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Common Sense Flea Control

All dog and cat owners -- at one time or another -- are likely to need advice on ridding their pet of flea. Fortunately, toxic pesticides and ineffective flea collars are not needed. By combing and bathing the pet, cleaning its bedding area, and increased vacuuming of the rug, you can achieve effective, low risk flea control. Below are common sense approaches to control fleas.

For Light Flea Infestations

Monitoring the populations of any pest is the first step in any common sense pest control program and is quite simple. A good flea monitoring program should include the use of a flea comb. It is important to record the amount of fleas you are catching each day to determine whether flea populations are increasing or decreasing.

If fleas increase, vacuum frequently (at least once a week), using a vacuum with good suction.

Bathe your pet regularly. However, too frequent bathing may cause dry skin which attracts fleas. If this occurs, bathe your pet less often and moisturize your pet's skin with a conditioning rinse.

Vitamin B1 will discourage fleas. B1 can be found in brewers yeast, which should be given in small doses or with dry pet food (otherwise brewers yeast may cause digestion problems), Or, use B vitamins -- talk to your vet about dosage.

For Heavy Flea Infestations

If your pet is often outdoors, kill fleas outside by flooding the yard with water, especially areas that your pet frequents. This will reduce the number of fleas brought into your home. Do not flood too frequently, be sensitive to drought conditions.

Steam cleaning of your furniture, carpeting, and pet bedding will kill fleas and eliminate the debris that feeds larval fleas. Wear an insect repellent on pant legs and footwear while steam cleaning. Steam cleaning will kill adult fleas and larvae. Moisture and heat from steam cleaning creates a favorable environment for flea eggs, which will probably hatch about two days after the cleaning, follow up steam cleaning with frequent vacuuming.

Daily vacuuming of carpeting, upholstery, and pet bedding should be a top priority for at least a week. This will enable you to catch newly hatched fleas and survivors daily, keeping populations well under control. If you have an air conditioner, make the room as cool as possible before vacuuming. When cold, fleas leave furniture and return to the rug where they are captured during vacuuming. Be sure to vacuum thoroughly in low traffic areas : along edges of walls, in corners, under furniture, and behind doors; this is where fleas tend to lay eggs. After vacuuming, wrap the vacuum bag in a plastic bag and dispose of it or store it in the freezer to kill the fleas before using the bag again. Alternatively, you can use a water filter vacuum, which pulls the air through a water filled chamber. this kills the fleas, as well as minimizing the dusty air and controlling mites. as with steam cleaning, vacuuming will pick up the debris that feeds flea larvae. regular washing of bedding and rugs that your pet lays on will control fleas from accumulating.

  • Right after steam cleaning, bathe your pet with soap and water. Fleas are killed by drowning. Insecticidal soaps can kill more, but are not necessary. A lower risk vegetable-based insecticidal soap is SaferŪ Flea Shampoo.
  • Use a flea comb daily to monitor flea populations. Combing also removes surviving and newly hatched fleas and helps keep your pet comfortable.
  • The use of dusts may also be helpful (use after steam cleaning with heavy infestations). Please read the section on dusts before using them.
  • Some pest control companies can apply and infrared heat treatment to carpets as an alternative to steam cleaning.
  • Sprays and shampoos with linonene and linalol (less toxic insecticides derived from citrus peel) are available. Not recommended for cats.
  • Insecticidal soaps can be used to spot treat bedding, rugs, floors, and pets favorite sleeping areas outdoors.
  • If problems recur try to keep pets out of difficult to clean areas, such as basements, attics, etc.

Tips on Combing

For effective combing, you will need a good flea comb (a fine toothed metal comb available at pet supply stores), a pan of soapy water, and a towel. as you are combing your pet, continuously check the comb for fleas. To kill fleas caught on the comb, flick them into the soapy water where they will drown. To avoid wetting the pet's coat, use the towel to keep comb and hands dry while grooming. Soap and water used to often on your pet my cause irritation and dryness.

For long haired pets, it may be difficult or even impossible to comb through thick hair, so extra attention should be paid to the stomach area where hair is thinner and easier to comb. Brushing to remove tangles before combing can make combing easier.

If your pet resists combing, have two people involved -- one to hold, stroke and distract the pet, and the other to do the combing.

Caution : Do not kill fleas by squeezing them. They can carry parasites and diseases.

Using Dusts

Diatomaceous earth and silica aerogels are chemically inert dusts that have proven effective against fleas, killing them by dehydration. Once applied, dusts will take a few days to work. One application in the spring should be enough each year to control fleas. To use dust, sprinkle it sparingly onto carpeting, upholstery, and pet bedding. After it is sprinkled about, allow it to sit for a day or two, then vacuum as usual.

Avoid inhaling dusts, which can irritate the lungs. wear a dust mask, and remove children and pets from the area being treated. Allow dust to settle before re-entering the room. Do not use pool grade diatomaceous earth, use only food grade (natural) diatomaceous earth.

Read label information on any product before using it. Some dusts and soaps/shampoos have insecticidal ingredients added.

Health Risks of Flea Pesticides

The active ingredients in most pesticide flea control products are neurotoxins, which are chemicals that attack the nervous system. Symptoms include nervousness, twitching, nausea, and blurred vision. They can also cause lasting neurological problems.

According to the National Academy of Science, children are more susceptible to the effects of neurotoxins. children also spend more time playing with, petting, and holding pets, so they are exposed to greater amounts of any pesticides applied to pets.

In one study, children in households where flea collars were used showed between 2.4 and 5.5 times greater odds of developing brain cancer. Arch. Environ. Contamination & Toxicology, Jan. 1993.

Most pet poisonings are the result of pesticides used to control fleas.

For more information, contact your veterinarian.

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Advocates for Long Island's Environment