I Am Fleabane - the Fight Against Florida Fleas - and a Solution!
My New Flea Fighting Super Hero Identity
Fleabane, that's the new nickname my hubby came up with. Sounds like a super-hero identity!
Moving back to Florida has had its challenges.
One that continues to curse my life is fleas. Not just fleas. Florida Mutant Fleas from Hell!
My poor puppies and kitties have been scratching themselves raw and I'm still not near to solving the problem. You name it, I've tried it.
I even stole my hubby's favorite hair styling comb to pick the fleas out of the critter's fur, which is when my vigilance was rewarded with the new nickname.
Note: The title of this article used to say a "possible" solution. If you'd like to skip the experiments, just scroll down.to Oil AND Diatomaceous Earth and how to use it. However if you've ever struggled or are presently struggling with fleas, some of the previous information (including the Flea Facts) may be helpful.
Have Fleacup Will Travel
Right next to my computer there's a cup of soapy water. Anytime I see a flea on one of the dogs, I leap for it and drown its sorry butt.
This is only so effective though. Zen is a black dog, so it's very hard to see them on him. Bushi is white, but very thick furred and it's challenging to capture the foul vermin. Karma is black and white spotted. The fleas are easy to see when they're on the white areas. And they seem to KNOW they're safer and dive for the black areas when I chase them.
You name a method, I've tried it, and I'll continue trying more!
But wait! As I was in the process of writing this article, hubby and I lucked into an idea that may change the face of my war against the fleas.
Plastic combs don't work nearly as well as metal ones. In most cases the teeth are too bendy and allow fleas to escape. Make sure the edge of the tines are rounded and not sharp. Hold the comb at just above a flat angle for best effect.
Keep a bowl of boiling water nearby while you comb, but where your pet won't topple it and get burned. Dip the comb between each stroke, then wipe it with a paper towel.
I haven't tried this one, but it has excellent ratings.
What's With Florida Fleas?
Are they worse than other fleas?
Quite possibly! Down here, we don't have enough of a cold cycle during the winter. Oh it got a little nippy this winter (unusually so) and we had a couple days of frost, but not enough to kill the little demons off.
Because of our mild weather, it's probable that they've been treated with more chemicals than the average flea. In theory, they may have evolved to be immune to most of the chemicals traditionally used to kill them off.
Oh great! We probably have a whole new flea species!
Have you had a flea infestation?
Have you ever had a flea infestation? How did you handle it?
An Excellent Natural Remedy Resource for Your Pet
Although it wasn't helpful with the fleas in particular (its advice being similar to most), this extensive and useful book helped me cure my dog of mange. (And actually, that salve ended up being the inspiration behind our final solution!)
It's my go-to any time I'm putting together a pet remedy or making sure an herb is safe for one of my critters. It did suggest black walnut leaves as a possible flea deterrent. As soon as I can find some, I'll try that out.
The Battle Begins
I'm not a fan of chemicals in the first place. Poisons are poisonous to everyone after all. Not just the fleas, but to my beloved pets as well. Whenever possible I try to use natural remedies.
I avoided chemicals for as long as I could, but finally broke down and tried them, too. Didn't help much.
Now your results may vary. Especially with the diatomaceous earth, if you're in an arid climate.
So what have I tried?
Our first choice.
My sister said this worked great for her, so I figured I'd try it. It's made from naturally occurring sedimentary rock and comes as a fine powder. If you have carpets (I don't -- our floors are hardwood) you can dust them with it.
USE CAUTION WITH CATS, as some are known to be allergic.
BUY FOOD GRADE ONLY. Do NOT use pool grade on your animals or yourself.
Also keep it out of your and your pet's eyes! Keep it away from their heads altogether. Don't use it on their bedding, or yours. It can scar their corneas and can get in their lungs. Nifty. (I've read it's safe to use in bedding if you rub it in well, but who wants to take that chance?)
According to the instructions we found, we dusted the critters themselves. If you've seen Pigpen, from Charlie Brown Comics, that's what our dogs looked like, trailing a cloud of dust everywhere they went. It became apparent that keeping it out of their eyes was going to be a challenge. It was in the air everywhere.
