With the summer sun doing its best and the humidity being so high (especially in the coastal regions, we are finding more and more unwelcome visitors into our homes from outside in the form of tiny little black biting jumping FLEAS that appear to be immune to everything we throw at them! It seems they are resistant to EVERYTHING!
Firstly it is important to realise that there are no natural non-toxic products available that are 100% effective against fleas. Natural Products can effectively diminish the level of fleas to minimal if used correctly and timeously though. Please remember just because a product is natural does not mean it is non-toxic or safe. Some of the most toxic products known to mankind are “natural” like deadly night shade, hemlock and arsenic.
There are some flea killing products that are less toxic than others; and these would be the ones I would recommend. On the whole, all products that are recommended by veterinarians if used correctly and according to instruction should be very safe to use in healthy uncompromised animals. That is if used in the right species at the right interval and dosage… The following discussion is mainly aimed at alternative natural products, which can be used to discourage fleas from living on your pets and in your house.
Fleas can reproduce with amazing speed–in one month 10 females can generate a population of over 267,000 offspring. Since they have been doing this for millions of years without our interference, fleas are tough to fight. The "war on fleas" must be approached with the idea that the fight is ongoing; fleas will come back unless you adopt a maintenance system, all season long.
The secret to flea survival and to our control tactics is in the flea life cycle:
The adult fleas spend almost all of their time on your dog or cat, but remember those hundreds of thousands of offspring that don’t. The female lays her eggs in warm dark places (like your carpet and sofa, and cracks in floorboards). This is the reason that the primary flea defence must involve the environment (your house, yard, and any place your pets spend a lot of time). The real problem is that in the pupa stage; it is resistant to just about everything, so that even when you kill all the adults, eggs and larvae with conventional insecticides, you will have fleas again in about 2 weeks when the pupae hatch, unless you use an insect growth regulator (IGR). IGR’s prevent the hatching of the pupa, and the chemicals last a long time in the carpets allowing a continued protection against hatching larvae. These products are only good if they do not break down and stop working. Some insect growth regulators are more able to withstand the harsh South African climates with high UV light and heat than other products. Ask the right questions to get the right product.
The basic protocol for flea control:
On your Pet:
To start with a natural program against fleas it is important to have good overall health for the animal, and a natural, unprocessed complete diet is absolutely essential. When the animal is healthy, s/he does not "taste" or "smell" as good to the fleas. I recommend a Raw Food Diet which mimics what nature intended for our animals to eat and what they evolved on for millennia. This comprises mainly of raw meat and liquidised vegetables, also known as the BARF DIET (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food). A supplement of fresh garlic or garlic oil (less effective is the odourless garlic capsules) may also be helpful as it changes the taste of the animal’s blood and makes them less desirable to the parasites. Brewer’s yeast also changes the smell of the animal. Another effective natural remedy is the tips of the Aloe Ferox plant which contains mainly the bitter sap. There are several natural insecticidal remedies available using this as the main ingredient. You can also just use one small crystal of aloe bitters per pet per week to clear out intestinal parasites and to change the taste of the blood to discourage the biting insects. Large dogs such as Labradors and German Shepherds would require a higher dose, say 2 crystals weekly, and obviously Great Danes and Boerboels even more; say 3 crystals per week. If you have a large flea burden on your pet, use the nicotine-like flea tablet called “capstar”. This will knock out all the fleas on the pet over 2 days and is relatively innocuous. Then you can use the natural products to keep the burden at bay.
Bathe and dip weekly as needed. One good natural remedy is to do Lavender rinses once or twice weekly. You can do this by boiling up some lavender leaves and making an infusion. Pour this over your pet once it has cooled down, without rinsing. You can do the same with Khakibos, but beware not to make the infusion too strong and do not use this on cats or puppies younger than 16 weeks old as it is very strong and quite toxic. Citronella, Lavender, Rosemary and Penny Royal essential oils can also be used if diluted properly. My advice is to put 1-2 drops of each to a total of 5 drops into a large mug of hot water and to dip a flea comb into this between strokes when grooming your pets. This can be done daily and can become an enjoyable time of bonding between you and your pet. Neem oil has a fantastic reputation against parasites like fleas and ticks, but I find some cats and small breed dogs do not tolerate it so well. Between baths, dips or insecticide applications use a flea comb daily to manually remove parasites.
I would still recommend the use of insecticides to kill fleas and ticks in troublesome infestations. Avoid the use of anything containing organophosphates and carbamates, as this builds up in the environment and on the animal and can lead to toxicity. Natural pyrethroids are safer products to use. This is found in chrysanthemum plants and flowers.
You can buy or make natural carpet powders containing a combination of essential oils that helps to de-odorise your carpets and can act as a deterrent for these unfriendly pests. These often contain Boric acid which kills the larval stage of the flea. Diatomaceous Earth (DE) has a reputation for killing adult fleas, pupae and larvae by mechanical means and is non-toxic when ingested. You can sprinkle this on the carpets, then vacuum later or sprinkle directly on your pet, repeating every time the animal get wet as this will inactivate it. DE must be repeated often to be really effective. In highly infested situations I still recommend using conventional sprays or foggers containing pyrethrins with insect growth regulators to tackle the pupae. My recommendation is to rotate the different products you are using so as not to create a resistance to any of them. Spray some of the toxins in your vacuum bags, or add diatomaceous earth to the bag, to prevent flea larvae from breeding out in the vacuum bag. I suggest vacuuming daily if you have an infestation. Avoid any products containing organophosphates or carbamates as mentioned before. Remember to pay special attention to areas where your pet spends a lot of time or sleeps.
Control in the yard / garden is sometimes the most difficult and expensive, especially if your animal roams a lot. Just remember that the areas where s/he spends the most time are the most important. In sandy areas where fleas have laid eggs in the sand, it can be a particularly difficult thing to control. I like using large amounts of DE which then mixes with the soil / sand and has its action on the flea eggs and larvae.
Flea control is season long: A co-ordinated attack that must be maintained whether you use conventional or natural products. The advantage to natural flea products is that they are safer to use in the frequent manner often required to be effective, and can be used as a top up in between toxic applications or to try increase the interval between toxic applications. It is also safer in compromised animals such as cancer and auto-immune patients, the very young and the very old, small breeds and liver shunt patients. Good luck with your WAR on the tiny biting ones. If you have any more queries about natural products or a more natural approach to veterinary care, do not hesitate to contact my office or our Complimentary Veterinary Medicines Group, affiliated to the South African Veterinary Association. See www.cvmg.co.za.
Dr. Anuska Viljoen BVSc(Hons) VetMFHom MRCVS LicICCH MCIVT
Mandala Health Holistic Veterinary Clinic