I Love Fleas???
Tests done on dirty dogs
"I love fleas" is a motto found on some hats and T-shirts. "Who would ever say a thing like THAT?" you may wonder. Surprisingly there is a whole group of people-besides entomologists! Who are they? Groomers! Yes, groomers love fleas for the same reason an exterminator loves roaches. They are simply good for business in terms of flea services and products sold.
Many today, however are looking for alternatives to poisons for their flea problem. First of all, many people, are understandably concerned about the poisons being put on their dog. When I was taking my Certification class for Companion Animal Hygienist, we learned that tests done on dogs for products such as flea dips and shampoos are done on DIRTY dogs. What this means is that those dogs still have dirt, oils, skin flakes, etc. in their coat which help to protect the dog, at least to some degree, against the flea poison being absorbed through their skin and possibly slowing down what is absorbed. The instructions for how long a dog is to be left with the product on its skin is based on these tests. The problem is that when your dog encounters the product, it is after the skin has been cleaned of its oils and natural skin protections via a bath.
Our dog can be exposed to other, often stronger poisons after they have been applied to the house and yard. Other remedies are fed to the dog. Although some remedies are marketed as "natural", one must be aware of true nature of anything that kills. If it can kill the flea, what can it do to our dogs, especially after repeated exposure? This is not to say that we should not be trying to eliminate a flea problem, as these parasites carry their own risks to our dogs. It is only mentioned as a word of caution. Fortunately there are remedies that are "species specific" in their killing power. You must also remember that just because something is "natural" doesn't mean that it isn't a strong poison.
The first thing we want to do before treating Fido is to determine if he actually has fleas. Treating the environment doesn't necessarily mean that you have to treat the dog. Unless one knows for sure that there is a problem, I never recommend arbitrarily exposing the dog to poisons or even treatments. I know that there will be alot of gasps of disbelief for those in flea infested areas, but not everyone lives in one. Also, since most of the life of the flea is spent OFF of the dog and in the environment, preventing the problem in the first place may be all that is needed.
For those who don't think they have a problem, but want to know what to look for, here it is. First, look at the dogs "back end". Fleas love to get into the anatomy in the back end and inside the creases of where both the back and front legs meet the body. Check the dogs abdomen-yes this means the lower half too! Older and overweight dogs can really hide the evidence there. Check the ears, inside and out. In bad infestations, fleas can even be seen feeding near the eye rims. If your dog is mainly outside, don't just assume that what you see is sand or dirt getting stuck to the eye rims. Step closely and you will easily see what it truly is.
A word here on exactly what you are looking for is in order. You are not just looking for adult fleas but also for tiny particles that look like "salt and pepper". The "salt" may well be flea eggs before they have dropped off of your dog; the "pepper" is what is also called "flea dirt". In reality, it is your dogs blood after it has been digested and eliminated as flea excrement. If you see a lot of it and aren't sure if you are seeing regular dirt or flea dirt, try this test. Take the dog and put it into a light colored tub, white is best, and put a little water into the tub with the dog. Have the dog sit in it. If it looks like your dog is all of a sudden bleeding, you have a real problem. Treat the dog for fleas! I know this sounds extreme, but you may be surprised at how many dogs have problems this bad. Remember, groomers love fleas for a reason. If you only have flecks of "pepper" and can get them off to put in a dish of water, this will reveal the answer too. Unfortunately, it is often the "yard" dog or the rescue dog that does not get the help it needs on this. Just because you don't notice flea bites on you, doesn't mean that the dog isn't being tormented. Human blood is too thin for a fleas preference, so after getting a taste of you, they will concentrate on more delectable dining if he is available.
Since as a groomer, I was exposed all day to dips and other flea poisons, I wanted to avoid them in my home. I have read about people putting salt in their carpet in order to kill off the larvae, and while this may be effective, a commercial carpet cleaning professional I once knew cautioned me on using this remedy since salt cuts carpet fibers when you walk on it, wearing out your carpet sooner than needed. Since there are other alternatives, I prefer not to use salt. I did like the remedy found on a site about using a used horse blanket for the dog to lay on outside, although the writer did include a caution of where the fleas were being driven away to. I remember talking to my veterinarian years ago about fleas and he said that they were species specific parasites and didn't like horse blood. That made alot of sense since I have never had a problem with fleas on my horses, even in flea infested neighborhoods.
I remember being at a trade show that was open only to those professionals that were in the pet industry. I came across a product that offered a guarantee to rid your home of fleas for at least two years. The instructions were to sprinkle this product over your entire carpet, including under furniture and in corners, cracks and crevices, then wait for two weeks before you vaccuumed. The reason for the two week waiting period was to allow the product, which was a powder, to settle into the deeper fibers of the carpet. This way the powder would be beyond the vaccuums power to retrieve it, thereby leaving it behind.
So what was this guaranteed wonder remedy? Well, I took a look at the product labeling while I was standing there at the booth and noticed the ingredients. It was Boric Acid; nothing else. Just like a popular roach powder sold at grocery stores and others, only this was much more expensive.
Don't forget possible flea hideouts.
I want to mention here the importance of getting under ALL furniture. Flea Larvae can travel, not inches, but feet to get into the darker areas of your home. They really prefer it there, so it is important to vaccuum and treat these areas.
Another place to pay attention to is your vaccuum. The recommendation is to throw away your bag each time that you vaccuum, so that the eggs that you just sucked up won't hatch and return larvae to your carpet. This would also mean a thorough cleaning of non-bag vaccuums. An extra precaution is to put a piece of a flea collar into each vaccuum bag or container.
Other places that you will want to treat are garages, vacation homes, any vehicles that your dog may have or will come in contact with, your dog's sleeping quarters, etc. Fleas can hibernate in some stages up to two years, waiting for the slightest vibration, such as someone walking by to release them from dormancy.
As with anything, please always follow manufacturers cautions and warnings. Boric Acid works by dehydrating the flea and can cause problems to people when inhaled, or in other ways. MSDSs can be found online or obtained from the product's company safety division.
Reference for using horse blanket for dog: