Non-Toxic Flea Control

I guess we should consider ourselves blessed that, in the ten years that we’ve had our golden retriever Shannon, we’ve never had a flea problem.  But this summer, we discovered what a frustrating and challenging problem a flea infestation can be.  We’re not sure who to blame (the groomer?  Another dog?  Life?), but we’ve cursed and sworn that once we get past this, we’ll monitor things much more diligently so we never have such an outbreak.

Our veterinarian, who is a fairly “green” kind of guy, suggested that the most common remedy is to deploy a flea bomb.  Given my predisposition for clean, healthy air, I was certainly reluctant to take this advice, and sought out to find a healthier, non-toxic alternative to solve the problem.  As it turns out, there are a number of more eco-friendly options, although not as convenient as setting off a device that spews a dense cloud of insecticide to cover the entire interior of our home.  Of course the manufacturers of these products will claim that they are safe to use, assuming you follow all of their instructions and leave the house for a few hours while the “dust” settles.  In fact, this poison settles on virtually everything in your home, resulting in what I’d consider a hazardous waste site.  In addition, continued use of these pesticides ultimately leads to higher resistance from pests, which creates a need for even more toxic enhancements.  It’s much healthier to use a holistic approach to the problem.

The most important thing to keep in mind is not to panic.  Fleas are certainly a nuisance, but they are not a dangerous threat.  The biggest thing about fleas is that they have four stages of life.  Adult fleas represent the smallest fraction (about 5%) of the total population, sort of the “tip-of-the-iceberg” if you will.  The eggs that they lay both on and off your pet ultimately represent approximately half of the total population, and will hatch under suitable conditions after a week or so.  The larvae emerge from the eggs and feed on whatever organic matter is available.  About a third of these will survive into the next stage, transforming into pupae in a cocoon that can hibernate for an extended period of time.

Experts recommend focusing on the eggs and larvae, which represent about 85% of the total population.  Carpets can be treated with a variety of boric acid products, like 20 Mule Team Borax.  Another borate-based product, Fleago Natural Flea Control, dissolves the waxy protective coating on fleas, as well as their eggs and larvae, with terminal effects.

What we decided to do was use diatomaceous earth.  This is a non-toxic powder composed of the fossilized remains of diatoms, which are a type of hard-shell algae.  It’s important to get food-grade DE, not the chemically treated powder used in swimming pools.  The powder can be safely sprinkled on your carpets and your pet, and the sharp microscopic shells cut away at the exoskeleton of the fleas and larvae, causing them to dehydrate and die naturally.  Since there are no chemicals, there is no tolerance that can build up in the flea like in pesticides.  While it’s safe enough to eat, you should wear a mask to avoid inhaling it, because it can irritate nasal passages and lungs.

Another thing we did was put out a flea trap to kill fleas at night.  By directing a low-wattage light at bowl of soapy water, the fleas are naturally attracted to the light and are trapped in the soapy water and drown.  This is a great way to see how the flea population is declining over time too.

A bath is a great way to give your dog some relief.  Five minutes immersed in soapy water will drown all of the fleas on your pet.  It’s important to use gentle shampoos and limit the baths to once a week to not dry out the skin.  There are a variety of essential oils, including cedar, lemon, citronella, eucalyptus, and others, that will naturally repel fleas.

Bottom line: don’t poison yourself and your pet in a frantic attempt to eradicate this pesky pest!

This was published in the Going Green section of the November 2012 issue of Spirit Seeker magazine.

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