Saturday, December 3, 2011

Fleas Schmeas

Who here hates fleas?  Memememememememe!  I swear the little buggers have far superior intelligences that enables them to know when you are taking flea-ridding measures and find new, better places to hide.  That or they lay something insane like 20,000 eggs in one month.  I actually read that somewhere but wikipedia is telling me it's only 500 over the course of one female flea's lifetime so I guess I have to correct myself.  I feel so much better about struggling to get rid of fleas when I read 20,000 though, don't you?

Our flea history up to this fall is exactly this - none.  We had Sadie & Maggie on Frontline or Advantage; it changed a couple times with vet recommendations.  Then I forgot to give it to them.  Then nothing happened.  No fleas, no problems.  We lived a happily flea-free existence for years.  Then came Hurley.  Combined with Hurley's apparent status as Most Hospitable Flea Host ever and a worse-than-usual flea season here in Portland, we are now in the midst of flea-mageddon.

Okay.  So slight exaggeration.  We do have fleas, but it's a mid-range infestation.  Not flea-mageddon.  And I am determined to conquer fleas naturally this time.   Yes, it would be more convenient to simply dab the back of their necks once a month but the convenient way is not always the best way.  I would prefer to use natural products I know won't harm my dogs in the long run than dose them with neurotoxins.  If it's not safe for children to handle, how can it be safe for my dogs?  That's my dilemma.

The reality of using safe, natural but not as conveniently effective products to fight fleas is that it takes much more effort, more time and when you think the fleas are gone, think again and continue with what you've been doing for several more weeks after you think they're gone.  Natural remedies can effectively rid your dog of fleas but they do not kill the eggs.  Eggs can take up to 20 days to hatch, which means getting rid of fleas naturally may take 4-6 weeks.  We are at week 3 here at our house and it's going meh.  I have not been as diligent as I should have and the next 3 weeks are all about stepping up my game.  Here's what I've been trying:

Diatamaceous Earth:  DE can be quite effective at killing fleas.  This powder is a sharp fossilized substance to small bugs and works by both drying out and piercing an insect's exo-skeleton.  In order for DE to be fully effective, it needs to remain in place for 72 hours at minimum.  I have found this solution not to be effective on the dog's coats themselves as it doesn't stay on their coats long enough.  I do believe this to be the most effective solution that I've tried in terms of treating carpeting and bedding.  There are a couple precautions one must take with DE:  be sure to purchase food-grade and not pool-grade DE and when applying, make sure not to create a cloud of DE dust as it can be harmful when breathed in.  I keep DE on my dog's bedding at all times, treat the carpet weekly and there is always a bit of DE in places like the laundry room and surrounding the dogs' kennels. 

Garlic:  Garlic can be a controversial food for dogs.  From the online research I've done, I've found the bottom line to be this:  garlic has the same substance as onions but in much smaller amounts that are not toxic to most dogs when given the correct dosage.  The correct dosage of garlic can be effective in fighting fleas and other parasites, is great for heart health and is an effective supplement in fighting cancer.  I gave the dogs 1/3 of a medium size garlic clove once a day for several days to kick off my war on the fleas.  I can't say for sure how effective it has been - I believe garlic to be more effective as a preventative than to actually rid your dog of fleas once they are there.  Please seek the advice of a veterinarian prior to starting any supplements.  I am sharing my experience with garlic but am not a licensed veterinarian qualified to give medical advice.  I would advise seeking the advice of a holistic veterinarian in regards to these types of supplements though as traditional veterinarians are generally less experienced on the safe use of garlic and other natural supplements.  The part of me who thinks I should have gone to law school made me write this italicized section.  :)

Frequent Vacuuming:  So simple.  So common sense.  And yet we did not do this weeks 1 - 3, which is probably why we are still seeing at least one flea per day on Hurley.  So we embark on daily vacuuming for the next week, then will treat carpeting with DE, let it sit for 3 days, then do every other day vacuuming for a week, treat with DE.  Rinse, repeat.  A critical aspect of this simple common sense solution is to ensure you replace your vacuum's bag or empty out the dirt canister in bagless vacuums.  Immediately remove from your house.  If fleas are in there and you only toss it in your garbage can, those fleas will get out and reinfest your carpet. 

