Fleas can be one of the most annoying aspects of owning a pet. They aggravate both you and your pet – dog fleas and cat fleas can and will bite people as well, and flea bites are itchy and a pain. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to deal with the problem of fleas – both preventative measures you should take to avoid them in the first place and ways to get rid of them once your house is filled up with these unwelcome guests.
There are a couple of important flea control products you should look into: the main ones are Frontline, Advantage, Program, and Revolution. There are a variety of other products, and even some cheap, natural ways to try to get rid of fleas. Because of the health risks involved with your pet having fleas, it’s really better to use home remedies for fleas as a backup, and not as a primary way of getting rid of fleas.
Is it actually safe to use medicines on my pet? Some pets do have allergic reactions, but for all the major brands of flea medicine this is a small number. You also have to think about the health risks from having fleas, which are often more severe (worms, anemia, skin problems, and blood disorders that can cause death). On balance, it is probably best to use the flea medicine. If you’re worried, you can try natural methods to get rid of them. They aren’t as effective, but they won’t have even that small risk.
What about combs, shampoos, bombs, etc, etc.? You can use any of these things as well, but the core of getting rid of them is a flea medicine. These other products will, generally, reduce the population but not end the infestation. However, they can be great for speeding up the end to the flea infestation in your house. Think of them as a supplement, not the main thing you should be doing.
I’ve got a kitten/puppy. Then don’t use the medicines until you have passed the recommended age – it varies from 6 to 8 weeks – focus on natural remedies instead, and try bathing them with baby shampoo and grooming them with flea combs.
OK, but what about my house? What do I do about all the fleas in there now that I’ve tackled Rover and put smelly goo all over his neck? The fleas should die off within a few weeks, but there’s some stuff you can do to speed that up. Vacuum repeatedly. If your pet has a bed, wash it several times in the washer in hot water. Keep your pets indoors if you can. There are some other products you can use around the house – sprays, some sea shell dust that will kill fleas, flea bombs, etc. There are dozens of different methods people use, and all kinds of products you can buy.
If I don’t want to use the flea medications or chemicals, what are alternative ways to get rid of fleas?
First, it’s important to note that fleas will survive the winter. You can’t rely on the weather – fleas don’t die off even in deep freezes. They won’t bug you for a few months, but they’ll be back to bite you again in the spring. You’ll have to take more active measures to deal with them. There are a number that have been suggested.
Garlic – Many people swear by introducing garlic into their pet’s food as a means of getting rid of fleas. It is known to strengthen the immune system in humans, so many advocates of natural methods have suggested using it in pets as well. I do NOT recommend doing this – there is substantial research suggesting that garlic, in dogs and cats, can cause serious problems, even death in some animals. First, garlic has been demonstrated to cause anemia in some dogs and cats. This is a serious blood illness, and it’s just not worth the risk to get rid of fleas. Second, garlic is extremely bad for your pet if it happens to be diabetic. Yes, many pets are diabetic – just like with humans, only their diet often keeps it from being a problem. Garlic, however, will aggravate insulin problems and may well kill your dog or cat if it happens to be one with a hidden diabetes problem. This is just too dangerous to do as a remedy without consulting your vet. At any rate, the risk from chemicals in a flea powder is far lower than that of garlic.
Environmental Control – One way that doesn’t rely on doing anything to your pet is to control the environment. There are a lot of ways to do this – first and foremost, don’t let your cat or dog outside. Cat fleas and dog fleas can only come from other animals – if your pet is an indoor animal, it likely won’t have a flea problem. Prevention is the best method, and for cats at least, you shouldn’t be letting them outdoors anyway. For large dogs, this won’t be an option – you need to walk them, and they need to get out into the yard to play. But you don’t have to let other dogs into your yard – that alone will go a long way towards getting rid of fleas.
You can also use various products that are designed to get rid of fleas without chemicals. For instance, one new product is a freeze-dried worm or nematode that eats flea eggs. Some people may be uncomfortable with modifying the environment in this way, but chemicals may be even worse. Talk to your veterinarian about this (as with all methods), there are several brands such as Intervention that can help you out without you really having to do anything actively.
Grooming – Regular grooming can also eliminate fleas without chemicals. Use a fine comb and go through your pet’s hair – you can easily get rid of fleas this way naturally, and while it won’t get them all, you’ll spend quality time with your pet. With some pets, it may actually be a good idea to trim their fur. You can get a grooming kit that comes with clippers designed to cut fur to various lengths. Why do this? Because if you’re only going to rely on natural ways to control fleas, then if you have a long-haired pet, it is harder to get the fleas out when bathing them or grooming them. Keep in mind though that it’s only helpful to trim their fur if you’re going to have the discipline to personally bathe and comb them. Trimming the fur only makes it easier for you to find and kill the fleas yourself – it doesn’t do anything to get rid of them other than that. One of the weirder inventions I’ve seen recently is the fllea zapper comb. This is a comb with a mild electrical charge that is supposed to kill off fleas as you comb your pet, but will be too mild to affect you or the animal. I haven’t tried it and can’t find any discussion of whether it works or not online, but it’s pretty cheap so if you’re going natural for environmental reasons or if you’re a gadget junky you might check it out.
Herbal flea collars – There are many herbal flea collars designed to use various scents to drive away fleas. I am a little ambivalent about these, but they could be worth a try. Just check out the specific brand with a vet and make sure there is nothing to worry about with anything in it. The only one I’ve found easily available online is Petguard, which is designed to be environmentally friendly.
Diatomaceous earth – This is basically a non-chemical kind of soil designed to kill insects. It doesn’t have any chemicals – it relies on tiny, sharp edges on the dirt that do damage to the exoskeleton of a flea or other pests. The fleas will then die of dehydration – they essentially leak water, and they can’t replace it fast enough. It’s a non-chemical means of flea control, but it can be rather messy to use. It’s made mainly of fossils from water plants, so there isn’t much risk in using it. It might not mesh well with your current soil though, and you should be careful if you have plants or gardens that it might affect negatively. If you’re using it in the yard, get one of the larger bags so you can repeat the dusting if it rains, etc. However, one of the good things about it is that it’s safe to use around your pet’s bedding or other areas – you’ll have to clean it up later, but it can be much better than setting off a flea bomb or a flea bath. Unfortunately, there’s not much this will do about flea eggs, which could remain dormant for awhile. You can go with smaller bags of the earth if you’re just using it indoors.
Vacuuming – One safe, natural method to get rid of fleas is to vacuum frequently. Unfortunately it’s usually not 100% effective, which means while it will reduce the flea population it will rarely eliminate it.
Flea Traps – Basically these are more advanced versions of the little pads of glue you’d use for roaches. Because they have to be left out in the open, they have a grid over the glue that the fleas fall through.