By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 7 June 2011)
The most effective approach to flea control is multifaceted, incorporating cleansing strategies, pet grooming, and the use of natural remedies.
Get Rid of Fleas and Flea Eggs
If you have already suffered a flea infestation, steamclean carpets, mop floors, and wash cloth items. Be sure to roll up bedding when carrying it to the washing machine to prevent flea eggs from falling onto the floor.
Regularly use a flea comb to remove eggs and fleas from your dog or cat, dropping them into a bowl of hot, soapy water or dunking the comb and swishing it in the water to remove the fleas. Busy people may wish to multitask, grooming the pet while talking on the telephone or watching television to make sure that he receives a thorough combing.
Killing adult fleas will only solve the problem temporarily if flea eggs aren’t removed as well. Fleas lay eggs in rugs, blankets, dirt, upholstery, and other places around the house and yard. Vacuuming carpets, mopping floors, and washing upholstery and blankets weekly or even more frequently will get rid of flea eggs.
Mowing your lawn regularly is also helpful, as the heat from the sun can then penetrate the soil, killing flea larvae. Don’t do anything to kill or repel the ants that visit your garden – they’re voracious consumers of flea larvae and eggs. Some people have had luck using nematodes (parasitic roundworms) to kill fleas in their gardens as well, though this strategy is more effective in some climates than others.
Herbal Flea Powders and Sprays
Herbal flea powders and sprays, available in many natural food stores and pet supply stores, can be used in place of more toxic compounds. According to Drs. Richard and Susan Pitcairn, natural flea powders can also be made at home by combining equal portions of the following powdered herbs (all or as many of them as possible) in a shaker-top jar (i.e., a spice jar):
- yellow dock
Apply a small amount to the cat’s or dog’s coat using your hand or a comb, paying particular attention to the neck, belly, and back. Because the fleas will leave the cat’s or dog’s fur shortly after the treatment, you may wish to bring him outside or to a room that is easy to clean when you apply the powder. Herbal flea powders can be used several times a week for a severe infestation.
Check with your veterinarian before applying natural remedies found online, as some natural ingredients that are often recommended, such as citrus oil, are not safe for cats and dogs.
Herbal flea powders and collars will only be effective if the rest of the home is also treated. Otherwise, the fleas will return. In addition to thoroughly cleaning the house, anti-flea mineral salts can be used to kill developing fleas in carpets.
Ineffective Natural Flea Remedies
According to veterinarian Chris C. Pinney, controlled scientific studies suggest that garlic, B vitamins, and brewer’s yeast do little to prevent or repel fleas, and garlic is toxic to cats (large doses may pose a risk to dogs as well, though dogs aren’t as prone to allium species poisoning). Electronic flea collars are also not particularly effective, and the high-pitched sound they make may be upsetting for the animals that have to wear them.
Abrasive Flea Control Solutions
Products such as diatomaceous earth and silica gel can kill fleas by damaging their exoskeletons. Pinney reports that these substances show some degree of success in controlling fleas. However, pets may experience dry skin or skin irritation. Some diatomaceous earth products can also cause health problems if inhaled.
Borates for Flea Control
Borates are an effective method for ridding carpets of fleas, but experts disagree as to their long-term safety. Pinney asserts that the risk to humans and pets is minimal. However, risks of long-term, chronic exposure are unknown, and to be on the safe side, borates should not be used in homes with infants.
- Dunn, R.A. (2006). “Flea Control with Parasitic Nematodes Not a Sure Thing.” University of Florida.
- Pinney, C.J., DVM. (2000). The Illustrated Veterinary Guide, Second Edition, McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing.
- Pitcairn, R.H., DVM. (1995). The Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats. Rodale Books.