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Natural Flea Remedies For Dogs
Most dog owners will have to tackle the difficult and irritating problem of fleas at some point in their dog's life. Flea infestation may be recognised by the fact that the animal often whirls round to nibble their skin even when they are doing something that would normally capture their full attention. They often scratch repeatedly with a look of purposeful concentration. The owner may see the fleas crawling on their dog. They are dark brown, blackish and shiny creatures, which are agile and can escape capture by jumping up to seven inches vertically or thirteen inches laterally. They are usually much quicker than most dog owners.
Owners themselves may be bitten, the bite producing a red wheal with a (sometimes visible) central bite point. The bites may itch for several weeks and owners can sometimes react allergically to them.
Owners may also notice flea dirts in the dog's fur. These look like little black specks, which if diluted with water turn red with the pet's blood.
One thing is sure, if you have seen a flea, it will not be alone, there will be many of them, not just on your dog, but potentially in your clothing, bedding, carpets, soft furnishings - Enjoy!
Choice of Treatment
There are numerous flea treatments on the market, but which to choose? before beginning any flea treatment it's important to discuss the options with your veterinary practitioner.
There are two avenues to explore, the conventional route and the alternative. With both it is important not only to treat the animal, but to treat the environment also, as you will see from reading the Flea Lifecycle below.
Conventional treatments such as flea spot on treatments can be effective. They usually comprise an insecticide and a product that disrupts the growth of immature fleas. The downside is that you are putting an insecticide on to your pet; this insecticide is toxic to mammals and includes you, your family and your dog.
When spot on flea treatments were first marketed they were heralded as the next best thing, and all you need to keep your pet and your house flea free. However, with the passage of time, fleas have become immune to the insecticide in a way that your pet and you haven't, so the treatments are less effective, but with he same side effects for you.
Additionally, in order to kill the flea or tick, the animal first has to bite to take in the poison, so may still transmit disease to your dog, such as Lyme Disease in the case of ticks.
There are several natural methods of flea treatment and repellent, which are worth exploring. These are non toxic to you and your dog, and generally smell a whole lot better than the traditional treatments (OK, with the exception of garlic!). I have researched several methods, and it's probably best to look at a combination of treatments, to ensure your dog, you and your home are flea free.
But first, how do fleas work - if we understand a little of their lifestyle, maybe we can understand how to kill them off a little better.
The Lifecycle of the Flea
The flea lifecycle has four stages, egg, larva, pupa and imago (adult). In order to breed an adult flea must have had a feed of blood, once this has happened the female lays eggs on your dog. She can lay 500 plus eggs in her lifetime. These eggs are layed in batches of 20 or so and easily roll off the host on to whatever they are close to: your carpets, you, your bed, your couch etc.
The eggs will hatch within two days to two weeks into larvae. The larvae feed on whatever organic material is to hand: dead insects, faecal matter, vegetable matter. They are blind and avoid the sunlight, preferring cracks and crannies, such as the fibres of your carpet, the edges of your mattress, edges of the dog's bed etc.
Within one or two weeks the larvae with spin a coccoon and within another two weeks will emerge as the adult. Most fleas will rest after this until there are indications that a host is near, when they will fling themselves aboard. The indications of the presence of a host might be vibrations, sounds, heat and carbon dioxide.
The adult flea must feed within one week of emerging, but may then go for a couple of months between meals.
Two adult fleas on your dog can lay 1,000 eggs over a season, any female hatching from these eggs lays another 500, therefore you can see that the flea population could increase exponentially if nothing intervenes.
Health Problems Caused By Fleas
Probably the most common health problem caused by an infestation of fleas is dermatitis, but severe infestations may cause anaemia from the blood lost through flea feeding.
Ticks can pass on Lyme Disease, not only to dogs, but to humans too. So it's really important to tackle this problem, and preferably prevent your dog from being bitten.
Natural Flea Remedies
Vacuuming: The University of California's study found that vacuuming catches 96% of adult fleas, so daily vacuuming of carpets, soft furnishings, and bedding is recommended.
Humidity: Fleas survive in humid areas such as centrally heated homes. In areas where there is 70-75% humidity, 20% of fleas survive. in arid areas only 5% survive, so consider moving to the desert, or dehydrate the fleas somehow. Table salt sprinkled around and left for a few hours before vacuuming helps, whilst Borax (boric acid) used in the washing machine will dehydrate and kill fleas.
Temperature: Fleas like similar temperatures to their hosts, so either freeze em or heat em up. On days with sub zero temperatures do what your Victorian granny would have done and fling pet beds, rugs and other soft furnishings outside in the cold (the neighbours will find this amusing too). Alternatively, washable fabrics and linens whould be washed on a hot wash.
Deterrents: Make your pet unpalateable in some way. Deterrents may be categorised in two ways, internal and external.
Internal deterrents:Brewer's Yeast is a tried and tested natural rememdy. it is also supposed to help humans who get bitten by mosquitos alot too. Cider Vinegar - a desertspoon of this added to your dog's water deters fleas.
The main flea deterrents centre around the essential oils of Cedar wood (which has been extensively researched and found to be effective), lavender, tea tree, eucalyptus, citronella and Neem oil. These may be diluted in a carrier oil such as sweet almond and rubbed into the dog's skin.
Alternatively you can make your own flea collar or bandana by rubbing the essential oils into the same.
Cider Vinegar may be diluted 50:50 with water and sprayed on to the dog.
Alternatively a soak of Rosemary herb may be made. Steep two cups of Rosemary in two cups of boiling water. When cool, discard the leaves and dilute up to eight pints. pour this over the dog and leave to dry without rinsing out. This also deters ticks.
One of the things which seems to get rid of a lot of dog fleas in one sitting, is bathing your dog. Fleas can swim quite well, but bathing with a mixture of bland shampoo and tea tree oil or cedarwood essential oil makes them drop off the dog and into the bathwater. From there it's easy to wash them down the drain, as they can't jump when waterlogged.
I find the best way is to wet your dog all over. Then squirt around a tablespoon of good, bland shampoo into a jug, add around 75mls of warm water and mix well with the shampoo. Finally put ten drops of tea tree or cedarwood essential oil into the mix. Pour all over the dogs coat and massage in to form a lather. You will see any resident fleas being washed off into the bathwater.
Once washed all over, paying particular attention to the neck, behind the ears, in the pits of legs and around the tail rinse off with clear water and towel dry. The dog's coat will be left with a residue of essential oils throughout it, which deter any opportunistic fleas in the environment.
Ready Made Natural Flea Treatments
If you'd rather have something ready made, Amazon stock numerous natural flea remedies - see the adverts dotted around here - but read about the product before you buy, so that you know what you're getting.
In short, you may still choose to use man-made insecticides on your pet, but surely it's worth putting in place some of the other treatment and prevention measures as well, to limit the incidence of infestation.