This article was written, over time and with updates, for the Potsdam Food Coop's Newsletter. I am re-publishing it here as I am so often asked how to avoid the toxic flea chemicals. Keeping fleas at bay is the key. So much of health is about prevention. I have also realized that a zero flea policy is not realistic with animals. Animals attract fleas! If you want to avoid the harsh chemicals that cause cancer and are neurotoxins, a flea or two, here and there, should not be a cause for alarm. I still comb my cats once or twice a week and manually kill the fleas that I find. My lab, he will eat anything, gobbles up his daily doses of "Bug Check"! Another resource on flea chemicals. http://www.apnm.org/publications/resources/fleachemfin.pdf
Fleas, Fleas, Fleas, and, well, MORE Fleas! Have I ever told you I HATE fleas? I have had several pets over 20 years or so and never had to deal with fleas.
I do not use chemical or pharmaceutical flea control of any kind, just a natural diet and garlic/brewer's yeast in the summer months. I am not sure what happened summer 2010 but the fleas took control! I am still in shock, how could so many fleas exist in one area, on one poor infested animal?!
I have 4 pets or should I say 'flea magnets'? I am not sure how I survived so many weekly herbal flea baths over the past 2 summers. Basil, my lab, was the not so thrilled recipient of about 3 baths per week. Halo Purely for Pets Cloud 9 Herbal shampoo works like a dream. The fleas boil to the surface of the lather by the hundreds, dead, just like I like them! Here or there one struggles to survive in the suds. It gives me great pleasure to “snap” it to death between my fingernails. So much for non-violent living!
Now for the cats, and I have 3, ever tried bathing them? Any human being with a reasonable level of common sense would not try it more than once. I, on the other hand, did! The first bath a cat receives generally goes fairly well. I think they are in shock. After that bath, they wise up to the happenings! My seemingly docile, loving fur balls turn into puffed out, hissing, scratching, and biting maniacs! I can just walk by them with the shampoo bottle and the wild behaviors ensue.
So, of course, I decide I WILL have the upper hand here. I purchase a mesh bag with a head hole, designed for the sole purpose of bathing a cat. Advertising stated it was guaranteed to work, every time. Have you ever tried shoving a cat into a Velcro closing mesh bag with just a head hole for freedom? This was a feat in itself, leaving them in no mood for the bath to come. We are back at that image of the hissing, biting, maniac cat, this time on her back in the sink clawing like crazy to bust free of the mesh bag. Zero baths were given in that mesh bag. If I had only videotaped the cat baths. A great You Tube that would probably have gone 'viral'!
I have gathered weapons of mass destruction, against fleas of course. I have an arsenal of products, some designed to kill, others merely to repel. There are many available from various natural pet catalogs and websites. I have made some flea remedies myself from natural pet care recipes.
Let me attempt to fill you in on what works, what doesn't and where this all leaves me, my sanity, the fleas and my scratching pets.
First, let me back up here. I am certain someone is saying, “hello, have you ever heard of Frontline, Advantage...and a host of other pharmaceutical chemicals sold for the purpose of killing fleas and ticks”? Yes, I have. As an advocate of chemical free food and the land stewardship this entails, I am not fond of the idea of flea chemicals. Whether I give my pets oral flea medications or put the chemicals directly on their skin, the products essentially do the same thing: enter the pets’ blood stream and create a walking, eating, sleeping, chemical flea bomb. I am not sure that sounds OK to me. I do hate fleas though..............
Now with that said, let me tell you about the fun and adventures I have had with my various natural flea concoctions. Sergeant's Pet Care Products have a variation of the 'squeeze on the skin' flea killer called Sentry Natural Defense. The all natural product is made of a carrier oil and several essential oils with a touch of vanilla for olfactory pleasure. Applied to the skin on a cat's neck and along the spine of a dog, it works to repel and kill fleas. For a serious flea problem, forget this one. Perhaps if the product is applied before the flea season gets overwhelming and is used every two weeks like instructed, it may do the trick. I have used it over the winter on our long haired cat that still seems to harbor fleas. It keeps the fleas to a bare minimum as long as I comb her twice daily, killing the fleas caught in the comb. (For the record, I recommend combing while the cat eats. My 'lil hisser seems to ignore me when there is food to be had!)
Essential to flea control is daily vacuuming. Left to their own devices, the fleas would take over the house! Borax, sprinkled on the carpets, seems to help. Help is the operative word; it did not rid the problem. Did I mention the problem was fleas?! I was given a cardboard container of iodized salt to use in the same manner. A dear friend told me this was a flea remedy. I plan to try this iodized salt trick, sprinkled on the pets and carpets, when flea season takes hold again.
I have used many sprays that are basically water, alcohol and essential oils. Sun Feather's Bug Off spray works well too. These sprays need to be applied daily, a daunting task over the entire flea season, especially with several pets! The essential oils, much like in the shampoo, kills them dead on contact. Oh the feeling of dead fleas! I tried a powder product whose ingredients were: diatomaceous earth, brewer’s yeast, garlic powder and essential oils. Seemed effective IF applied daily and worked in down to your pet's skin. Not so hard with a dog but let me refer you back to the cat bath experience. It seemed to be the same experience except powder flying everywhere, not water and suds!
