Wet summer up to scratch for leaping flea population
But it appears that for fleas, the wet, cool weather could not have been better.
Fleas come in thousands of varieties, but the one that affects Canadians the most is the cat flea, ctenocephalides felis. The cat flea prefers dogs, but cats are its second choice and humans will do in a pinch.
September is usually the peak time for fleas, or at least for flea complaints. Vacationers coming back from their annual spell at the cottage bring their dogs back to a house full of fleas that have not had a good meal in a couple of weeks.
They didn’t recognize they had a flea problem before, but when they get back, everybody gets clobbered – humans as well as dogs and cats. The hungry hordes are made up of fleas that were probably in one of the developmental stages when the host dog or cat left. A flea starts out as an egg, then goes through a larva and a pupa stage before becoming a full- blown pest.
During the developmental stages, fleas live on the ground outdoors and a carpet or the floor serves as their nursery indoors. Only after they reach the adult stage do they set out in search of a live host. Newly developed fleas can stay without a blood meal for a considerable period of time.
But once the host is there, the fleas waste no time in getting down to dinner. They will attack humans as well as animals, but once they’ve got enough blood meals, the things will settle down again to the dog and the cat.
Fleas are active outside as long as the temperature stays above 13 degrees. Below that, animals are unlikely to pick up fleas while roaming about.
If fleas have already moved indoors before the snow flies, they will live quite happily in any abode where the occasional blood meal is available.
Fortunately, fleas cannot fly. But they are tremendous leapers. Adult fleas are only about three millimetres long and they have been known to jump 20 centimetres high; their broad-jump record is about 33 centimetres.
So even houses without pets can become infested after fleas that have hitched rides on human ankles fall off and reproduce.
As parasites go, fleas are relatively harmless unless they are allowed to flourish for a long time.
But over the centuries, fleas have been responsible for millions of deaths as carriers of the bubonic plague. Rat fleas – not cat fleas – carried the Black Death that at its peak in the fourteenth century killed one in four people in Europe.
Ridding animals of fleas is relatively simple. There are flea collars, shampoos and powders available, all of which are effective. But a flea- free pet in a flea-riddled house will not remain unencumbered for long.
Professional pest control firms use a couple of chemicals to rout fleas. A non-residual pesticide called pyrethrin is sprayed in the air to kill adult fleas. Diazinon, an insecticide that remains lethal for weeks, is spread around baseboards to kill larva as they emerge from eggs.
There is nothing available that will kill eggs, however, so often the treatment must be repeated to kill larvae that hatch after the insecticide loses its punch.
A vacuum cleaner can also be effective in defending a house against fleas, particularly if a pesticide is sprayed into it first so that fleas sucked into the machine cannot just crawl out again when the power is turned off.
- Use herbal flea dip
Consider making your own because it’s not a complicated process. Here is how you can do that. Add to just enough amount of water 2 cups of fresh rosemary leaves. Put the mixture into a pot and then boil for about 30-minutes before you strain. Do away with the leaves and add more water (should be warm). There you have it – your herbal flea dip – and you can slowly pour all of it on your pet. It’s advisable that you do this on a hot day because you won’t rinse or dry up your pet but leave it to air dry. As you know, that’s not healthy to your pet when the weather is cold.
At the time the dip dries on your pet, there would be no flea alive on that fur and your pet will be happy too.
- Buy a flea comb
Every time you use any herbal dip on your pet, ensure that you use a comb designed to remove flea so that you get rid of any one of them that could have remain alive. Brush through with the comb until you’re convinced that the far is free from any flea.
- Use citrus spray
I am not saying that you should go and by anything, but make it yourself at home. All you need is a lemon, water and a source of heat. Cut the lemon into small pieces and ad them to a pint of water and then boil. In that way, you’ll have made your spray. Don’t spray it immediately but leave it until tomorrow morning. Pour the liquid in a spray bottle and spray it in the invested areas. Don’t ignore the outdoor areas where your pet is fond of. On your pet’s fur, rub it gently. If you do this on a monthly basis, you’ll be able to get rid of all the fleas as well as avoid re-infestation.
