Happy October, everyone! Fall is here, and it’s my favorite season. Crisp sunny days, colorful foliage, pumpkins and mums; they all make me happy. I think our pets enjoy the changing season too. Unfortunately, some of our four-legged friends enter autumnal equinox with a flea problem. If you think the cooler overnight weather of the fall means that fleas are a thing of the past, you’re wrong. In fact, flea larvae (immature stage of the flea) develop outdoors in cool, shady areas, as well as in protected areas in our homes.
Speaking of our homes, no one likes to think about fleas hanging out where we watch TV and sleep. Did you know that one female flea produces 40-50 eggs per day? At this rate, it doesn’t take long for a severe infestation to develop. So what’s a human to do about these tiny interlopers? To win this battle, you must have a multi-prong attack:
Treat your pet
There’s a plethora of products available for pets: topicals, collars, dips, powders, shampoos, and oral medications. It can be overwhelming trying to decide what’s best for your pet. Although there are some useful and safe products available over the counter, it’s definitely a BUYER-BEWARE situation for many OTC flea products. Whether you are battling an active infestation or are looking to prevent, your veterinary office is the best source of advice for safe and effective options for your pet. Don’t forget about the simple flea comb. Used daily it can greatly help remove fleas from your pet’s skin.
Treat your house
Treating your house brings to mind setting off flea bombs or hiring a professional exterminator. In the worst cases of flea infestation, these approaches may be necessary. However, there are some simple tactics for the home that are often overlooked. First, every place your pet hangs out needs to be cleaned daily. This means washing his pet bed, and also paying attention to that overstuffed chair he loves to sleep on. Remove the cushion from the chair and vacuum all sides of it, as well as underneath the cushion. Vacuum the carpets, and use the crevice tool on the cracks between your hardwood planks. Flea eggs and larva are sitting protected in these small micro-environments. When you are done vacuuming, empty the canister or remove the vacuum bag into a tightly sealed bag that leaves your house. Allowing the debris you’ve collected to sit in the vacuum gives flea eggs a chance to hatch, continuing the life cycle.
Treat your yard
Walk around your yard, and take note of the cooler, shadier places, particularly spots where your pet likes to spend time. Fleas prefer to live here, rather than in open, sunny locations. Do you have rabbits and stray cats that wander through your yard? They can be the source of hitchhiker fleas. Think about whether you need to do some pruning and trimming to make it less hospitable for fleas. Once you’ve identified target areas, you can treat them with either a commercial product, or if you’re looking for a more natural option, you can use a soapy mixture as follows:
Buy a pump sprayer you’d use in your garden. Using Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap, mix up a soapy solution as strong as possible without having the soap come out of the sprayer as foam. Consider adding essential oils to up the killing power of your spray, typically 1 teaspoon (or 5 ml) of essential oil for a 2.5 gallon sprayer. I like Dr. Shelton’s Away blend, or you can add single oils like Oregano, Black Pepper, Thyme, Citronella, Peppermint, and Lemongrass. Spray the area in the evening. In the morning, before allowing any pets into the area, do a sniff test. If it still smells strongly of oil, keep your pet away for another 12 hours or so. Wildlife will generally avoid the area due to the strong smell, so don’t be concerned about harming them. Repeat spraying daily to every three days.
In the next few blogs, I’ll write in more detail about the many products available for flea control for dogs and cats. It seems something new comes out every year, and it’s tough to keep up with the changes. If you have questions about products or methods to get rid of fleas, please drop me a comment, and I’ll address them as I write.