As for Basil, a lab, who lives near the river and swims several times daily, it is not easy keeping powder on this dog! I was constantly reminded of how easy the “one time application lasting 30 days” would be compared to constant bathing, spraying, powdering, combing............. But, alas, I did not give up.
On to electric collars: these work by bouncing an electronic frequency from the collar to the ground and back to the pet. Apparently fleas do not like this buzzing, bouncing electricity. I, well my dog, did not get much relief. Seems they work best when the animal spends most of its time on a hard surface, paved or concrete. The collar company rep recommended I leave the dog in the garage for a few hours every day. Great idea, I don't suppose a barking dog for 2 hours bothers this man. Maybe I will try it..... someday!
I then moved to magnetic tags that attach to pet collars and repel fleas and ticks. I think I have failed to mention that any “collar” trick is fine for dogs, but outdoor cats with collars are not a good mix. Tree climbing cats are in great danger with collars about their necks. Not an image I want to experience. Even if the magnetic collar tag solved the dog's flea problem, there was still the cats' fleas to conquer! Anyhow, with renewed hope, I tried the magnetic tags. The fleas raged on! I even spoke with people who swore by them for fleas, ticks, flies on horses, mosquitoes on humans... So the company sent me another tag, in case the first had lost its magnetic energy. I will try it this coming summer, now if I can just remember where I put it......
In the end, I went back to my flea baths, daily combing and spraying, and a powdering here and there when I thought of it. With flea season soon approaching, I am ready with my card board box labeled: Flea & Bug Stuff. In this box of magic is: iodized salt, borax, shampoo, sprays of various concoctions, powders, brewer’s yeast, garlic powder, SunFeather's Bug Off, Sentry's natural squeeze on stuff, flea combs and brushes, and a bottle of Jack Daniels. Oh yeah, the Jack Daniels is for me when I get sick of the fleas!
A local vet asked about the purpose of fleas replied with this, “to pay my kids tuition through college!”
I am certain, in the web of life, they must have some useful purpose. I have yet to figure it out.
I would love to hear if any of my tried and not so completely true natural remedies have worked for anyone else or if you have some other fun suggestions for me to try. I must confess, if the fleas are nasty bad in 2012, chemicals may finally reign in my home.
Oh yeah, I was kidding about the Jack Daniels, although it might just work as an expensive flea spray!
Flea Update Summer 2012 As of June 1st, 2012 I am using a product called “Bug Check”, available through http://www.thenaturalvet.net.
Here is my experience: I started using the powder in my pets’ food in early March. Based upon weight, add a certain amount to your pet’s food twice daily. I did. This is what I have noticed:
1. I do not have fleas in my house as of June 8th. Last year I had fleas!
2. My pets do not have fleas, last year we had plenty by now. With this year’s early & warm spring, I would assume there would be many fleas by now.
3. My long haired kitty harbored fleas all winter. I would comb her twice daily, while she was eating, and generally killed 5-10 fleas daily. Within 2 weeks of starting the “Bug Check”, I might have combed out 2-3 fleas a day. Within a month of starting the product, I may have combed out 2-3 fleas over several days. After using “Bug Check” for 3 months, I no longer comb any fleas out of her long hair. This is a gift, a flea free gift! I cannot say definitively, as the heat of summer and “high” flea season have not hit yet, but the preliminary evidence is promising!! I will keep you posted on our flea chronicles this fall. Maybe, just maybe, “Bug Check” will save me from chemical flea remedies and that bottle of Jack!
More Flea Updates, Fall 2012 Flea-less Frenzy!
Bug Check gets a huge OK from me. The product was highly effective in keeping fleas off my pets, no toxic chemicals required. If used in a generous dose for the animals body weight, I hear other satisfied customers say Bug Check also keeps ticks at bay. Next year I will up the dosage! Here are important things I discovered:
1. The product has to be used consistently every day. If you go away and no one is keeping up the Bug Check dosages, there will be minor outbreaks of fleas until you get back on track with the product.
2. Cats are finicky and do not always eat it in their food. This poses problems! Next year I will encapsulate it and gently push it down their throats with a little help from butter! I am certain this will turn into as much fun as giving cats a bath!
3. Bringing new pets into the equation screws things up temporarily. I brought home two new kitties in July. They were flea infested, kitty bath time fun began! In the interim two weeks to get the Bug Check into their systems and working, we had a slight outbreak of fleas. I say ‘slight’ as it is almost not worth mentioning after our Summer 2011 war with the fleas on pets and in the house. By the way, I think I lost the battles!
4. "Bug Check" must be used for 2 full weeks before flea season hits the North Country. My advice: get started early in the spring as it is well worth the effort to have chemical free pets.
Happy Flea Ridding!!
UPDATE March 2013: The flea product I found at Agway in Potsdam, NY is: Earth Animal Flea & Tick program by the Goldstein's Wellness and Longevity Vet care program. I am going to try it with my kitties as they are not so easy to convince to eat the Bug Check stuff!