The only disadvantage of using this spray is that it can cause stain on your pet’s fur. In addition, it can sometimes cause digestive discomfort in some pets.
- Spray with white vinegar
This is how you can make a vinegar spray: Get a clean spray bottle, into it, add a quarter of distilled white vinegar, and fill the rest of the space ¾ with water. Because you’re going to use the spray to do cleaning, it’s advisable that you add soap for efficiency though that’s not compulsory.
Use the mixture to clean all the invested areas. If you like, you can just spray it throughout the house and you should do that once or twice a week in order to get rid of those small scrolling insects. That also ensures that your home is a no go zone for fleas and other pests.
- Have pennyroyal around
If you plant this plant around your house, fleas will never even think of coming near. In case fleas already share your apartment with you, you’ve got to plant this because its oil is very powerful and will send them away. Even though it’s a long-term solution, it’s better because it offers a permanent solution, which many of us will go for.
However, if you have pets that love plants, don’t go for this option because it’s not good for the health of any pet too. Again, you should only plant it around if you don’t have children around.
- Buy Diatomaceous Earth
In case you don’t know what it means; it’s the fossilized algae, diatoms. All you need to do is sprinkle it around the house and the moment any flea tries to cross where the powder is, it will coat, dehydrate and then die. What makes it more effective is that it makes the fleas agitated as well as come out in numbers and in that way, they meet their death. Ensure that you sprinkle the powder in all infested areas then leave it that way for about 24 hours. I bet you’ll watch with pleasure when these wingless intruders start dying after 6 hours. When they’re all dead, vacuum your house thoroughly as you pay more attention to the carpets and mattress edges.
Always use the food grade type when you want to eradicate fleas because it’s non-toxic to humans.
- Use horse apples
If you can find horse apple, then you’ll be able to get rid of those flea from your home. Call it Osage orange if you like, or monkey ball, but what’s important to know, is that this apple that belongs to mulberry family is an effective repellent and will show those insects the door. Because they too can’t stand it in some way, they won’t be stubborn and they’ll leave your house in peace.
All you need to do is take a horse apple, cut it into pieces and then place them in strategic places like around the house or windows, inside the rooms as well as in the yards. You can leave them there and even forget that they exist because they’re even more effective when they’re rotten.
Getting flea-control tablets or a flea collar for your dog?
My vet has suggested getting flea-control tablets for my dog. They are very expensive. Are they worth getting or will a flea collar do the job?
Fleas spend most of their life cycle living in dry, sandy soil containing plenty of humus. Towards the end of their lives, adult fleas feed on either cat or dog blood and this stimulates the laying of some 1500 eggs per flea completing the life cycle. Effective flea control requires that this cycle be broken.
First, adult fleas must be killed as soon as they gain access to a cat or dog.
Secondly any flea eggs must be prevented from hatching to become adults. To do this efficiently, two products must be used on every cat or dog in a household. There have been many products developed over the years to kill adult fleas. Many have not worked and some have been highly toxic when used incorrectly.
Unfortunately, fleas, like other rapidly reproducing insects, eventually render good ones ineffective and the search is always on for better products. The best technology for adult flea control is droplets placed on the skin at the base of the neck once a month. The tablets suggested by your veterinarian render flea eggs sterile and with long-term usage the total viable flea egg population on your property drops with the result that your animals experience few adult fleas. For cats this product is available in injectable form lasting six months. Flea control is expensive but the treatment of pets for fleabite dermatitis is even more so.
How to control fleas without poisons
Tiny as they are, fleas cause enormous headaches for dog owners. Fleas live inside as easily as outside; they survive in carpeting for up to one year; they have and reproduce in vacuum cleaner bags; and some of them carry tapeworms that can infect your dog if eaten. How to control these pesky parasites eludes many dog owners and severely tests their patience, to the point that many turn to toxic flea control measures that can be worse than the flea infestation. (Note. Flea control measures for cats are sometimes different than those for dogs. Cats lack the ability to break down some toxic pesticides like pyrethrin).
