Fleas! Thankfully, I don't have them (touch wood, finger's crossed, oh my doG I hope I haven't just jinxed myself!!!). But I decided to do a blog entry in response to Dawnie's comment on my "confessions" post, since fleas are a common problem (or the threat of fleas a common concern) for animal lovers, and dealing with them in environmentally friendly ways is safer for us, our pets, and our earth.
From my American friends, I know that some parts of the States are currently dealing with one of the worst flea problems in years. Fleas like warm, humid conditions. Hot, damp summers means party time for the fleas.
The first line of defense is a healthy immune system. My dogs are not on any flea treatments whatsoever, and are out in the fields daily on the warm "wet" coast, yet have never had any problems with fleas (touch wood, fingers crossed and all that.....!). They are all on top quality foods and receive daily supplements of fish oil to keep their coat and skin healthy, as well as pro- and pre-biotics and digestive enzymes to make sure they get maximum benefits from their food and their insides are healthy too. And, of course, they are brushed fairly regularly and visit the groomer every six weeks (two of the three dogs have very thick long coats which are far beyond my capabilities to manage!).
But that doesn't help those who are dealing with fleas now. Even if your only pet is a goldfish in a bowl, you can still end up with fleas in your home. If you step outside your door, a flea may hitch a ride on your shoe or pants and travel back in....where it lays its eggs and before you know it, your clean comfortable home has become Flea City. Even if you are an obsessive-compulsive housekeeper (which I most certainly am not!) and catch the problem early, it can still take a month or more to rid the house of fleas.
One problem with fleas is their rate of reproduction. They are prolific reproducers and their eggs can be almost anywhere. So simply treating the animal or killing the visible adults doesn't solve the problem. The house and yard also need to be treated. Every piece of bedding washed, every stick of furniture vacuumed, every surface wiped clean - no wonder it is tempting to just call the bomb squad to come and spray poison all over the house.
And I confess - I once resorted to that, many years ago when I rented a house that I quickly discovered was infested with fleas, and at a time when I did not know to act quickly and had little awareness of alternative methods. And in severe cases, I can see that it might be the only option for some people even if it necessitates moving yourself and your pets to a pet-friendly motel for a few days.
But before going that route, here's a few other ideas - both preventative and for dealing with the problem. Diatomaceous earth (which is a dried algae, a chalk-like substance) sprinkled in cracks inside the house and around the perimeter of the house and yard (also useful for ridding yourself of ant infestations and detering mice)is probably one of the most popular solutions. In the house, sprinkle it on the carpets, wait a couple of hours, then vacuum. Reapply daily until crisis is over. (Note: it can be an irritant so keep away from eyes and try not to inhale clouds of the stuff!). You can even dust your animals with it - an online friend says she puts it in a cheese shaker and dusts it on while grooming the dogs, being careful not to get it in their eyes. She also suggests putting it in a pantyhose leg; just tie it off and pat it on your dogs and on the furniture, leaving the dust on the furniture overnight before vacuuming. Again, vacuum daily (emptying and cleaning the vacuum thoroughly after use)and reapply. I would also suggest washing all bedding (yours and the pets) daily in hot water and drying on a hot setting in your dryer.
Dr Stephen Blake suggests placing "one teaspoon of wintergreen essential oil - the same kind that you use in vaporizers for colds - into a quart of hot water in a mist sprayer. Mist carpets, upholstered furniture, pillows and anything where flea eggs can hatch. The mist will not kill fleas but it will kill the eggs. Spray about 3 times a year. The odor goes away in a few days and you are safe for months without danger of pesticides. Since oil of wintergreen is used on babies, I do not believe it can hurt cats or dogs. You don't spray the animals; just their environment."
He also recommends steam cleaning the carpet with Simple Green (after testing it in a small area, of course)to kill the adult fleas and then when the carpets are dry, raking a mixture of 1 part Borax salts to 3 parts salt into all carpeted areas of the house. He says to leave this for a week before vacuuming, and that the treatment will last years. However, as salts can be problematic for your pets' paws, I'd recommend doing it only as a preventative just before leaving on holidays!
And one other excellent source of further information is this Mother Earth link. In the five page article, it provides helpful hints and natural solutions which are environmentally friendly and pet-safe.
And that is the end of my lesson on Flea Prevention and Elimination 101.