Thursday, August 18, 2022

Fleas!



We recently became overwhelmed with fleas.  So I called my retired naturopath friend and asked for assistance.  She said that Neem Oil works great and we found that it did.

For the past few years, when the summer-time flea bloom has occurred, we have resorted, as so many of us do, to using the veterinarian prescribed drops.  These are placed on the back of the animal's skull, near the base, where it meets the neck.  The solution gradually spreads over the animal's entire body and definitely kills the fleas.  But it is very toxic and can be transferred to our hands while petting our furry friends.  So, it is not what I consider safe.

Contrary to the label instructions, we have typically used a half dose of these flea treatments on each animal, to minimize the amount of poison that we use.  But even with that, our cats languished listlessly for a day or two, with very little energy or interest in food, and looked like they had really bad headaches.  

As well, for the previous two years, within a day or two after the application of the flea drops, our dog collapsed as if dead, after retrieving her ball at the park.  She lay limp and motionless at our feet, leaving us, fearing for her life, down on the ground with her, until she miraculously came back, half a minute later, a little confused at first, but then seemingly fine.  

This was very alarming, and the vet didn't know what might have caused this reaction in our dog nor what exactly it could be.  But the event was very concerning to us, and I had my suspicions that it could be related to the neurotoxin in the standard flea treatment.  So, this year, not wanting to take a chance on the possibility that it could be the drops, I decided to take a more aggressive natural flea care approach.

Of course flea combing is essential.  We use a nice fine tooth metal comb.  I find that the plastic combs don't really get them and the larger toothed metal combs can miss some too.  This required that we have our dog's hair cut quite short as the weather grew warm so that we could get the comb through her coat.  

The cats, with their finer hairs are considerably easier to comb, but they are not that fond of having their belly's combed, so a few get missed that way.  And, it seems that the combing really does have to become a part of the daily routine.

We use a container of water with a drop of dish soap stirred into it to assist with the flea combing process.  After a pass through the animals coat, combing as close to the skin as possible, I immediately dunk the comb into the water.  This confuses the flea and gives me a moment to remove it from the comb.  The soap breaks the surface tension of the water and prevents the flea from being able to jump out.  Instead it sinks to a watery demise.

Our dog's groomer says that the lawn at the park is a common source of fleas.  And that dogs often pick fleas up there.  Both our cats and the dog go in and out of the house at will, and we live on a creek, so they also get exposure to the fleas carried by the wildlife that share our home with us.  We have raccoons, possums, rats, squirrels and lots of birds that share our space with us. 

One trick that we are blessed to be able to avail ourselves of is letting our dog swim in the ocean.  Apparently the combination of salt water and then freshwater can kill fleas.  Fleas can endure submersion in either type of water for a time, but both types, one right after the other, really messes with their ability to survive.  So, we take our dog to the beach for a nice swim, retrieving her toys, and then rinse her off with the hose once we get back home.  

Vacuuming is another helpful approach.  We regularly drag out the vacuum and clean all the rugs and sweep the floors.  We also use diatomaceous earth.  This is made from the shells of tiny crustaceous creatures that has been ground into a very fine dust.  When insects come in contact with the dust, it scratches and damages their exoskeletons and causes them to die.  

Diatomaceous earth is very effective so long as it remains dry. But the powder can cause irritation to the skin and eyes along with respiratory troubles if used indiscriminately.  We handle it very carefully, so as to not raise any excess dust and carefully place it under and inside the covers of the sofa cushions, which we then additionally cover with a sheet or other piece of fabric.  We also put it deep in the dog's bedding under several layers of top fabric, so her skin or lungs will not become inflamed.  This approach helps to do away with the fleas and their eggs that are living deeper in the bedding.

In addition, we also change all of the bedding covers regularly to avoid having flea eggs and larvae, that are on the surface, hatch out in their beds.  We put these covers right into the washing machine and then the clothes dryer.  The water and the heat does the trick there.

But still, despite all of this, the fleas got ahead of us this year.  And I just didn't want to take a risk with our beautiful dog's life or cause the cats so much discomfort with the neurotoxins, which after all, are neuro, meaning nerve and toxins, meaning poisonous.

Thus the Neem oil, to the rescue.  It has been used, diluted as an insect repellent for hundreds of years on crops in agriculture.  It doesn't kill insects or the fleas, but they really don't like it, and stay away.

Neem oil is solid at room temperature, so if you use it in your pet shampoo, you need to warm it lightly first before adding it.  I just put a small amount, like a half teaspoon in perhaps two cups of warm water with about one tablespoon of shampoo.  Use it all up, as neem breaks down rapidly in soap.  It may leave a slight odor on your dog's coat, but that is what repels the fleas.  

Another way to apply neem oil is as a spray, diluted in alcohol.  Neem oil will stay in suspension in the alcohol.  I use four ounces of a good quality vodka, (I always like to support organic producers, even for a use such as this,) and add one dropperful, or fifteen drops, of neem oil into the alcohol, in a small spray bottle.  Shake first, before applying and lightly mist the dog's coat and then rub it in.  This is also a great thing to do before going for a hike in tick season, as it will prevent these insects from getting on your dog as well.  

Of course, whenever using any new product on your animal, it is good to observe how they react to it.  Cats do more grooming than dogs, thus they may consume more of the oil on their coats.  Most will do fine.  But we are all unique and anyone can be allergic to anything, so it is good to be attentive. 

Neem oil not only repels fleas, but it also helps to reduce itchiness and has been used for fungal infections and for treating ringworm and mange.  Perhaps you'd like to give it a try with your dog or cat.  It has worked great for us and it might just work well for you too.