Natural Flea Remedies: How to Protect Your Pet and Your Home
Every pet owner knows the feeling of dread that overtakes you when your beloved furry family member begins that intense, frequent, and maddening scratching. You pray silently that it is just a bit of fur out of place and not that parasitic bloodsucker known as the flea. Unfortunately, for many it will be the flea and the mission will become finding a way to eradicate the pesky creature before wide spread infestation sets in.
Why Flea Control Is So Important
Though we all agree that fleas are a nuisance, it is also important to understand that they can pose a real threat to your pet, family, and home. Flea bites can cause red, itchy bumps on animals as well as people. Animals that are especially sensitive to flea bites may scratch or groom themselves excessively, leading to raw skin, baldness, and even skin infections.
In addition to be highly annoying, fleas carry diseases and parasites that can be transmitted to other animals and people. Quite often flea larvae have fed on the eggs of tapeworms. This can result in another type of infestation in which the parasitic tapeworm finds a way into your beloved pet (to learn more about tapeworms click here). There have been cases where people, particularly children, have also be infected with tapeworms after contact with fleas. Diseases such as the bubonic plague and murine typhus have also been known to be transmitted to people by way of the flea.
The Flea Life Cycle
For many, the sight of a flea will prompt an immediate trip to the pet store. Some will find success with the various chemicals and pesticides they find there. Others will not. If you've ever asked yourself why it is so hard to rid your home and pet of fleas the answer can be found in the flea life cycle.
The female flea can lay as many as 60 eggs per day. Multiply this by the number of female fleas that may be on your pet and in your home and you can easily see how quickly a complete infestation can occur. All of these eggs do not remain on your pet, of course. Instead, they drop off onto your pet's bedding, your carpet, and any other area where your pet spends time. In fact, many female fleas don't even bother to lay eggs on your pet but instead prefer to lay them in dark, damp places such as cracks in the floor or a corner of the basement. These eggs hatch into larvae and these larvae spin a cocoon, emerging as an adult free in as little as five days. The life cycle is then repeated with these new fleas feeding, mating, laying, and even more eggs hatching.
In addition to the rapid reproduction process, adult fleas are also extremely hard to kill. Their little bodies are like a coat of armor and contains an "antifreeze" protein that protects them from the cold. Their bodies are also designed to repel water based sprays and chemicals.
The secret to good flea control is prevention, but if your pet has already exhibited signs of fleas, it is important to interrupt the flea life cycle at multiple levels. Most commercial treatments only kill off adult fleas, leaving live flea eggs to hatch and live larvae to mature. With these things in mind, it is easy to see why overnight flea control is impossible. In fact, it can take at least 3 - 4 weeks to truly eradicate a home of fleas once they have made there way in.
- Most fleas live in your pet's environment and not on their fur. For every flea you find on you pet, there may be 30 more living in you home.
- Fleas become stronger and more immune to popular commercial flea control chemicals with each generation.
- A single flea can lay up to 60 eggs per day.
- The lifespan of a flea is approximately 90 days, however, a hibernating cocoon can survive for up to a year without feeding.
Natural Flea Remedies: How to Rid Your Home and Pet of Fleas
According to the Humane Society, Approximately 1600 pet deaths were attributed to the use of chemical flea treatments in 2008. While pet death is a rare and severe side effect, poisoning and allergic reaction can also be experienced by your pet as well as other family members following the use of chemical treatments. In addition, many of these treatment contain ingredients which are known carcinogens in humans. If you do decide to use such treatments, be sure to follow the directions carefully and pay close attention to any dosage requirements.
Many find that more natural flea remedies (or sometimes a combination of natural and chemical remedies) are just as effective if not more so than commercial treatments. Prevention will always be a part of any good flea control plan. Even if you already have a flea issue, you will need to take preventative measures to keep fleas away once your current infestation is eliminated.
Preventative Natural Flea Remedies For Dogs
Fleas are naturally repelled by citrus oil and lavender oil. Both of these oils are harmless for dogs. Lavender should be avoided if you have a cat, however. Here is a recipe a friend of mine swears by:
- 6 lemons
- 40 - 50 drops of lavender essential oil
- 3 cups of water
- Slice whole lemons including peel into thin round slices. Add to a pot and fill with water. Bring water to a boil. Remove it from heat and let sit over night.
- The next day, strain the liquid into a spray bottle and add the lavender oil.