Allegedly this stuff scratches the flea's exoskeleton, causing them to dry out and die. It also clogs up their joints. We have a lot of non-dead, non-dried out fleas.
Don't give up on diatomaceous earth though. It's also used for colon cleansing, internal parasite control and for cleanses. For humans, you can drink it in a glass of juice. For dogs and cats put it in their water or food, or add it to some chicken broth.
More research finally told me why this option wasn't working for us. If diatomaceous earth gets damp (even just humid) it won't work. So much for using this in Florida where the average humidity is in the 70s.
Score: Fleas 1, Diatomaceous Earth 0.
I'd love to get a new vacuum. I've been researching them for a while, and this may be one of the best ones for the price: Anti Allergen with a HEPA filters and attachments that pick up pet hair. I may be in love! Swivel steering too.
Great idea. Good luck with that.
Granted I don't have a vac with a hepa filter, and it might be useful if I did. Anyone who wants to donate one to the cause can feel free!
The other thing about most vacuums and fleas: Unless you have one that seals the dirt container your happy little hopping buddies will hop right out of the bag, bounce their way up the hose and right back into your house.
So if you've got a vac with a unsealed container or reusable bags, the moment--and I do mean the moment--you're done, you'll need to take it outside and remove/empty the bag.
I've considered vacuuming the dogs and cats themselves, but they're all terrified of the Noisy Howling Monster that is the vacuum.
Score: Fleas 2, Vacuum 0.
Bleach and Hot Water
Once again, this is one of those wishful thinking tips. Yes, I'd love to have a washing machine big enough to stuff all our sheets and pillows and blankets and clothes in at once. If I could stuff the bed itself in, that'd be good too!
Soon as one load of laundry gets done, I suspect the nasty buggers are jumping right into the clean stuff.
I've bleached the floors too, despite any potential harm to the wood.
Score: Fleas 3, Bleach 0.
It sounded wacky, but hey I do crystals. Someone suggested putting an amethyst cluster in the pets' water. They said it would possibly work better for cats than dogs.
Since amethyst is traditionally used among other things for warding off poisons and negative entities (and I can't think of much that's more negative than these hideous insects -- well okay I can, but I bet my dogs can't!) I figured it was worth a shot.
Well it seems about as effective as whistling to keep away elephants. Don't see any elephants around here, right? No, but I do see fleas.
After letting this sit in the water bowl for about 2 months, I decided it worked better on my table at work, driving away negative psychic energy than it did in controlling fleas.
Score: Fleas 4, Amethyst 0.
If you want to hear a flea chuckle, try a flea collar. These buggers were biting the dogs right next to the collar.
I can't recall what brand we got. It was blue and white. No worries, it was useless anyway.
Score: Fleas 5, Collar 0.
Itchy Facts About Fleas
In the course of this madness I'm learning more about fleas than I ever wanted to know. Here are some facts about these evil hopping vermin.
Which one is most surprising to you?
- Their species is about 100 million years old.
- There are over 2000 species and subspecies of flea.
- The female can't lay any eggs until after consuming her first meal of blood.
- Within 35-48 hours of her first meal, the female starts laying eggs.
- A female can lay 2000 eggs in her lifetime.
- They can wait in pupae stage for up to 8 months before emerging as an adult.
- Changes in heat, moisture and carbon dioxide levels trigger them to emerge from their pupae.
- Once adult fleas hatch from their pupae, they have 7 days to find their first meal or die.
How They Move
- They use their small front legs to run around (super fast too!) and their hind legs to jump.
- They can jump about 7 inches high - 150 times their own height. That's like us jumping to the third level of the Eiffel Tower.
- They can jump horizontally up to 13 inches.
- They can jump 30,000 times in a row without stopping. Did someone actually count that? And if so, who paid for that grant?
More Fun Facts
- The female eats 15 times her body weight.
- They can go about 2 months to 100 days without eating, if they don't have to move around much.
- They can bite up to 500 times per day -- each!
