag when you remove it.
Five minutes of flea combing a day can kill fleas while giving you consistent quality time with your pet. If daily combing is too much for you, try once a week just to monitor for possible flea problems. Comb your pet outside before they come back in, or do it in the bathtub to prevent fleas from jumping off your pet into your living space. Carefully comb your entire pet, particularly around the neck, head and undersides. After each swipe of the comb, grab any caught fleas and drown them in soapy water.
Diet makes a difference
Feed pets a wholesome diet and consider supplements
Healthy pets are less attractive to fleas. Feed your pets real meat, whole grains, minerals and vitamins and avoid sugars as well as artificial flavors and preservatives. While research findings are mixed, vitamin supplements containing thiamine (B1) may help repel fleas from pets (and humans).
Pesticides pose problems
Avoid flea bombs, most collars and pesticides
Many pesticides meant to kill or repel fleas can be dangerous to humans (especially children) and pets. Flea bombs in particular pose hazards both upon reentry into the fogged space, and in some cases for months or even years later. Over-the-counter flea collars can have levels of pesticides dangerous to pets and people. Most pesticides sprayed outdoors to kill fleas pose hazards to pets, people, wildlife and waterways (see "Fleas in your lawn" below for an exception). If you do use a pesticide for fleas, be sure to follow label directions.
Natural products are generally less harmful than synthetic ones, but not always
Diatomaceous earth is among the least-toxic of the proven natural pesticides for fleas. Sprinkle the powder on floors and carpets, leave it for a day or more, the vacuum it up. Keep yourself, your children and your pets away from treated areas until the powder has been vacuumed thoroughly.
Plant-derived pyrethrum is moderately toxic to mammals and some evidence suggests that it may cause cancer. Boric acid is also moderately toxic.
Herbal products containing essential oils of cedarwood, lemongrass, peppermint, rosemary, and thyme are generally considered safe and are worth a try, but research results have been mixed.
If all else fails, consider pills or injections or less-toxic topical products
When pesticide-free approaches have been unsuccessful, talk to your veterinarian about pills or injections of insect growth regulators, or other less-toxic products. Medications taken internally for flea control are much less likely to be ingested by children or other family members than topically-applied products, and many are believed to be generally safe for pets. Some skin-applied products are also known to be less toxic but are best not used where children or pregnant women are present.
Fleas in your lawn? Beneficial nematodes may be the solution
Discourage fleas by mowing regularly and watering less frequently. In addition, beneficial nematodes that kill flea larvae can be purchased at some pet and garden stores to spray onto your lawn or yard. Keep the soil moist to keep the nematodes alive.