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Fight Fleas Naturally

When it comes to protecting your pet and home against fleas, prevention is the best medicine.

Healthy Home 2008, Spring 2008

Most pets need only minimal beauty maintenance. In fact, a good brushing a few times a week is usually all it takes to keep a dog or cat's coat clean and free of excess hair. Flea season, however, brings its own challenges. Some flea-fighting products contain organophosphates (OPs) and carbamate, insecticides linked with nervous system disorders and other health problems in humans. Exposure to even small amounts of these chemicals, over long periods of time, can be particularly damaging to young pets and children.

Washing Your Pet
Never use products designed for dogs on cats, or vice versa, and don't apply them on young, elderly, pregnant, or nursing animals.

  • Wash your dog whenever he is dirty, using a hypoallergenic shampoo designed specifically for pooches (ask your vet for a recommendation).

  • Don't use human products. They aren't formulated properly for animals' skin, and may cause dryness and irritation. Don't use a medicated shampoo unless the vet says it's necessary.

  • In the rare instance that you'd need to wash a cat, use a feline-specific shampoo.

Toxic Chemicals
If your pet gets into an area where chemicals are stored and there's any chance he got something on his fur, wash him immediately. Otherwise, he may start grooming himself and could ingest poisonous substances.

Fleas and Insects
Wash pet beds and vacuum regularly. Restrict your pet's access to parts of the house that would be harder to disinfest, such as bedrooms. Before using any flea treatment -- even collars sold at pet stores -- talk to your vet so that you know what chemicals are used and understand possible side effects.

If you already have a flea infestation, or your pet is allergic to fleabites, consider safer insecticides like fipronil or imidacloprid. These chemicals are less toxic than OPs and carbamate. Fipronil also deters ticks, and imidacloprid can be used on puppies and kittens as young as six weeks.

Insect Growth Regulators
IGRs such as lufenuron can be administered preventively: They stop the flea's exoskeleton from forming, but don't kill adult fleas. IGRs are available as sprays, collars, pills, or liquids that are injected or applied directly to the skin (in a place your pet can't reach, such as between the shoulder blades). IGRs are considered safer for humans and pets, but they're so new that long-term effects aren't known.

If you have an annual flea problem, talk to your vet about starting your pet on an IGR before the fleas arrive, as the medication can take as long as 70 days to work. Fleas also tend to gather in moist, shady spots outdoors, where cats and dogs like to rest. Mow these areas frequently, and keep shrubbery clipped to let in more sunlight.

Nontoxic Flea Control
For a nontoxic approach to fighting fleas, wash your pet and his bedding weekly, and use the flea comb daily. Kill the fleas that come off your animal's coat by dipping them into soapy water. Vacuuming daily can be a big help, but you must discard the vacuum bag to keep the fleas from escaping. Most experts recommend sealing it with tape and wrapping in a plastic bag, or burning it.

If you have wall-to-wall carpeting or your upholstery is infested, consider having your home professionally steam cleaned, and get carpets treated with antiflea mineral salt. For outdoor areas, you can purchase microscopic worms called nematodes, which eat flea larvae. Both the mineral salt and worms can be purchased at Place the worms in the soil in areas where your pet spends the most time.

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