You'd think this stuff would work, right? It's got a warning label as long as my arm. Don't touch it, don't breathe it. Don't go within a hundred yards of it.
But I'm supposed to put this on my dogs?
Despite that, I used the stuff. I was desperate. Okay, I did see a bunch of dead fleas in the water. But the darn things were coming back within hours of their fur drying.
Score: Fleas 6, Dip 0.
Watch Out For Anemia
Severe infestations of fleas can cause anemia in your pets. I'm about as leery about vitamin supplements (which can have nasty side effects) as I am about chemicals.
To determine if your pet is anemic, check the color of their gums, which should be a bright, healthy pink.
We've been giving our cats and dogs liver (both beef and chicken) and beef hearts on a fairly regular schedule to help prevent them from becoming anemic while we're dealing with our infestation. The dogs also get marrow bones, another great source of iron. (Not to mention that a buck's worth of bones can keep three dogs happy for hours.)
Much like the dip, this didn't work. Plus I didn't want to poison the dogs with too many chemicals at once, so I had to wait a week while my poor babies scratched.
Yeah, a few fleas died in the water again. Not enough to make the chemicals worth it. And back came the Unkillable Florida Super Fleas.
By the way, there's a rumor that certain fleas only attack dogs and others only attack cats. Other sources say that cat fleas will attack dogs and humans too. All I know is that Florida fleas attack darn near anything, cat, dog or human.
Score: Fleas 7, Shampoo 0.
The big problem with this one, was that besides the horror of poisoning my dogs, the cost was phenomenal. With three dogs we were looking at about $70/month. And we were in the middle of a financial crunch, where $70 meant the difference between whether or not we had electricity and food for the month.
Finally, we got to a point where we could afford one month's treatment.
Having tried the flea dip and the flea shampoo several times, we had to wait for the dogs to detoxify from those treatments before we could go with this junk.
The result? It did work...a little bit. For about two weeks. Remember, these are Killer Florida Fleas who laugh at poisons.
Not enough to justify the huge cost. Or to make the critters happy.
And of course it's not safe to apply the stuff more than once a month, so something that lasted only two weeks wasn't useful.
Score: Fleas 9, Advantix/Frontline 0.5, Dogs/Cats/Humans (not worth counting till now) 0.5.
Probably more effective with non-Florida fleas.
Frontline and Advantix
I completely understand the desire to save your babies the itchiness and pain that comes with having fleas. I don't recommend this as a long-term solution, but sometimes a short-term one will help get the fleas under control.
In climes where there is less regular poisoning of fleas -- where you actually get a flea die-off because of cold weather, this might be highly effective.
A Helpful Video
This is a video for vets on what they need to tell their patient's parents.
Natural Defense Squeeze-On Treatment
I know I've used this stuff in the past and it worked just fine. Why these particular mutant fleas aren't impressed is a mystery.
On the good side, this stuff smells incredible. I think cloves and citronella are part of the ingredients. Whatever's in it the dogs smelled luscious. If nothing else, it's fantastic for getting rid of "old dog smell."
A warning: It does stain a rather vivid yellow. Which for me doesn't matter. Given the choice between a happy, comfortable dog and a tinted one, there's no contest. But you might not want to use it on a light-colored show dog right before a show.
However it didn't kill or scare away the pests. Not even a little bit.
Score: Fleas 8, Natural stuff 0, Dogs/Cats/Humans still just 0.5.
Light Over a Bowl of Soapy Water
The theory here is that the fleas will see the light in the middle of the night and say, "Oh, that looks so warm and friendly, I'll hop over toward it and drown myself."
I've heard theories that they prefer certain colors of light over others, as well. Some say yellow, but I've heard other theories. So I'm supposed to go buy several different shades of bulb to test this? Wait, why don't I just go buy the little monsters a disco ball?
The nasty insects were largely unimpressed.
We may have caught one or two, but that was about all. With three dogs, two cats and two humans to keep them nice and warm, they weren't interested in going into the light.
Score: Fleas 9, Bowl and Light 0, Dogs/Cats/Humans 0.5.
Dawn Dish Detergent Bath
A small victory.
