Some of them want to eat your food, others eat your house and still others eat you and your family. What was once routine simple treatments and methods to repel common bugs like flies and mosquitoes, termites, ants and roaches, fleas and ticks has become a sudden struggle. Over the past few years these pests seem to be having their own baby boom. Maybe partly because their generations are becoming resistant to even our most expensive insecticides. What's more we are now battling new pests introduced by international trade and travel that have no natural predators aside from agitated human residents. Add children, pets and just going in and out of the house and it is a never ending concern to prevent infestation and protect our households from the bites, filth, parasites and disease all these buggers bring. It is further a concern to use the stronger pesticides that have been developed as they carry their own health risks. People are trying to find natural and non toxic ways to alleviate everything from dirt and illness to banishing these pesky moochers and biters.
I'm going to try to open the floor to a more current sharing of experiences and resources in which we may help each other with this concern. I will start with fleas. I have cats so it is a concern for me. Not so much because they bring the pests as they don't go outside, but because they become the meal for whatever gets inside and the poor kittens become very distressed. The flea population can grow quickly and go unnoticed at first. You don't want to get rid of your beloved pets but I bet you thought for a second that if you didn't have them you wouldn't have to deal with this. Let me warn you that just because people don't have pets does not mean they will remain immune to bug and insect attacks. Ever since a few years back people have been complaining suddenly that there were more fleas, and other bugs, than usual and even a manic combination of the traditional methods seemed to be doing nothing at all. Many people are getting eaten alive in their own yard and home after using the maximum dose of sprays, powders, drops and pills along with collars, and even multiple bombings. So let's work together to become the hunters we apparently need to be.
Understanding your prey is the key to becoming a good natural predator. I will discuss some things to know about fleas to help you calmly address the problem.
1) Fleas can jump only less than a foot from the surface they are on. You will likely see your pets on higher areas more often. Don't be too quick to discipline your pet for jumping up where they know better because they may just be trying to escape. If it happens a lot suddenly suspect fleas.
2) While you can also sometimes feel fleas jump on you or bite you and once in a great while you may actually lay eyes on a random one, there are signs that can give you a JUMP START on your flea attack.
a) If you see little tiny swirls and specs of black or red on bedding, furniture or on your pet's coat, it is called flea dirt and is mostly the blood the flea has consumed. An infested animal can eventually die from anemia and lack of nutrition due to the blood sucking and distress.
b) If you see "rice" where your pet sleeps or sits, these are tapeworm segments. The fleas usually carry the larva and when your pet eats the flea it eats the tapeworm larva as well. So even if you see no fleas because your pet eats them, which they cannot help because they lick and bite at their skin and coat when fleas attack, does not mean there isn't a flea problem.
c) Many pets have flea bite allergy, so if you see them scratching like mad it may not be fleas all over them but hives or other skin reaction to the saliva of the flea. If allergies suddenly hit you, even respiratory reactions, you may also have been bitten OR are reacting to the increased dry skin and dried saliva from your pet suffering from fleas.
These can all be signs and the symptoms are commonly treated long before fleas are suspected and responded to giving the fleas more time to populate.
3) Fleas are blind and light and dark is not so much a factor for them but they are heat seekers. If you think about the human temperature of around 98.6*, you realize that's a hot day if the weather man reported it. Blood is hot and the flea is equipped to find it's meal. Animal's average temperatures vary but still mammals and birds become beacons in the night, cooler weather or our air-conditioned homes.
4) A flea is flat. Its jump is propelled by a protein and not a muscular response. They move about sporadically and quickly and are difficult to catch or grab.
5) Their body is hard and has a sort of oil on it that protects it for some time from water and other chemicals. They can drown but it takes time.
6) Many people become frustrated when they do a treatment and a week later have fleas again. Remember a flea infestation is a cycle; a process by which the fleas become a colony. While a new flea must find blood within a week or die it may go 2 to 3 years without a meal thereafter before it dies. Some may die within a few weeks or months without a meal depending on their life stage. But knowing that the one you are starving today may be trying to feast and recolonize repeatedly over the next 3 years can help you understand what you are actually up against and why you must remain diligent to truly eradicate your household of fleas. A flea will lay around 5 eggs after eating and may lay a 100 per day.
Knowing these simple facts helped me. I had great concern when the only options I knew of were pesticides that are terribly expensive and toxic if to be effective at all. I settled on a few simple methods last year after some trial and error, that at first sign this season, I began to implement and so far so good.
CHECK AND BATHE YOUR PETS~First thing is a flea comb simply to pass it over each pet a few times to determine the degree of infestation. If there are a few fleas on the comb or jumping off of each pass, it is time to bathe my pet. This is to remove and kill the fleas and relieve them. I found that flea shampoo is not necessary. Dish detergent, NOT SUDS AND BUBBLES, but the actual soap removes the the oil armor from the flea and they drown much quicker. If you can drench your pet in the soap massage to the skin, hold them for about 5 minutes, (this is difficult because they are very slippery but I manage) then rinse completely, it will do the trick. Whatever it takes rinse well they will lick after the bath and you don't want them to lick soap residue. Here is a story on the gentle effectiveness on Dawn which I suggest you use http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127999735
VACUUM THE HOUSE~After I bathe them I put them somewhere flea free. A room in the house normally off limits or I just leave them in the bathroom, the basement, a pet carrier, the car or someones house while I go to work on the house. Next I mix peroxide and some dawn dish detergent in a spray bottle and spray the rugs. They should not be soaked but can feel kind of wet to the touch. Wait 5 to 10 minutes and spray again. Wait 5 to 10 minutes then vacuum. I put a more expensive flea collar in the bag/canister. Dead fleas come up and the flea collar will help to destroy any remaining live fleas and the larva and eggs. Vacuum and launder like there's no tomorrow. I vacuum every day for this process for about a week or so and also use baking soda or another popular non-toxic powder, diatomaceous earth, which you can get from some garden supply stores, before vacuuming, to help destroy larva and eggs each day.
