We’ll do anything to prevent our poor pets from getting fleas. But we shouldn’t have to expose them to toxic chemicals to keep the fleas away. The insecticides used in common flea-control products can be poisonous to pets, causing vomiting, permanent nerve damage, and even cancer. (Permethrin ingredients in certain dog products are often fatal to cats, too.) The good news is that you can still prevent fleas while avoiding these harsh chemicals.
Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, PhD, says, “Your important ally in the battle against fleas is cleanliness, both for your pet and for your home, particularly in your pet’s sleeping areas.” This is critical, since he says regular cleaning interrupts the life cycle of the fleas and greatly cuts down on the number of adult fleas that end up on your pet.
Here are some of Dr. Pitcairn’s top tips for keeping your pet safe and naturally flea free:
1. Know when flea season will strike. Flea season hits in the summertime. Dr. Pitcairn advises that, while a normal flea life cycle can take up to 20 weeks, it only takes an average of two weeks during the hot summer months. This means that fleas breed and grow to adulthood at a more rapid rate.
2. Steam-clean your carpets. At the onset of flea season, have your carpets steam-cleaned. It may be expensive, but Dr. Pitcairn admits that it is extremely effective and might be worth the cost.
3. Vacuum at least once a week. Since the flea life cycle occurs in around 2 weeks during the summer, make sure you vacuum at least once a week. This will suck up live fleas and also their larvae and pupae before they can attack your pet.
4. Put a natural flea collar in your vacuum. If you don’t plan on throwing out the contents of your vacuum right away, make sure you put a natural flea collar (or part of one) in your vacuum bag or bag-less container. Natural flea collars contain herbal oils to repel insects. Some can even be “recharged” and used again and again. (Note: If there are feline members of your household, make sure the collar is one made for cats, as some essential oils are toxic to cats).
5. Launder pet bedding at least once a week. Wash your pet’s bedding in hot, soapy water at least one a week. Just like vacuuming once a week, this will interrupt the fleas’ life cycle and prevent them from spreading.
6. Encourage ants. Or, as Dr. Pitcairn says, “Don’t discourage them.” Ants actually love to eat flea eggs and larvae, so try to avoid using pesticides that kill ants.
7. Mow and water your lawn regularly. Keeping your grass short allows sunlight to penetrate and warm the soil, which kills flea larvae. Watering your lawn helps to drown developing flea larvae before they can hatch into adulthood.
8. Add brewer’s yeast and garlic to your pet’s diet. Studies and anecdotal evidence support the claims that brewer’s yeast and garlic have natural flea-repelling abilities. You can add them to your pet’s diet and/or actually rub them directly into your pet’s skin (just be prepared for the smell!).
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