Someone told us that this stuff worked well. Makes sense, right? After all my happy fleacup was filled with soapy water, which keeps the fleas from being able to skate across the water because of surface tension.
Also -- a huge plus -- it's one of the few treatments that's safe for cats.
It's at least as effective as the dip and shampoo, but it's non toxic. And unlike many of the other things we tried, Dawn doesn't cost a fortune.
Are other brands of dish detergent safe for pets? I don't know. I'd rather go with a brand I already know is. If you try a different one, just be sure to research it before using it on your beloved critter. Take special caution with cats as they tend to react to a lot more chemicals then dogs do.
The buggers didn't stay away long, but with frequent baths, we're starting to make headway.
The big problem with baths, is that frequent bathing strips the oils from their skin. I don't recommend bathing your dog or cat more than once every 5-7 days.
And let me tell you, cats do not like baths. I have the scars to prove it.
Score: Fleas 9, Dawn 1, Dogs/Cats/Humans 1.5
Around this time, the nickname Fleabane gave us an idea. "Hey, Isn't at the name of a plant? And if that's what its called, perhaps that's what it does?"
We looked it up and found that there in fact was such a plant. Not only that, but the photo of the flower looked exactly like a wildflower that we'd had growing in our field in Colorado, which the dogs ran through every day. Well no wonder we never saw a single flea out there!
The local herb store didn't have any. Had it been summertime, I would have had a friend pick us a nice big bunch and mail it. I finally located it for sale on the web. "But wait," I said, "this fleabane has a different Latin name than the one growing in our fields." Our stuff was from the Erigeron family, while the stuff for sale was Conyza canadensis.
And then the next and most important question: Running through the fields in CO, I hadn't been much worried about the dogs eating the flowers. (They were more interested in eating yak poop when they could get away with it.) But if I put it in their bedding or on their fur, would that be safe? According to the SPCA, Erigeron speciosus is highly toxic to dogs, cats and horses. As for Conyza canadensis, I couldn't find any information on its safety.
Score: Fleas 10, Fleabane 0, Dogs/Cats/Humans 1.5. Not even trying it, so the fleas win by forfeit.
The Breakthrough: Diatomaceous Earth & Olive Oil
Several years before, I'd made an oil/salve for Zen when he had a skin condition. He was tested twice for mange, but the tests were negative. (Although a later vet said the tests aren't always reliable.)
My salve contained a huge list of herbs and I'm not sure which ones were the actual effective ones. Probably all of them to some extent. Whether it was mange or not (and my vet's guessing it was), his skin condition cleared up beautifully and all his fur grew back nice and healthy.
Hubby suggested we try that, again "The oil should help suffocate the fleas and it'll help their skin."
On the day I was going to hike up to the herb store, hubby had a flash of insight. "If we put the diatomaceous earth in olive oil, it'll help keep the DE on them. So we won't have the dust problem. The oil will bog down the fleas and keep the DE from getting humid. It's a double pronged attack." His physics degree is finally paying off bigtime!
Plus the olive oil is healthy for their skin and fur, both applied right to it and as a dietary supplement. (With cats, be aware that this will create extra grooming, so it may not hurt to have some hairball remedies on hand.)
We bought several cheap t-shirts to keep the pups from smearing oil over everything and I made a vat of diatomaceous mud.
It's working. As with the baths, fleas died in droves. But even better we suddenly had three very relaxed, comfortable-looking dogs. Plus, unlike the baths, all three dogs were thrilled. They sat in the tub while I mudded them up, licking up every single drop. (And since both the oil and the earth are great for them, I was happy to let them do that.)
We haven't yet done this treatment to the cats, because I was nervous over the allergy warnings. However by now I feel that they've been exposed to enough DE in the environment of the house that if they were going to show any reaction it would have happened already. So tomorrow Squeaky and Raz are getting their own spa treatment.
In the space of a week or two, our flea problem has gone way down. They're not entirely gone yet. For that we'll have to make it through a few flea hatching cycles. But we're finally on to something that works!
Score: Who the heck cares!? We're winning now!
