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Friday, August 21, 2015

The Battle of the Flea is Not just what's On your Pet




Fleas are tenacious critters and their ability to persevere regardless of all of our ways to get rid of them is amazing. We cannot solely blame our pets for the presence of fleas in our homes. Being attracted to warm blooded animals they will make your pet their temporary home for a food source, but there is also a very real possibility they are hitching a ride into your home by way of your shoes or clothing.

The key to flea control is quick action. If you see signs and ignore them, even for a few days, the situation could become a nightmare. Telltale signs of the presence of fleas go beyond actually seeing the buggers. Observe your pet. If he starts with the twitching and sudden jerks to lick, especially areas like the belly, groin area, under the neck and behind the tail along the backbone, it is time to pay attention. 
If you see black specks laying on the areas where your pet spends its time sleeping, that is a good sign that your pet has fleas even if they don't appear to be bothering him. Those specks are "flea dirt" which is actually dried pre-digested blood. 
If you see little, rice shaped worms on your pets back end or on their bedding, that means they have tapeworms (Dipylidium caninum).  Fleas are notorious for transmitting  tapeworms to your pets. When your pet itches, they lick and when they lick they ingest the flea, and once the flea is ingested the tapeworm can complete it's life cycle. Adult tapeworms can be several inches in length living in your pet's intestinal tract. What you see are the sections that break off.

It is important to understand the life cycle of the flea. There are four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The typical life cycle will take anywhere from a couple weeks to months. It depends on the temperature in their environment and humidity levels. Fleas like conditions between 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit and 70% humidity.

So let's start with the females that hitch a ride into your home. Those adult females lay eggs following a blood meal from the host animal. Without blood the flea is unable to reproduce and being that is their goal in life they can very quickly make your pet miserable. The eggs are slightly smaller than a grain of sand and white in color. They are laid in the fur in bunches of about 20. One adult female flea can lay about 40 eggs every day. As your pet moves around those eggs fall off which is how the problem can suddenly appear all over the house. Eggs represent 50% of the entire flea population in a home.

With optimal conditions the eggs can hatch in only two days. If the temperatures are cold and dry it'll take a bit longer, perhaps up to two weeks. If the temperatures are warm with high humidity, the eggs will hatch in a few days.

The larvae that emerge from those eggs need to avoid light, so will nestle in carpets, dark corners, clothing lying around and upholstery. What they live on is the flea dirt that is found amidst other organic debris in their environment. The larvae make up about 35% of the population. This is why it is ultra important to wash all bedding your pet uses and to have a good vacuum cleaner. Strongly recommended is a vacuum with a microfiber bag or the type of vacuum using water such as a Rainbow. With a bagless vacuum there is good chance that when you empty the canister into your trash, you will just release those fleas and eggs back into your home. Microfiber bags are made to trap allergens, dust and fleas debris with no escaping. Water canisters need to be emptied each time but the fleas are dead from drowning.
If left to their own devices, those larvae will spin cocoons in 5 to 20 days from the time of hatching from their eggs.

The cocoon or pupae stage is the last developmental stage before the adult emerges that we usually see. The purpose of the cocoon stage is to protect the pupae for as long as it takes for conditions to be ideal for the adults to emerge. This can take from just a few days to years. The cocoons have a sticky coating that allows them to attach to carpet fibers so having a powerful vacuum cleaner is paramount.

What triggers the adult flea to emerge once developed is a rise in nearby body heat, higher levels of carbon dioxide and vibrations. All these are associated with the nearby presence of a warm-blooded body nearby, be that a pet or a person. Once fleas emerge they need to eat within a few hours. After feeding they'll begin to breed, lay eggs and the cycle starts all over again. Adult fleas account for only about 5% of the entire population in the house, but while on your pet they'll continue to feed, breed and lay eggs.

Before dousing your home with toxic flea bombs and chemicals there are other safer weapons of destruction against them: Borax, Diatomaceous Earth and Vinegar and the all important Vacuum Cleaner!



Use borax, Not boric acid!
What you want is Disodium Tetraborate or Sodium Tetraborate which is Borax. Borax is mined from the earth as a complex form of boron bound with other minerals. Boric acid does not occur naturally in nature, but is made from borax by adding hydrochloric acid and water. This increases the toxicity level so it is not a good thing to have around your pets or children.

Borax looks like salt, has no smell and doesn't get absorbed by the skin when touched. It kills fleas by dehydrating them as it makes small cuts in their exoskeleton. This works on the larvae but won't help you get rid of the eggs. Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum to get rid of the eggs.

Borax is also good for killing ants, bed bugs and roaches.
Borax is safe to have in your home and is much less toxic than insecticides.
If you are pregnant, avoid using any Borate substance which includes borax.
You don't want small children crawling around on the floor if there is borax still in the carpet.
Keep your cats away from the borax powder. Breathing in the fumes could cause health problems.
Don't put borax directly onto your pets. You don't want prolonged skin contact.
Keep borax away from your plants.

How to use:
Sprinkle borax liberally all around your carpeted areas.
Use a stiff brush or broom to work the borax down into the carpet fibers.
Wait at least six hours before vacuuming up the borax.

An alternative to borax is Diatomaceous Earth. 







