Have you ever wondered why some dogs and
cats have severe flea problems, while others
are hardly bothered by the little pests?
Fleas can be viewed as an indicator of an
animal's general health. Parasites in general,
and fleas in particular, are most attracted
to the weak, unhealthy, or very young animal
whose immune system is not functioning well.
The long-term solution to a flea problem
is to reduce your pet's susceptibility to
fleas by improving his/her health.
measures are also usually necessary to get
rid of the fleas that are on your pet and
in his/her environment right now. So we
can break down the following recommendations
into (1) treating your pet, and (2) getting
rid of the fleas.
The first line of defense against fleas
is to keep your pet as healthy as possible.
Fleas are most attracted to weak or unhealthy
animals, so the healthier your pet is, the
less attractive s/he will be to the fleas.
There are a number of major factors involved
One of the biggest factors here is good
nutrition. I strongly recommend a homemade
diet of fresh, wholesome foods, which
must be nutritionally complete and balanced.
This is not as difficult or time-consuming
as you might imagine. Please refer to
the section above on natural diet. Good
nutrition will not only reduce your pet's
susceptibility to fleas, but has many
other benefits as well.
If you cannot make a homemade diet for
your pet, please see my recommendations
on supplementing commercial pet foods.
Beware of 'natural' dog and cat foods
that contain no preservatives, but use
the same poor quality ingredients as most
commercial pet foods. Remember: the better
the diet, the healthier and happier your
pet will be.
Regular exercise is also very important
to maintain muscle tone, good circulation,
and proper elimination of metabolic wastes.
Sometimes the susceptibility to fleas
and other parasites is so deeply ingrained
that even the best nutritional program
will not correct the problem. In these
cases I recommend homeopathic treatment
to address deeper imbalances that are
often the underlying cause of the problem.
If your pet continues to have fleas despite
good nutrition and the other measures
described here, then homeopathy may provide
a solution. Incidentally, your pet doesn't
have to be on a homemade diet to be treated
homeopathically. It makes sense, though,
to first address the more obvious and
basic causes of a problem, such as poor
diet, before going on to more involved
and deeper-acting treatments.
These are more immediate short-term measures
for removing the fleas from your pet and
his/her environment without toxic chemicals.
Grooming and bathing are the two best ways
of getting rid of fleas on your pet, and
it is often necessary to treat the household
as well. However, these are not a long-term
solution to the problem, which is why you
need to be working on your pet's general
health at the same time.
Most animals can be combed with a flea
comb to remove fleas. A flea comb is very
fine-toothed comb, the teeth being closer
together than the width of a flea. They
are available at pet shops and feed stores,
and I highly recommend their use as a
part of any flea control program.
Depending on the severity of the flea
problem, you should comb your pet at least
once weekly or as much as twice daily.
Concentrate on the areas where fleas congregate,
usually around the neck in cats, and on
the lower back and belly in dogs. Drop
the fleas in a bowl of soapy water to
In addition to combing, regular brushing
is beneficial to the skin and coat. Longhaired
animals in particular should be brushed
Bathing your pet (yes, even cats!) is
most appropriate for heavier infestations,
and will remove most or all of the fleas
on your pet. Never use insecticides on
your pet. Flea powders, sprays, collars,
shampoos, and dips are toxic, and are
harmful to your pet. So are the newer
products that are given by pill or applied
to a spot on the skin. Despite the manufacturers'
claims of safety, I have seen many problems,
some quite serious, with these products.
Some of the more common insecticides
to watch out for are methylcarbamate,
carbaryl, sevin, rotenone, pyrethrins,
and piperonyl butoxide. Flea products
containing d-Limonene or citrus oils are
considerably safer than those listed above,
but still have the potential for significant
toxicity. There are many good quality
herbal pet shampoos available that incorporate
the essential oils of eucalyptus, citronella,
pennyroyal, or other flea repellant oils.
Follow label direction. (Do not use these
if your pet is being treated homeopathically,
as they can antidote remedies.) Alternatively,
you can use any good quality non-medicated
pet shampoo, leaving a thick lather on
your pet for 10-15 minutes to drown the
fleas. Be careful not to let small puppies
or kittens become chilled or overheated,
and don't bathe more than once weekly.
Powders, Sprays, and Collars
Since combing and bathing have no residual
effect, it may be helpful in some cases
to apply a flea-killing or flea-repellent
substance to your pet, especially when
first starting the program.
There are a variety of commercial powders
and sprays available that do not contain
insecticides. Most incorporate essential
oils, which repel fleas, and/or diatomaceous
earth, which plugs up the pores through
which the fleas breathe. These products
are fine, as long as they do not contain
insecticides. However, they do have some
practical drawbacks. Powders leave the
coat gritty. Essential oils evaporate
quickly, so they must be reapplied frequently
to be effective.
Herbal flea collars are somewhat helpful,
more so for cats than for dogs. There
are a number of good quality herbal collars
on the market.
Powders and sprays are the least desirable
of these methods, and if you find that
you need to use them frequently, you should
(1) treat the household more aggressively,
and/or (2) improve your pet's diet, or
treat homeopathically. Nutrition and homeopathy
will more effectively address the underlying
cause of the problem.
Fleas quickly establish a population
of eggs, larvae, and adults in a household,
and adult fleas spend most of the time
off of the pet. If you find lots of fleas
on your pet shortly after bathing or combing,
then the fleas in the household must be
Frequent thorough vacuuming is necessary
to remove flea eggs and larvae. The vacuum
cleaner bag can be a reservoir of flea
eggs and larvae, so either (1) put a mothball
in the bag or (2) remove it after vacuuming,
seal it in a plastic bag, and put it in
the freezer overnight.
In severe cases, it may be reasonably
safe to apply an insecticidal product
to kill the existing flea population in
the house. Most of the flea bombs and
sprays that are available by prescription
only (from a veterinarian) are quite toxic,
and I do not recommend their use. A commercial
product like Black Flag or Raid aerosol
is a better choice. Get the animals (and
yourself) out of the house until the spray
has completely settled out of the air
and dried. Use the normal precautions
to prevent contamination of water bowls,
food dishes, etc.
Another possibility would be to use powdered
pyrethrum (African daisy) flowers for
dusting rugs, floors, etc. These are relatively
safe and moderately effective for this
purpose, but must be repeated fairly often.
Vacuum thoroughly, sprinkle the powder
liberally on the rugs, and gently work
it in with a broom. Concentrate on areas
where your pet spends a lot of time. Wait
at least 3 days before vacuuming, and
repeat the process. I do not recommend
direct application of these products on
Simply killing the fleas will not be effective
in the long run in eliminating your pet's
flea problem. There will always be more
fleas to replace those you kill. If, however,
you are preparing a high quality homemade
diet, and you still need to apply the flea-killing
measures frequently, there is probably a
more serious underlying problem with your
pet that requires homeopathic treatment.