How to Give Your Dog (or Cat) a Diatomaceous Earth Olive Oil Treatment
- Diatomaceous Earth - Food Grade
- Olive Oil
- Cotton T-Shirt in a size that fits your dog or cat
- A clean bathtub or other space that you don't mind getting messy
- A canister, bucket or other container for mixing
- Clothes you don't mind getting dirty
The olive oil used for this doesn't need to be expensive. We buy second pressing oil by the gallon tin from a little Farmers Market down the road from us. We save the Extra Virgin stuff for a final finish or for salads.
The T-Shirt should be cotton (not blends) because that's more breathable.
Clean your bathtub before this treatment. I don't advise using an outdoor space, first because your dog may have an urge to roll in the dirt, and secondly because you don't want to subject any beneficial insects to the DE.
Mix a slurry of approximately 2 cups olive oil to one heaping handful of diatomaceous earth. I use a wide kitchen canister, with a lid, so that I can save any excess for later. The mixture should be thin and runny, with about the consistency of a crepe batter. Break up any lumps, but don't worry about going overboard - you'll be digging in with your hands.
The actual amount you'll need will vary depending on the size and number of your pets. For my 3 dogs (they range from 45 to 80 lbs) I use about 4 cups of oil, and usually have a bit left over. No worries, the stuff won't go bad.
Wear old clothes, as the oil can put permanent grease stains into fabric.
Get your dog (or cat) into the tub. At this point my dogs are so used to baths that they hop right in.
Ladle the DE oil slurry onto your dog. I just use my hands for this. Start with the neck and chest so that the fleas don't migrate up to the head, the same as you would for a normal bath. Do not get this mix on their face or in their eyes/ears.
Massage the mix into your dog's fur, working it all the way through to the skin.
They will probably want to lick the drops that land in the tub. That's fine. It's okay if they lick themselves too.
Drape the T-Shirt over their head and gently pull their front feet through the armholes, being sure to brace them so that they don't slide in the tub.
Knot the end of the T-Shirt so it doesn't drag and trip them up. Take care in helping your pet out of the tub, as you don't want them to slip and get hurt.
You may want to confine your pet to an area where they won't get your couch, bed, etc. oily. The T-shirt will contain some of the mess, but obviously not all. Don't put them outside or they'll just roll in the dirt and get it embedded in their fur. Leave the T-Shirt on until your pet is mostly dry, about 6-8 hours or overnight.
NOTE: Be sure to clean your bathtub after this treatment. It's super slippery and will make it dangerous for you to stand in the tub and shower.
Enjoy watching your dog or cat recline in non-itchy comfort.
Repeat this as long as the fleas keep coming back. (This will happen until you break the cycle, which can take a few weeks.) You will still want to vacuum and/or bleach their bedding, as that will help it happen faster by destroying eggs, larvae and pupae as well as some of the adult fleas that may have been lying in wait.
For larger needs go with this.
A Fleabane Update
I first wrote this article in March. It's now September. For the last few months our critters have been almost flea-free. I'm doing cartwheels with joy.
For the first month or so, we did the diatomaceous earth and olive oil treatment about every week or two. Then about once a month. We still find the occasional flea, but it's down to almost nothing.
We did treat the cats as well, with no adverse effects. Unless you'd consider the dirty looks they gave us an adverse effect.
It took a while for the itching to stop, because all of my poor babies had flea-induced dermatitis. Now the itching has mostly stopped. Their fur has grown back. Everyone's looking relaxed and comfortable.
If you try this treatment, please do let me know how your results turn out.
Some Flea and Pet Health Related Links
- Diatomaceous Earth (food grade): bug killer you can eat!
An excellent article on how to use diatomaceous earth and how it works.
- How Fleas Generate Their Famous Jumps
Scientific study on fleas and their jumps.
- Top 8 vet-sanctioned home remedies for pets
Some good basic info here on pet safe remedies.
All photos by Lionrhod unless otherwise specified
Via Wikimedia Commons:.
Flea #2, False color Janice Haney Carr of the CDC, Public Domain
© 2014 Lionrhod