Flea Sprays & Shampoos:  I used Ark Natural's Flea Flicker Tick Kicker Spray at first.  This spray works from geranium, clove & peppermint oil.  I sprayed about every other day and found that there was a real reduction in the fleas I found on Hurley but this alone didn't seem to be enough to get rid of them completely.  I also am using EcoPure Naturals Flea & Tick Shampoo, which works from an assortment of oils similar to Flea Flicker.  I didn't use a specific flea shampoo when I first bathed the dogs but have used it once and will use it for all future baths until the fleas are sayonara, which brings me to my next item:

Frequent & Thorough Bathing:  The dogs will be getting weekly baths for the next 3 weeks at least using the flea shampoo.  All 3 at the same time so that fleas cannot jump from one to the other.  And this is the tough part - they must stay in the bathtub with the shampoo penetrating their coat for at least 5 minutes.  Sadie was awesome at this; Maggie gave me dirty looks; Hurley whined and cried the entirety of his bath.  And after the 5 minutes of shampoo penetration, I follow it up with an apple cider vinegar rinse.  That stays on their coats for another 5 minutes before rinsing off.  Hurley wouldn't even look at me for the rest of the evening after his bath.  But we made up this morning so all is right in the world again.  The ACV also made their coats super soft - I love pleasant side effects!

Apple Cider Vinegar:  From all the research I've done, ACV seems to be one of those cure-all products.  Fleas are but one of many ailments it is said to help.  In addition to the ACV rinse as part of their weekly baths, we sprayed the baseboards, carpet, mattress & upholstery with an ACV/water mixture.  They are also getting a tablespoon of ACV in their water bowl each time we fill it.  I will be spraying them with an ACV/water mixture in lieu of the flea spray I've previously been using to see if it is any more effective. 

Treating Flea bites, scratches & hot spots:  In order to make the girls more comfortable as we are fighting fleas, I am applying Pal Dog's Boo Boo Gel to their flea bites, where they've scratched themselves raw and any hot spots that develop.  Sadie is starting to chew at her paws and make hot spots, pobrecita!  Hurley on the other hand occasionally scratches himself but otherwise does not seem bothered by the fleas.  Yet I have not found more than one flea on Sadie in 2 weeks while I find fleas on him almost daily.  Go figure.  The Boo Boo gel contains Aloe, St Johns wort and Calendula oil, which I have found to be effective in soothing the skin and healing boo boos.  This helps make them more comfortable and less likely to scratch themselves raw.  I apply daily as needed when I examine them.

Wow.  I am definitely throwing the book at our flea problem.  I still have a few more natural remedies to try if this laundry list of solutions doesn't cut it:  tea tree oil, lemon/water spray, cedar oil...the list goes on.  This is my war on fleas and I am determined to win.  These tiny little buggers will not get the best of me!

Please note that I did not receive free products to review or any compensation.  The specific products mentioned are ones that I carry in my store and recommend to customers who are fighting fleas naturally.  


  1. Rock on! There's no way they can win after all of that. No way!!

    I'm gonna try the cedar shampoo again later today sometime and if Elli breaks out again, I can definitely establish that she's allergic to cedar, period.

  2. I know it may get ugly when battling against fleas, that's why I always bath my babies with the Stinky Doggie Natural Shampoo Bar, the essential oils blend in it was specifically design to keep them away at all times. It works :)

  3. What an excellent and informative post!

    I've had a couple of small problems with fleas in the past few years, but all were cleared up with DE in the house and frequent baths of the affected dog with a combination of eucalyptus oil and tea tree oil mixed into the shampoo. My other dog, for some reason, didn't seem to have fleas living on her so she escaped the baths:)

    My only flea nightmare was many years ago, when I lived in an apartment that must have had mice living under the floorboards. Whatever I did with the fleas in the house, there was a reservoir of new fleas living on the mice just waiting to come back. The only solution was to move out of that apartment!

  4. WOW! I am exhausted just reading about what you have had to actually do. Hope all traces of fleas are soon gone & all goes back to normal :)

  5. I recommend trying out neem oil if you haven't yet. I purchased the pure oil at a local store and add a few drops to the shampoo mixture for the dogs' baths. I rinse the dogs with a mild vinegar solution, then use neem oil with a tiny bit of soap mixed with water in a spray bottle as a final flea deterrence.

    Neem oil, vinegar, and frequent vacuuming have been the three most effective ways I've found for getting rid of fleas.