- Spray your dog after a bath or before he goes outside. You can also make your own flea collar by soaking your dog's collar in the mixture. Spray rugs, carpeting, furniture, and any outdoor areas where your dog frequents.
Essential Oils For Flea Control
The following essential oils have been found to be helpful with flea control. These oils should always be diluted prior to use. As always consult your vet and do your research prior to using any remedy (commercial, chemical, or natural) on your particular pet.
- Pine Cedar
- Lavender (not for cats)
- Eucalyptus (not for cats)
- Citronella (not for cats)
- Tea Tree
Preventative Natural Flea Remedies For Cats
Rosemary is another great natural flea remedy. This rosemary essential oil spray may be used on cats as well as dogs.
- 1 cup distilled water
- 8 drops rosemary essential oil
1. Fill a spray bottle with 1 cup of distilled water
2. Add 8 drops of rosemary essential oil
3. Shake well
4. Mist your cat's (or dog's) fur. Do not soak your pet in the spray.
Other Preventative Natural Flea Remedies for Dogs and Cats
- Garlic - This is a good remedy to use for both dogs and cats. For dogs adding just a pinch of garlic to meals may help keep them flea free. Be careful to only use a pinch, however, as garlic can be toxic to dogs in large doses. Garlic emanates through the skin and will repel any fleas.
- Sulphur - Adding sulphur once a week is said to prevent fleas on pets as well.
- Apple cider vinegar - This offers a variety of health benefits for animals as well as people. When apple cider vinegar is sprayed on your pets fur it makes the skin more acidic and far less appealing to fleas.
- Black Walnut Hulls - Can often be found in capsule form at many health food stores. Adding this supplement to your pet's diet may repel fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes.
- Herbal Shampoo containing a combination of pine cedar, bergamot, rosemary, lavender (for dogs only), or juniper can be purchased or made at home.
- Lemon Solution - Washing floors in a lemon solution has been shown to successfully keep fleas away. Try combining the juice of 4 lemons and the rinds in a 1/2 gallon of water.
While adding supplements to your pets diet can be a great way to help control fleas, please keep in mind they will require as much as a month to build up to flea-fighting levels in a pet's skin. It is, therefore, best to start them in the spring before you find yourself in the midst of a severe flea infestation.
Tips for Ridding Your Home and Pet of Fleas
1. Treat all your pets and their environment at the same time.
2. Vacuum your home thoroughly daily or at least every other day. Immediately empty all canisters and replace all bags. Discard used bags and debris outdoors.
3. Launder or replace all pet bedding.
Natural Flea Remedies: After Infestation
Once you have identified a flea issue, preventative sprays are far less effective and other methods become necessary. One great natural flea remedy is food grade diatomaceous earth.
Diatomaceous earth can is a great defense against fleas, ticks, lice and other pests on you pets. It is known as a mechanical insecticide and causes the bugs to dehydrate by puncturing the exoskeleton and absorbing the moisture in their bodies. It can be used on your pet's coat, in their bedding, and on rugs and other surfaces where fleas may be present (let sit 24 hours then vacuum up). It is also a great treatment of your yard. CAUTION: Make sure your diatomaceous earth is food grade. Other forms of diatomaceous earth can cause breathing problems and other serious side effects.
To use food grade diatomaceous earth:
1. Rub it into your pet's fur. Within 20 minutes fleas will be dead.
2. Wash your pet within a couple of hours of application. This is an important step because diatomaceous earth absorbs moisture and can dry out your pet's skin if left on for prolonged periods of time.
3. Repeat process the following day to ensure all fleas and flea eggs have been eradicated.
Nematodes are another great defense for the outside environment. A nematode is a tiny worm that is applied via lawn sprayer. Within 24 hours there should be a 90% decrease in the number of flea larvae. Nematodes have no adverse affect on anything but the pest. Because they eat their prey and then die off from lack of food, they will need to be reapplied occasionally to prevent infestation of fleas from occurring again.
How to Make a Flea Trap
Depending on how bad you flea problem is, a flea trap can be an effective way to catch those pesky creatures while waiting for other treatments to kick in. It is also a good visual aid to help gauge just how bad your flea problem may be. Just put a shallow dish of warm, sudsy water under your bed, under the couch, and next to pet beds. Shining a light on the dish will greatly increase the trap's effectiveness as fleas will jump toward it.
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