The presence of fleas on your pet is one of the most unpleasant, and problematic aspects of keeping animals in the house. With a life-cycle of over six months, fugitive fleas left over from the fall can easily survive the winter, embedded in your carpet or furniture, only to reemerge in the spring rested and ready to renew their assault on your pets. Apparently, winter is a good time to attempt a total eradication, if it has been ascertained that your house is infested with fleas.
The first order of business in the flea battle is to bathe your pet using a veterinarian-approved anti-flea shampoo, followed by a closely monitored application of topical medicine worked into their fur coat, or by the use of a medicated collar. These collars should ideally be of the break-away variety, as animals can sometimes get hung-up on things both inside and out. Conventional flea treatments commonly used for dogs and cats are generally classified as either drugs or pesticides.
Drugs: These products have the full approval of the Food and Drug Administration, and their recommended dosage has been carefully researched to avoid any adverse reactions. Most of these medicines are only available through a prescription from your veterinarian. They include popular brands such as Advantage, Revolution, and Sentinel.
Pesticides: These tend to be somewhat harsh chemicals, as they are officially considered to be insect repellent by the Environmental Protection Agency. They can be obtained without a prescription through most major retail stores. Since the strength of their active ingredients vary widely brand to brand, pet owners are advised to be very cautious and read the labels thoroughly. Some of the popular brands of this type are Frontline, Hartz, and Sargent’s.
As an alternative to the standard flea treatments, many pet owners are turning to unregulated, natural products. While all of the following items have passed EPA testing for human safety, be aware that some are considered quite toxic to either dogs or cats.
Pyrethrins/Pyrethroids are insecticides based on chrysanthemum flowers. Both are safe for dogs, but are highly toxic to cats!
Pennyroyal oil has been used for centuries as a flea repellent. It can, however, be fatal to both dogs and cats at any dosage!
Cedar oil is safe for all pets, but since it quickly loses it potency when exposed to air, more frequent applications are needed.
Garlic in very small doses mixed in with their food can be a fairly effective flea prevention for dogs, but this pungent herb should not be given to cats in any form.
In addition to these essential oils and herbs, there are two non-chemical substances traditionally used to control fleas. Both diatomaceous earth and Borax powder use physical means to disrupt their life-cycle and ultimately kill the fleas. At food grade level, they are considered very safe for all pets, but the dusty powder form they typically come in is not very practical for topical use, and should be relegated to areas your pet frequents, such as carpets, bedding, and furniture.
Whether you decide to stick with tried and true conventional methods or take a chance on alternative methods of flea control is a matter of personal choice, keep in mind that the best flea treatment for dogs may not necessarily be that great for cats, and in some cases, may be fatal!
Once your pet is deemed to be flea-free, your final effort should be to rid your entire house of any and all holdouts and their eggs. Flea foggers are most often recommended for this job, as they can be very effective in reaching every nook and cranny of your home. The main disadvantage of foggers is their inherent toxicity, and because of this all items that come in direct contact with both pets and humans need to be removed from the house, or elaborately covered up.
Powders and Sprays are sometimes employed to target smaller, specific areas in your home, and are not as wasteful as foggers tend to be. Many pest control companies use these routinely, and they often come with a guarantee of performance.
The best flea treatment for dogs and cats depends on how bad the infestation is, and whether your animal has any adverse reaction to the product, either chemical or natural. Age is another important factor as well – puppies and kittens should start off being groomed frequently with a fine-toothed flea comb instead of using any topical products.
Fleas are more than just an irritant; your pet can become seriously ill from an infestation, and subsequently pass on nasty parasites such as tapeworms to their human hosts. So before you experiment with a questionably effective natural product, it’s best to completely eliminate the fleas plaguing your pet first, by using regular FDA or EPA registered treatments.