Fleas are tiny, wingless insects that survive by piercing the skin and sucking the blood of mammals and birds. Even a single flea can wreak havoc as I discovered on a recent trip out of town when my daughter and I stayed in a home that had a large dog.
While the home itself appeared free of any infestation, a single flea or two must have gotten trapped under my daughter’s shirt (she liked to lay right on the dog!) as the day we got home, she discovered bites all over her torso that were a bit frightening to behold!
Fortunately, she didn’t have any other symptoms other than the visible appearance of the bites and they healed up quickly within a few days using baking soda baths and a homemade herbal salve.
Even though this experience had a happy ending, it reminded me how important it is for health conscious families with pets living indoors to have natural, nontoxic ways to deal with fleas when necessary.
Prevention is Key
Prevention is key when it comes to flea infestation problems. It is important to note that pets that are healthy are much more resistant to fleas than unhealthy pets eating highly processed bagged or canned pet food.
Assembling a raw food diet for your pet can go a long way toward preventing flea infestation problems in the first place. This article describes how to accomplish this efficiently and cost effectively.
Ridding Your Pet of Fleas Naturally
While pets eating a nutritious diet are far less likely to attract large numbers of fleas, even animals with strong immune systems will occasionally attract a few.
Quickly running a flea comb through your pet’s fur after a walk can help keep any stray insects from making their way into the house. Alcohol paralyzes fleas, so if you find a few while combing through your pet’s coat, drop them in a bit of alcohol to keep them from hanging around your front door to be picked up the next time your pet is outside.
According to holistic veterinarian Tamara Hebbler DVM, a good quality, natural pet shampoo (I like this one) will kill fleas just fine so there is no need to use harsh, chemical laden formulations on a pet that has an infestation. Simply lather up your pet and leave the suds on for about 20 minutes before rinsing off. Wrapping Rover in a towel to prevent chills during that time is a good idea too in cooler months.
Keeping Fleas Off Your Pet Without Pesticides
Some of the nastiest, most toxic pet products on the market are those flea prevention drops, sprays and shampoos. Do you really want to douse your poor pet with pesticides and then have them lay on your carpets and furniture where your children sit and play or worse sleep in their beds?
A much better prevention strategy is to lightly dust your pet with food-grade diatomaceous earth once a week. Diatomaceous earth is made from fossilized marine algae that has been crushed and powderized and works by scratching the exoskeleton of fleas which dehydrates and kills them.
While nontoxic, diatomaceous earth is a respiratory irritant so be sure not to breathe it in and avoid your pet’s nose and eyes during application. You may wish to wear a dust mask if you are especially sensitive to airborne irritants.
I’ve used it for years without a problem and haven’t ever used a dust mask, but the key is to use caution when applying as the powder is very fine and can get airborne very easily.
Warning About Using Essential Oils for Flea Prevention
While using essential oils around the house as a flea repellent may seem like a good idea, note that some cats are sensitive to essential oils so use cautiously and watch and observe your feline friends for any signs of lethargy or confusion which would indicate a reaction.
Ridding Your Home of a Flea Infestation
Suppose your house becomes infested with fleas despite all your best efforts at prevention. Rest easy knowing that there is no need to use toxic pesticides in your home to resolve the problem!
Lightly dusting the infested areas with food grade diatomaceous earth will kill the fleas in only one day. Vacuum up the visible residue the following day and voila! no more fleas! Because diatomaceous earth is a mechanical rather than a chemical killer, it does not work on flea eggs, so you may need to reapply if a secondary wave of fleas emerge 1-4 weeks later. The good news is that a thorough vacuum after the diatomaceous earth eliminates the adult flea problem is usually all that is required to prevent a reinfestation from hatching eggs later.
Note that you can apply diatomaceous earth to upholstery and mattresses in addition to carpet if necessary. Use it also in your car if need be.
Some sources suggest boric acid as an alternative to diatomaceous earth, but I don’t really like using boric acid in a home environment as it does have some mammalian toxicity even though it is low risk compared to using pesticides. Diatomaceous earth has no toxicity at all so this option would be the best approach for eliminating a flea infestation especially if young children live in the the home who are still touching everything and putting things in their mouths.
Preventing/Eliminating Fleas in the Yard
Fleas thrive in shady areas, so only these spots in your yard are susceptible to infestation. Use of cedar or eucalyptus mulch in landscaped areas will discourage them from sticking around as will spraying beneficial nematodes on the grass to balance the soil and eliminate flea larvae.
I can personally vouch for the amazing effectiveness of nematode treatment for yards. I initially sprayed nematodes on my yard several times when my husband and I first moved into our home over 20 years ago to solve rampant problems with mole crickets. Since then, I have never needed to use pesticides or chemicals of any kind on my lawn. It is beautiful and lush every growing season with zero effort as the soil is balanced with plenty of beneficial microbial activity.
It is worth the effort to prevent fleas and eliminate infestations naturally both on your pet and in/around your home. Remember that pesticides are toxic, hormone disrupting compounds so it is best to avoid any exposure as much as humanly possible, particularly in your home where you are spending the majority of your time living, breathing and sleeping!
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist