By Dr. Becker
Flea season is never fun for pet owners who live in areas where the little monsters are plentiful. Fleas thrive in high humidity and warm temperatures. This is why Florida has fleas year-round, the midwest states get a break during the coldest months of the year and why, if you live in a dry desert region of the country, you may never see a flea.
The most common type of flea species affecting cats in the U.S. is, coincidentally, the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis). The best way to deal with fleas is to avoid them rather than try to eradicate an established infestation. The good news is that if you also want to avoid using chemical pest preventives (and I hope you do), the safer, all-natural route is much more effective at prevention than extermination. Everything you need to do to control pests on your pet falls into three basic categories:
• Keep your cat pest-free
• Keep your home pest-free
• Keep your yard pest-free
Tips for Keeping Your Cat Pest-Free
✓ The first thing you'll want to do if your kitty spends time outdoors is keep those excursions to a minimum during flea season to avoid exposing her to flea populations that may be well-established in your yard or wherever she roams.
✓ Parasites are drawn to the weakest of the species, so keep kitty's health and immune system in good condition by feeding a high-quality, balanced, species-appropriate diet, insuring she gets regular exercise and maintains a healthy weight and by avoiding unnecessary vaccinations and veterinary drugs.
✓ If you suspect there might be fleas on your cat, comb him with a flea comb at least once a day, every day during pest season. Put kitty on a white or light-colored towel so you can spot flea dirt (flea poop) as you comb.
If you see some, drop it in a little water or isopropyl alcohol. If the liquid turns a red color, it's flea dirt, not real dirt. Gently shake the combings into a bowl or other container of soapy water and flush it down the toilet when your combing session is over.
✓ A soothing bath will drown fleas lurking on your cat's skin or fur, help heal skin irritation and make your furry companion feel more comfortable and less itchy. Also, clean animals aren't as attractive to fleas. Pick a non-grain (no oatmeal) shampoo specifically for pets.
✓ Be aware that some pets can develop a condition called flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), which is sensitivity to flea saliva. It's not the bite of a flea that causes most of the itching, but the saliva. And the saliva can cause irritation way out of proportion to the number of fleas on your cat.
A pet with FAD can be made absolutely miserable from the saliva of just one or two fleas. And it can make her uncomfortable for many weeks — long after the fleas are dead and gone.
✓ I also recommend you make liberal use of an all-natural pest repellent containing safe oils and pure water.
✓ Other safe alternatives to chemical pest repellents include cedar oil specifically formulated for pets, and natural food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE). Both of these can be applied directly to your pet's skin and coat — follow label application instructions.
✓ Another option is fresh garlic (it must be fresh, not processed — work with your holistic veterinarian to determine a safe amount for your pet's body weight). Don't waste your money on garlic in pill form or brewer's yeast pills. The B vitamins found in brewer's yeast responsible for boosting the immune system can be naturally delivered by feeding your pet a meat-based, living food diet. I don't recommend feeding allergenic brewer's yeast to pets.
Powdered garlic or garlic in tablet form has lost the medicinal component, allicin, found in fresh garlic. Garlic pills can be dangerous to pets.
Tips for Keeping Your Home Pest-Free
• Obviously, keeping your pet(s) pest-free will prevent a flea infestation in your home.
• Vacuum all the areas of your home your pet has access to, including the carpet, area rugs, bare floors, upholstered furniture, pillows, your pet's bedding and your own bedding if your pet sleeps with you.
Use the crevice tool and other attachments to vacuum along the baseboards and around the corners and edges of furniture. Don't forget to vacuum hard-to-reach places like under furniture, beds and closet floors. Dispose of the contents of your vacuum as soon as you're finished and get them out of the house.
• If feasible, designate a single sleeping area for your pet — preferably one you can clean easily. Fleas accumulate in pet sleeping spaces, so if you can limit those, it will be easier to control the situation.
Your cat's bedding should be vacuumed daily and washed frequently.
• You can apply a light dusting of food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE) on your carpets, bare floors and pet bedding. Make sure the DE is food-grade, not pool filter-grade, as the latter is toxic if ingested.
• Like diatomaceous earth, cedar oil can be applied to your environment and pet bedding, as well as directly on your dog or cat. It is an all-natural insect repellent.
• You can apply sodium polyborate powder to your carpets and wood floors to get rid of fleas at the larval stage. Instructions at Fleabusters state you should keep pets and children out of the room while you're applying the product, but they can come into the area safely immediately afterward. The powder works for a year once it's applied unless you have your carpets steam cleaned.
Tips for Keeping Your Yard Pest-Free
• Keep your grass mowed, weeds pulled and bushes trimmed. Clear away debris as it accumulates and perform regular inspections of your property to locate spots where pests are apt to hide and multiply.
• Plant herbs and plants, such as lavender, eucalyptus, fennel and marigold to help keep fleas away from your yard.
• Food-grade diatomaceous earth can also be used to control pests in your yard. However, it doesn't work immediately and must be reapplied frequently (monthly for best results). To use dry with a powder applicator you'll need about 1 pound per 500 square feet. You can also mix it up as a paste and apply it with a hose-end sprayer, using 2 tablespoons per gallon of water.
• Mosquito Barrier is an all-natural, liquid garlic based solution that can be sprayed on your lawn. Its repellent effect should last about a month according to the manufacturer.
• Nematodes are microscopic roundworms that eat flea larvae. Many people have had success using them in their gardens and yards to keep the flea population under control. Under the right conditions, nematodes work quite well. They can be applied with a lawn sprayer and have been known to reduce the flea population by 80 percent in 24 hours.
More research is needed, but it seems nematodes are most effective in moist, sandy soil away from direct sunlight. The worms don't survive in the hot sun. (Fortunately, neither do fleas.) Nematodes can be purchased at some pet stores, nurseries and online.
If you live where fleas are prevalent, vigilance in keeping your cat, your home and your yard pest-free should allow your feline companion to enjoy the warm months of the year right along with the rest of the family.