When chemical pesticides were first marketed for home use for our lawns, gardens, and to keep insects away from us and our pets, no one really thought about the side effects to the environment, humans, and pets. Spraying DDT and other pesticides on areas where insects would gather became routine in farming, home gardening and lawns. This changed over 40 years ago when DDT was banned in the United States, so that it could no longer be sprayed around homes thereby increasing insect invasions in our yards and on our pets and us. The chemical companies worked to create pesticides such as pyrethrins and organophosphate and carbamate that would protect pets and homes from flea infestations. These products are used on collars, in shampoos, and powders. There have been many studies showing that these chemicals are toxic and the Humane Society published a report on their website, in 2012, with information about how to recognize when your pet has been poisoned by chemical flea and tick products. There also have been warnings about exposure to humans, especially children, through contact with the substances.
So what do you do to prevent or treat flea infestations on your dog and in your home? In the rush to market products as “natural” or “organic”, many flea prevention and treatment options are available in pet stores and garden center. Some are very effective and some, not so much. We are looking at what we know works and what gives you the best option for keeping your dog, and your home, flea free.
Although it sounds yucky, diatomaceous earth (DE), which is made from the fossilized remains of tiny, aquatic organisms, has several uses that repel fleas. This talc like substance works, not by poisoning the insects, but by absorbing the fluid in their bodies causing them to die. It works on larvae as well as adult fleas. There are two types of diatomaceous earth available. Food grade and pool/garden grade are vastly different and you can only use the food grade around pets and children. The only negative about food grade diatomaceous earth is that it is very fine and, although not poisonous, could be an irritant if you or your dog inhale it. Otherwise, this is a very safe product which is used in water filters and even added to chicken feed to prevent parasites. The food grade is available in garden centers, pet stores, and online.
If you have a yard or a garden, you know that insects thrive in those environments. To prevent flea infestation, you want to apply food grade DE right onto your lawn, using the instructions on the package. It is perfectly safe for your dogs and kids to roll around on a lawn that has been treated with DE. If your dog has a flea infestation, you can sprinkle it on your dog’s bed and the carpet around to kill off any fleas or larvae that have settled there. You can vacuum up the DE and dead fleas (after a few hours) and check to see if you need to repeat the process. It could take a couple of go arounds to end a serious infestation.
Diatomaceous earth can be applied directly onto your dog also, with no harmful side effects. Because of its dehydrating properties, it is always best to check her skin beforehand to make sure there are no dry patches or hot spots which could be exacerbated by using DE. Otherwise, it is a good way to eliminate fleas and larvae from her body. Before treatment, run a flea comb through her fur to remove any fleas; this will also tell you whether there are fleas and, if so, how bad the infestation is. Then you can rub the DE onto her body, with caution so that neither of you inhale the powder. Fleas die within a few hours of exposure, so wait a little and give her another comb through. The treatment can be repeated the next day, but remember to check her skin to make sure that it is not drying out.
The topic of flea collars can be controversial because the chemically treated ones work well at repelling the insects. But the chemicals used on them are toxic to dogs with prolonged use and can be an irritant to humans who handle them, especially kids. It is possible to make your own flea collar at home using essential oils that are repellent to fleas and will stop an infestation, but might not be powerful enough if there are a lot of fleas present on his body. Here is a simple recipe that you can use to create a flea collar from a plain cloth collar or a bandana: Take 2 tablespoons of almond oil and 2 drops (total if you are using more than one type) of essential oils such as cinnamon, rosemary, clove, peppermint, or cedar wood and mix them together. Apply the mixture to the collar and let it dry thoroughly before putting it on your dog. When you can no longer smell the ingredients (usually 2 weeks to a month), it is time to apply the oils again. You must check your dog for fleas regularly by combing carefully to see if the repellent is working. These collars can be very effective as a preventative and with regularly monitoring.
If there are fleas present on your dog, it is time to pull out the big gun….a spray bottle with water and apple cider vinegar in equal proportions. This simple mixture will kill fleas and help prevent new ones from jumping on. If you choose, you can add a couple of drops of lavender or cedar essential oil which also works as a flea deterrent. You want to avoid the area around his eyes when spraying and to comb him after the treatments.
Fleas are parasites that can make life miserable for your dog and your whole family. It is important to treat and protect him from fleas in a way that doesn’t expose him and your family to toxic substances. We have given you some natural remedies that can alleviate this problem without creating new health problems, so that your dog can spend his days playing instead of scratching.