Most owners become resigned to the fact that ridding their dog’s environment of fleas is an ongoing effort. Fleas easily reinfest both the house and the yard. Also, your dog can easily pick them up on a walk. So it’s better to look at this as “flea control” rather than total elimination.
Common flea-control methods include flea bombs, sprays and powders, dips, shampoos, collars, tags, combs, food additives, and spot-on products. Following is a general description of each method, its pros and cons, and my advice for what works best, based on my twenty years of experience as a veterinary doctor and being a dog owner.
Flea Bombs. In cases of severe infestation, flea bombs – aerosol cans that release insecticides – have been one of the traditional methods used to combat fleas. However, the toxic residue makes this method undesirable.
My Advice: A nontoxic system used by the company Fleabusters yields the same overall results without the problems. Fleabusters operates in many cities in the United States. They will come to your home and use a nonpesticide formula to control fleas.
Also, try treating your home using the following methods. just remember that fleas like areas that have a high degree of humidity, so give special concentration to shady and damp areas. Always treat around doorways and comers and anywhere your dog, lies down the most.
- Use the Williams Flea Trap, a device that combines a small green light to provide heat and light attraction and a sticky pad which captures fleas. Available in hardware and pet stores (see Resources).
- Make a homemade “flea trap”: You’ll need a night-light, a baking pan filled with water; and an electrical outlet in the flea-ridden area of your home. Plug in the night-light and place the pan beneath it. The fleas will be attracted to the light and heat. When they jump at the light, they will fall into the water and drown.
- Change the bag in your vacuum cleaner after every use, or vacuum up flea powder into the bag to stop flea breeding.
- Sprinkle 30 Mule Team Borax (from the detergent section of the grocery store) on your carpets and rugs. (Always test a section first to make sure it will not damage the rug.
- In the yard, spray a solution of borax and water in all flea-infested areas. Discontinue use if your dog licks the borax-treated plants. Do not use on grass and plants unless you test an area first.
Sprays and Powders. Flea sprays and powders are designed to be “quick kill.” Sprays and powders don’t stay on dogs for long, so they need to be applied more often. This includes both herbal and chemical sprays. Although most chemical sprays are effective, they contain pyrethrin. Pyrethrin, which is derived from chrysanthemums, can be toxic when given in large doses or to smaller dogs or puppies, who may be sensitive. These sprays, however, are less toxic than other pesticide-based sprays on the market because their chemical toxicity breaks down within twenty-four hours. If you use a pyrethrin-based spray, follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
Although some herbal sprays can help m flea control, they vary in effectiveness, and some dogs have allergic reactions to ingredients such as pennyroyal and eucalyptus. If you buy a new herbal flea spray, try it on one paw first. If your dog is allergic to the ingredients in a particular product, you will see reactions such as red and itchy skin, which the dog will bite and scratch at.
Flea powders are sprinkled on the dog; they are messy and require reapplication every few days.
My Advice: You may have to use chemical control for a serious infestation of fleas. If so, use a pyrethrin-based product that contains Pre-Cor, a substance that retards the growth of flea larvae. This will ensure that fleas in all stages of the life cycle are killed. However, first try natural methods such as the following homemade spray:
HOMEMADE FLEA SPRAY
In a 16-ounce bottle, mix the following.
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
- cup Avon’s Skin-So-Soft
- cup water
- 1/8 teaspoon oil of citronella (optional)
To repel fleas, rub into the coat with the fingers. Apply every two to three days.
Flea Dips. Applied after a bath, flea dips are designed to stay on the hair and skin to repel fleas. Commercial flea dips contain strong pesticides that are effective in repelling fleas, but they are also toxic. My Advice: Use flea dips sparingly, only in cases of severe flea infestation.
Flea Baths. You can bathe your dog with a flea shampoo that is pyrethrin-based, or use a regular detergent shampoo and leave it on for ten minutes before rinsing off. (Flea shampoos can dry the skin, so DO NOT use this type of shampoo unless there is a flea problem).
My Advice: Flea baths work, so go ahead and try them. Keep in mind, however, that shampoos will kill the fleas in your dog’s coat, but it will not repel them.