Borax may give quicker results, but diatomaceous earth (DE) is completely natural and much safer for the family and pets. It is a simple mineral-silica. The steps for application are the same as for the borax. It kills similar to the borax by cutting into the exoskeleton and sucks the fluids out of the fleas' bodies. The action is physical rather than chemical. Hundreds of microscopic DE get all over the insect's body, and as the bug moves the DE scratches off their waxy coating and they dehydrate.  
Diatomaceous earth comes in two forms, pool grade and food grade. The type you want is food grade! 

Diatomaceous earth is formed from algae with siliceous shells. When extracted, they are already dead, but the shells remain. Though these shells are sharp they are too small to have any effect on humans. A totally safe, non-toxic method to kill not only fleas but bed bugs and chiggers.

If you don't have carpets, diatomaceous earth can also be used on hardwood floors. Don't forget to apply to the corners and along baseboard edges. 

Don't use in areas with fans blowing. A high draft will send the fine granules all over into the air and may be irritating to breathe it in.

When purchasing diatomaceous earth, read the label and besides making sure it is food grade and not pool grade, also check to make sure the concentration is around 99%. Any other formulation may not be as pure and safe for your family and pets. The other blends may kill fleas faster, but may contain insecticides.

Once the fleas come into contact with the powder, they usually die about 4 hours later. If possible, leave the powder on the floor overnight to ensure the fleas are dead before vacuuming.

Since flea eggs hatch after about a week after the eggs had been laid, it is best to repeat the process once a week for a month. You need to get to all four stages of the flea's life cycle.

Don't be concerned if you feel you did breathe in some of the DE powder. Unless you are dusting a garden and expect to be exposed to the dust for a period of time (in which case you should wear a mask) you should be fine. However, those with asthma may want to wear a face mask.
Diatomaceous earth is also used internally to treat for parasites, so don't be concerned as long as you are using food grade DE.

DE can be used as a way of flea treating your dog, but in moderation. If applied to your pet on a daily basis it can cause dry skin. Also, don't use on kittens, puppies, rabbits, guinea pigs or hamsters. Their small body mass could be a problem. 
To use on a pet for fleas:
Once a week application.
Put a towel over the head so the powder doesn't get into their eyes irritate their lungs.
Rub about 1 Tbsp into the fur of a dog over 35 pounds.
For dogs less than 35 pounds or for cats use about 1 Tsp.

To use on a pet for worms:
Add to food once a day till see no more signs of worms (stool, vomit, coughing, on bedding)
Add 1 Tbsp to the food for dogs.
Add 1 Tsp to the food for cats.

Diatomaceous earth can also be used in chicken bedding boxes to help with mites and lice.
Just sprinkle around the bedding inside the boxes.


Don't let the DE get wet. Moisture will reduce the effectiveness.

Good sites to visit for more information about DE are:



Last we have yet another use for vinegar!
Vinegar has been used for centuries to clean and deodorize. It has been used to get rid of ants and fruit flies in the kitchen. It has its use in the garden to prevent aphids from destroying plants. Weeds can be controlled with vinegar. 
Our beloved pets can smell fresher with a vinegar rinse and then towel dried. Kill two birds with one stone and send fleas packing as well.

To use as a flea bath:
Use Dawn Dishsoap to lather up your pet. Pour vinegar over your pet and massage it in. Let this mix stay on the pet for at least 10 minutes while you massage it throughout the fur down to the skin. Then rinse it all out.

To repel fleas:
Add a bit of vinegar to your dog's drinking water. This makes the pet's blood and skin more acidic and unfavorable to a flea's taste. 
Vinegar added to a cat's water may be too acidic for a cat's system. 
Another option is to spray vinegar (dilute if too strong) on the fur and massage to distribute it all over your pet.
This is a good method for both dogs and cats.
Spray vinegar onto pet bedding to deter fleas.
It doesn't matter whether you choose to use white or apple cider vinegar for spraying onto the pet or it's bedding. 
But for adding to the drinking water, use apple cider vinegar.

Good prevention also must include a good flea comb. Long-haired dogs and those with thick undercoats can be a challenge to flea comb but for short-haired dogs and cats it is a wonderful, very practical tool. Get in the habit of going over your pet on a regular basis and make it part of your pet's grooming. Flea combing is the best method for cats. Since cats' systems are so touchy with toxins, just running a flea comb over them is ideal. The cat loves the attention, it gets its grooming and you can nip any problems in the bud. Have a bowl of water next to you with a dash of dish soap and drop the fleas into the water as you find them.

Here we have a pet safe flea powder consisting of Diatomaceous earth, Yarrow flower and leaf powder, Neem powder, and Geranium essential oil. The link below the picture takes you into the shop with all the details about this item.

Natural Dog and Cat Safe Flea Powder

Pictured below are two herbal vinegar blends useful for people and their pets to help deter not only fleas but pesty bugs as well. Click on the link below the pictures for more information on them.

Herbal Vinegar Insect Repellent, Plantain, Comfrey, Yarrow

Herbal Vinegar Insect Repellent, Lavender and Plantain

Your dog will enjoy these flea repellent, homemade dog treats! 
Click on this link to take you to the blog post with the recipe.



Thanks to Jennifer Kvamme, DVM for her informative article on flea control
Thanks to Natasha Anderson for her informative article on Diatomaceous Earth and Borax
Thanks to the article from FleaBites on the use of vinegar and as a great source for information and supplies.