Few creatures are as prolific as the ubiquitous flea—and they couldn’t be less popular. These blood sucking buggers not only make life miserable for pets, but their owners, too. Finding a black dot on a dog’s neck automatically sends pet parents into damage control mode.
The bad news: For every flea found on a pet, there could be 30 more lurking in the shadows. And they’re not necessarily all living in the your pet's fur—most of them are living in carpets, bedding, corners, cracks, and crevices. And man, can they multiply. A single flea can lay as many as 60 eggs each day. These eggs can even lay dormant for up to a year without feeding—so come next summer, they’re back in full force.
And while there are lots of chemical options on the market aimed at protecting your pet from pests, most of them contain dangerous substances. They're basically pesticides, and not only can they be deadly to pets at high doses, but they're typically applied right at that spot at the back of the neck that people—kids included—just love to pet. (Now imagine a toddler's poison-infused hand going straight from puppy to mouth.)
The best way to ensure that fleas don’t turn your home into a war zone is to strike preemptively. Here's the game plan:
Some easy maintenance tips: 1) Wash bedding regularly with hot water, at least once a week. 2) Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum all floors, rugs, and couches, paying special attention to room corners and underneath furniture. Do it frequently, and make sure to dispose of the bags since fleas can continue to live in them.
Diet can play an important role in flea prevention as well. Feeding dogs and cats fresh, whole foods can improve their overall health, particularly the immune system, which helps to deter fleas. According to holistic veterinarian Dr. Peter Dobias, fleas would rather chomp on dogs with cheap kibble-induced high blood sugar than ones who eat a more wholesome diet. Vitamin C- and B-complex vitamin-rich foods and essential fatty acids like coconut oil can maintain a pet’s healthy coat.
Want to really get ahead of fleas? Keep grass cut short and grab some nematodes (microscopic roundworms that come in the form of a spray) from the local pet store and spray them all over the lawn, in moist, shady spots. These microorganisms might seem a little icky at first, but they’re worth the squeamishness—safe for animals, birds, humans, earthworms, and ladybugs, they’ll devour all the flea larvae surrounding the house.
Getting rid of fleas once they've moved in
If the fleas manage to infiltrate the house, place a dish of soapy water under a night light near the pet bed. The tiny bugs will be drawn to the light like a moth to a flame and end up drowning in the process. It's not sadistic—just vigilant.
Bathing pets regularly—just with warm water and mild soap, not harsh chemical baths—can keep a small flea problem at bay. A little bit of apple cider vinegar can work wonders, too. Fleas despise the acidic taste of ACV, so try adding a little of this vinegar to your dog or cat's drinking water. For a 40-pound dog, add one teaspoon ACV to one quart of water (adjust according to the the pup’s weight). For dogs and cats, a diluted 50/50 mixture of ACV and water can be sprayed directly onto their fur and skin. (Dilution is especially important for cats, who have sensitive skin.)
A drop or two of cedar oil on a dog’s neck or base of tail can be a great flea-repelling “medication.” Want a natural DIY flea collar? Combine three to five drops of cedar oil with one to three tablespoons of water into a spray bottle and spray it onto a bandana. Tie the bandana to the dog’s neck, and voila!
Although cedar oil is a great flea repellent, essential oils should never be used on cats, due to their thin, sensitive skin, and their tendency to groom themselves day in and day out. Ingesting essential oils can be highly toxic and life-threatening to cats. Other so called remedies that can be harmful to dogs and cats: Garlic and citrus. Avoid!
Of course, there's no more qualified expert than your vet, so if flea problems persist, it's probably time to call in the big guns. Hopefully, however, these natural prevention and treatment methods—will do the trick!
Photo credit: Paul Delmont