Flea Collars and Tags. The collars and tags that use chemical pesticides emit toxic fumes that are supposed to get rid of fleas, but unfortunately, both the dog and the owner have to inhale these fumes too. Many dogs react with severe cases of dermatitis, ranging from hair loss and scaly skin to open lesions. Many of the herbal collars tags contain pennyroyal and eucalyptus, which dogs sometimes are allergic to.
My Advice: I don’t recommend flea collars and tags, because I don’t find either chemical or herbal types to be effective. I also don’t recommend tags that repel fleas using sound frequencies because we don’t know how the sound frequencies will affect the dog’s health over a long period of time.
Flea Combs. This specially designed comb with teeth that are very close together allows you to literally capture the fleas as you comb your dog. When you do this, have a glass water nearby with a couple drops of dish detergent in it to dunk the combed-out hair and captured fleas immediately, so the fleas will drown.
My Advice: Use flea combs at least once a day. They work best on short-haired dogs and on those that are frequently groomed.
Food Additives. Food additives have been gaining popularity as an easier way to deal with fleas. The main ones used are yeast, garlic, and a tablet called Proban, an insecticide that I don’t recommend. Proban acts as a systemic insecticide; it is dispersed throughout the body. When a flea bites the dog, the insecticide kills the flea. Since the flea must first bite the dog to be affected by the Proban, this product will only work after the fleas have bitten the dog. Some dogs are allergic to the bite of the flea; this product won’t be helpful if that’s the case. Also, feeding your dog an insecticide can result in toxic problems in the future as well as put stress on the dog’s body.
Yeast has not been as effective as many holistic veterinary professionals had hoped it would be. Recent studies have found no conclusive evidence that it assists in repelling fleas, and I have known only a few dogs that benefitted from yeast in this way
My Advice: I have found garlic to be helpful in repelling fleas, but it must be fed in large quantities or in condensed, high-potency forms such as Kyolic, which I have found to work the best. Give your dog one clove of crushed raw garlic daily for each ten pounds of body weight, or two tablets or capsules of condensed, high-potency garlic capsules for each ten pounds of body weight. (Most dogs will eat tablets out of your hand. A higher dose can be used, but start out with the lower dose to make sure your dog tolerates garlic. High potency garlic is also available in a liquid form that is easy to squirt into the food.
Spot-On Products. A newer item available to fight fleas is a spot-on type of product that is placed on one or two specific areas of the dog’s skin. These products are absorbed through the skin and are systemic; they can also be toxic.
My Advice: I do not recommend spot-on products because I have concerns about how they will affect both the dog’s and the owner’s health.
My two poodles accompany me on house and “farm” calls – to barns, out to the fields, and into homes with other pets – so they are more susceptible to fleas than most dogs. I find that a combination of the non-toxic flea control methods I’ve described keeps my dogs and me healthy and comfortable.
Dogs are extremely allergic to flea bites. This syndrome has steadily increased over the last twenty years, and the veterinary profession is trying to understand why. Veterinarians see many cases to flea-bite dermatitis. These dogs often have hair missing from their backs down to their tails. Some dogs are affected by flea allergies more than others, with hair loss extending down their legs, and large bumps and infected areas on their backs. Each case is a little different, and each must be treated individually when seeking to improve the condition.
These same symptoms can be a result of other allergies as well, and it may be necessary to check for other possibilities, including food allergies. Two common foods that dogs are allergic to are soy and corn. Some dog owners have fed their pets diets that exclude such grains (a lamb and rice diet, for example), but it is wise to have persistent conditions looked at by a holistic veterinarian who will search for underlying causes.
The question that must be answered in order to be successful in treating a flea allergy is: Why is the dog allergic to fleas? Once this is determined, treatment can be initiated. There is likely to be an immune system problem, and one has to play detective to find the underlying cause. The possibilities include: vaccine reactions, food allergies, environmental reactions, and genetic predisposition. Often just the symptoms (itching and scratching, pepper like debris in the hair that’s combed out during grooming, and loss of hair down to the tail) are addressed without trying to treat the cause of the immune system dysfunction. A holistic veterinarian will look at the possibilities and try to find a treatment that will address the immediate symptoms as well as the root cause.