FLEA TRAPS~Next I set up flea traps in target rooms (see the slide show to learn how to make these or there are store versions you can buy) and especially near where my pets like to lay. I mostly turn these on at night while I'm asleep. It's so gratifying to wake up and check the trap to see either all the dead fleas or to start to see less and less fleas indicating that my efforts are not in vain.
FLEA REPELLANT PET TREATMENTS~If you choose and your pet is tolerant you can find drops and pills at pet stores. I may treat my pet with lemon, garlic, cinnamon or yeast to help repel fleas. You can find articles about how to use these ingredients all over the internet, but generally I can use lemon oil in place of the pesticide drops between their shoulder blades, cinnamon instead of flea powder in their coat and garlic and yeast can be fed to SOME pets. Cats do not LIKE citrus and are themselves repelled by especially orange oil, but there are ways to make this tolerable for them including adding boiled lemon to a bath and simply dipping them. Please ask your vet if there are any concerns with these ingredients in regards to your own pet before trying them.
These simple ingredients and items have helped me manage fleas and other pests and my family and pet's health as it relates. Note that some of these ingredients can arm your household against other pests as well. Cinnamon, for instance, can repel ants. Knowing that mosquitoes are drawn to water vapor and carbon dioxide as well as the potassium in your body can clue you in on how to keep from getting bitten so much.
Oh and by the way, peroxide removes cat urine odor. I learned this after a feral male came around and sprayed up our porches. That hormone makes it something more awful than your standard litterbox content. Baking soda will break down the crystals and a peroxide wash will remove the smell. I also put orange peels in the garden.
Wiki info on the flea: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flea
This excerpt from http://www.vet.k-state.edu/depts/dmp/personnel/faculty/pdf/Persistent.Recurrent.Flea.Problems.pdf can explain the spread and span of flea colonies:
"C. felis also infests a wide diversity of mammalian and avian hosts. In North America,
hosts infested with C. felis include coyotes, red and gray foxes, bobcats, Florida panthers,
cattle, skunks, several rodent species, raccoons, opossums, domestic rabbits, and ferrets.
A survey conducted in Northeastern Kansas demonstrated significant C. felis
populations infesting urban wildlife.5 Cat fleas were recovered from 61.5% (64/104) and
21.6% (24/111) of urban-trapped opossums and raccoons, respectively. Pet owners often
blame their dogs’ and cats’ flea infestations on squirrels and rabbits because they see
these animals during daylight hours. But squirrels and wild rabbits are rarely, if ever,
hosts for C. felis. Pet owner don’t often consider opossums and raccoons as sources
because they rarely observe these nocturnal animals traveling through their yards. But
when these flea-infested animals move through yards at night, they deposit flea eggs that
can serve as an infestation source for dogs and cats.
In other regions of the world, a variety of animals may serve as C. felis reservoir
hosts. In Hawaii, cat fleas infest up to 70% of the mongoose population.4 Infested red
foxes have been found in Germany and France.4 Various rodent species have been
reported harboring C. felis in Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Egypt. 4 Domestic rabbits,
horses, cattle, sheep, goats, various poultry species, and koalas have also been reported
infested with cat fleas.4
C. felis has extended its range into northern temperate climates despite its inability to
survive exposure to temperatures below 30.2 F (–1 C) for more than five days in any life
stage.6 So C. felis’ survival during winters in northern temperate climates is intriguing.
Survival and maintenance of C. felis populations likely occurs through several
mechanisms: (1) Adults living on domestic and feral dogs and cats; (2) Adults living on
urbanized small wild mammals (such as raccoons and opossums in North America); (3)
Delayed development of immature stages in freeze-protected underground wildlife dens;
and (4) Delayed pupae development and adult emergence in the home environment.
The unique host range and C. felis’ ability to establish populations in human
dwellings have allowed this flea to spread successfully throughout most inhabited areas
of the world and to constantly reinfest our urban environments. Even if we restrict pets to
an indoor environment or they rarely venture outdoors, fleas can find their way into our
homes. I have consulted on many flea infestation cases where outside sources introduced
fleas into a home. Outdoor flea infestations are common; they occur in crawl spaces,
under porches, and in other community areas that animals frequent (such as parks,
common latrine sites around apartments, and walking paths). Opossums, raccoons, and
stray dogs and cats that use these areas can deposit flea eggs that establish C. felis
infestations. Many times, fleas jump on a person’s clothes and are then carried into a
house, where they jump off and infest indoor pets. While determining the validity of an
owner’s assertion that the pets never go outside is difficult, even truly indoor pets can
develop flea infestations."