Fighting Fleas Naturally

July 28, 2009

We are presently locked in a flea battle.  The fleas entered via the house beast and have taken over our home.  We don’t use any flea repellent on Greta, our cat, because my research tells me that the chemicals used in those drops originate from chemical warfare.  On top of that, over time, the fleas develop a resistance to that, so the drops are getting increasingly more potent.  I have also read the horror stories of cats and dogs responding quite poorly to the drops, and even though I am not exactly an animal rights activist, I do like Greta quite a bit.

*By the way, if you don’t care about the details of the flea battle, scroll to the bottom for the solution.  It will be clearly marked “Solution.”

As far as our home goes, we were against the “flea bomb” from the beginning.  We do everything we can to avoid harmful chemicals in foods and cosmetic products, so there is no way we were willingly going to fill our home with additional chemicals.  So the all-natural flea battle began.

I have done a lot of research on environmental, human, and animal-friendly flea control.  Before I outline what we’ve done, though, you should know this about fleas.  Female fleas lay as many as 20 eggs a day, and they often lay them either on the animal or in dark spots.  Needless to say, the problem can get out of hand very quickly.

We started out with this:

We vacuumed the house really well, especially in Greta’s preferred spots, and dumped the contents outside.  We also washed all bedding and furniture covers (I read that it’s recommended to wash in hot water to kill the fleas and larvae, but I think if you use a dryer, cold water washing should be fine).

After vacuuming, we sprinkled salt in as many dark and secluded locations as possible–this is supposed to dry out the larvae.  We repeated this every few days for a little over a week.  I know not all people have this option, but since we have a screened porch that is shut off from the rest of the house, we shut Greta on the porch in an attempt to control the indoor flea population.  We placed a white sheet on the couch on our front porch, since Greta spends nearly all of her time on it, and this allowed us to easily see how many flea droppings (made of feces and eggs) we were dealing with.  We changed and washed this sheet daily.

As far as Greta goes, we realized our biggest mistake when initially dealing with fleas on her body was that we were washing her too quickly.  She, as most cats do, hates baths (I always end up with a few abdominal puncture wounds).  Because of this, we often lathered and rinsed as quickly as possible.  We noticed after one of these baths, though, that fleas had latched onto her belly, but were still alive.  We now know that we must lather her and leave her lathered for 10-15 minutes.  We use a mild all-natural soap and bathe her in the sink, allowing her to sit in belly-high warm water–she seems to tolerate this.  Beyond bathing her, which you shouldn’t do too frequently, because cats have fairly sensitive skin, we comb her two to three times a day with a flea comb.  I catch the fleas and droppings and put them in a soapy water dish kept nearby.

We did all of this pretty faithfully (I missed a few early morning combings) for over a week.  And we still had fleas.  They weren’t terrible, but both Courtney and I were very frustrated.  I had read about another solution, though, that we hadn’t tried simply because we hoped to rid ourselves of fleas with no chemical, compound, or substance.

Solution:

We bought diatomaceous earth.  Visit the link to learn more about it, but basically, it stabs into the exosceleton of the flea and dehydrates it.  Since it is a mechanical killer, rather than chemical, the fleas cannot develop a resistance to it.  I mixed one part table salt, with one part DE (partially because they both will combine to dehydrate the fleas and the larvae but also because the DE tends to clump like powdered sugar, and the salt breaks up the clumps).  I spread it all over the basement, since we realized that the fleas were especially bad down there, and all over the house, giving special attention to rugs and spaces under furniture.  While spreading the mixture, it’s important to wear a mask.  Even though the DE is too fine to harm human or animal skin, it can cause problems if inhaled.  You might also consider wearing goggles.

After two days with the DE and salt mixture spread around the house, we went an entire evening without seeing a flea.  We plan to wait a couple more days before vacuuming it all up just to make sure we got them all.  We’ll also wash Greta really well before allowing her back in the house.  One final note: we boil a couple of cups of water and add some rosemary to it to form a rosemary tea, and we spread it all over Greta, allowing her to air dry.  Fleas seem to hate rosemary, and it makes her smell quite nice.

We’ve also put trays of rock salt under furniture, because it’s supposed to repel fleas (not sure why), and when I vacuum now, I vacuum up a small amount of DE just to make it harder for fleas to survive inside the vacuum.  After a couple of days, I’ll give you an update, but for now, we are very hopeful.

Update:

Here is our greatest lesson learned from the past two weeks: as soon as you think you have the fleas beat, prepare for another round, because they just don’t go that easily.

Another thing I have learned about fleas is that without a meal, they cannot lay eggs.  Adult fleas can live for months without a meal, but newly emerged fleas can live only a week.  This is encouraging, because 1) we haven’t seen any big fleas in over a week (you will know the big fleas from the little fleas–the big ones are brown and quite ugly) and 2) we know that the fleas in our house have not had any meals in over a week, since we check our ankles often, and they should begin to die off.

So, we do still have fleas, but they are not the nuisance they had been, and I am confident we are getting closer to victory.

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5 Responses to “Fighting Fleas Naturally”

  1. Ark Lay said

    Very nice success story. Most people just want a quick fix and now with some of the horror stories regarding many flea control products–they are at least seeking new options.

    Thanks for sharing your story. If you want to do a guest post on your success–I have a blog specifically on flea control and am following the EPA advisory regarding spot-on flea products.

    Drop by when you can.

  2. […] proud to announce our home has been flea-free for two years! You can read about our initial debacle here and here. I like to think it’s because we’re taking better care of our kitty by feeding […]

  3. Jeannie said

    Please, be cautious using rosemary around pets that have seziures. It will increase the number of and intensity of seziures. I found out the hard way!

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