Thursday, August 14, 2008

Another critter from the bottom of my list

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.


Anonymous said...

Not sure if you want to include this in your lesson or not Jean, but I was told long ago that if you have the type of vacuum cleaner that has a disposable paper bag in it, rather than spraying the flea eggs out the back with the hot air when you are vacuuming (which is what happens), to take one of those horrid Hartz flea collars (which do not belong on pets IMO) and cut it into pieces, and stuff them inside the paper vacuum bag, and they will kill the flea eggs. Every time you replace the bag, you put in new pieces of a flea collar (about half a collar per bag).


Jean said...

Thanks for the tip, Sharon. I agree that the cheap, popular flea collars available at department and pet stores should NOT be used on animals. There are numerous reports of animals having allergic reactions, skin conditions, and even death as a result - not to mention the toxic effect on children. But within a vacuum bag - it might help and is probably safe, though that is only my personal opinion.

However, make sure the collar you are using does not contain Pyrethrin or the synthetic derivative Permethrin - the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers them possible carcinogens for humans and they have also been linked to Parkinson's disease - you probably don't want the residue blowing out the vacuum's exhaust into the air you breathe. Permethrin is also toxic to cats, but is found in some dog flea preparations.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads up Jean.

And of course I had to go check what I have been using in my vacuum bag but, I didn't specifically see "Pyrethrin or the synthetic derivative Permethrin" listed.

Lots of warning about children, pets, etc. The toxcoligal info says the product (Hartz 2 in 1 flea and tick collar for dogs) is a pesticide that is a cholinesterase inhibior (anti-cholinesterase comound). Hope I got that all right. Lots of words I don't know and my eyes don't see as well as they used to....


Dawnie said...

I'm still fighting the flea war here but taking a break from the front lines. Wow, a blog entry due to my comment...I am honored. Thank you so much for all the "safe" information. I really am not fond of using chemicals. I am using several of the healthier alternatives now. I think I'm finally gaining on the little pests...slowly but surely. Thank you again Jean...your blog is always such a pleasure to read :-)

Anonymous said...

I must confess I do buy advantage but I haven't needed to use it on anyone yet this season. But September is normally flea season around this acreage.

Feeding garlic to the animals is also a natural prevention as is apple cider for the horses which keeps the flies away.

So many people are now turning to more natural and environmentally friendly products. I have been using homeopathy for about ten years now. Not only has it kept massive vet bills down it has enabled me to be able to treat symptoms right away. I keep about 300 remedies here all the time as well as the numbers for my veterinarians, ;o)).

Most of the time I don't even need the vets unless it is a surgical problem or one that I do need scripted meds for.

I don't like the idea of drugging up my animals for pain management either when I can use homeopathy which treats both the pain and more often than not the problem at the same time. Homeopathic won't mask symptoms or compromise the animal’s immunity .

I stopped all vaccines except tetanus for the horses as well .

When I first started using homeopathy, no one was talking about it in shelters or on the rescue boards. More and more people are reaching out to the homeopathic or the natural way to combat diseases both in us and our animal friends now.

Diet has changed huge for so many animal species now. Too bad so many of them are paying the consequences of what we have been feeding them for the last 40 years or more. We sure didn't see the leg and skin problems back when I was young like we see all over the world now. I realize much of that is also genetics caused by poor breeding practices and management. Now if only there was a remedy to treat that!


Janice Gillett
Hearts On Noses
A Mini Pig Sanctuary in Maple Ridge
British Columbia, Canada
I walked into the heart of a friend, and found a home