Tuesday, 6 September 2011

A Holistic Approach to Flea Control

Woof woof, Miyuki here.  Wow, August has just flown by.  I've been so busy watching over our new pack member, and all of a sudden, it’s Spring!  I love how these sunshiney days encourage my humans to take long walks outside in nature.  I have also been helping dig up the garden (we are getting the vegie patch ready for planting!).  Unfortunately this blissful weather also means more fleas, and many Australian pets including yours truly suffer with flea allergy symptoms in the warmer months.
Me all itchy and scratchy.

Itch, scratch, chew, itch, roll, rub, chew... Any flea-allergic pet will know all too well how distressing fleas can be. What many pet owners don’t realise is that for highly sensitive pets, it takes only one flea bite to set off an itch-scratch cycle that can last for a fortnight.

Many conventional Vets use this wisdom to encourage frequent use of chemical flea products year-round. Is this really the best approach for the long-term health of us earth doggies though?

I don’t believe so, but as many of you will already be aware, I am a chemical-phobe. I can’t stand the smell of those spray-on and spot-on flea chemicals; it is certainly enough to make me wary of what they are doing to the inside of my body.

Dr Renee tells me that she became wary of flea products way back in her university days when she learnt that one of the readily available flea top-spots marketed as completely safe for dogs and cats could kill a bunny rabbit! Well I may not be a bunny rabbit, but it certainly convinced me to avoid using chemical flea control products as much as possible! I did a little more investigation into the toxicity of common flea control products and came across this rather scary consumer alert!

The problem I have is that I am very sensitive to flea bites, and as soon as warmer weather comes around and the fleas start biting, I start to get really itchy. It becomes quite the obsession to be honest, and I scratch at my sides and chew mainly over my tail base – a typical spot to be itchy for flea-allergic dogs.

So when Spring comes around, I get homeopathic remedies and Chinese herbs to relieve the itching, and we wage war on the fleas, using all of Dr Renee's natural weapons. We avoid using toxic flea chemicals as much as possible, by keeping an eye on the flea population and using an holistic approach to flea control.

Apparently the fleas that jump on me and Miss Monique represent only 1-3% of the fleas in our immediate environment. So it makes much more sense to focus flea control efforts on the environment rather than just putting toxic chemicals on your furry friends. 

Things that have helped us to keep fleas to a minimum include:

Blocking off areas of the house or yard where fleas survive and proliferate.  Fleas like warm or cool, moist areas, not too hot or dry. I used to frequent the garage in hot weather, but this is prime real estate for fleas as it’s dark and cool, so I’m no longer allowed in there. Miss Monique used to love exploring under the back deck, but again, this is a perfect spot for fleas to complete their life cycle, so under the deck got blocked off as well.

Keeping other favourite resting spots swept clean and dusted with a natural flea control product like ‘Dr Goodpet’s Flea Control Outside’. This is a natural food-grade product that is made up of tiny particles of abrasive rock, called 'diatomaceous earth' (very difficult to spell!). It is a safe, non-toxic flea killer that works by dehydrating the fleas. It can also be used externally like a flea powder. Just be careful not to inhale it as it makes you sneeze!

Throw out any flea-infested bedding and invest in products that are easy to keep flea-free. I have a Snooza ‘Flea-Free Dog Bed’ in the front yard, and my favourite ‘HoundHouse’ kennel out the back, which keeps me cool in summer and warm in winter. The HoundHouse is really easy to keep flea-free, as the eggs and larvae drop through the mesh bottom, and you can easily hose it out and place the mattress out in the hot sun to kill any flea eggs or larvae. Dr Renee also sprinkles a little diatomaceous earth (the Dr Goodpet product I mentioned earlier) into my kennel a few times a year.
Me posing in my HoundHouse kennel.
<><><>  <><>
My HoundHouse kennel and mattress sunbaking to kill flea eggs & larvae.

I have a bath about once a month, usually after I have rolled in something that smells perfectly delightful at the beach! I’m not a big fan of baths, and like to lean against the shower wall hoping I’ll blend into the white tiles, but unfortunately it never works and Dr Renee can still see me. 
I eat an all natural, homemade diet to keep my body internally clean and healthy, making my blood less attractive to fleas. I also get a supplement added to my food – I have just started taking the Missing Link Omega 3 Joint Support Formula, as my joints are getting a little stiff in my wise years. It contains good things for my joints like glucosamine, as well as anti-inflammatory herbs including licorice root and nettle that help soothe my itchy skin as well, and lots of essential fatty acids to boost my skin’s protective barrier.
<><><>  <><><>  <><>
Aaargh, bath time!

Luckily she doesn’t like to bath me too frequently as she says it dries out my skin and strips it of its natural oily protective barrier. She washes me in a gentle, natural shampoo for sensitive skin made by PAW (Pure Animal Wellbeing) that contains antibacterial rosemary essential oil that also works to repel fleas, and skin soothing sandalwood. She also uses the PAW conditioner to keep my coat shiny, soft and fresh. As a reward for being amenable to bathing I get a nice big bone or a stuffed Kong to chew on afterwards.
<><><><> <><><><> 
Yum, stuffed Kong!
When I have fleas, Dr Renee uses a lemon rinse made by steeping a couple of chopped up lemons in a big bucket of boiled water overnight, then straining it the next day and pouring it over my coat. This helps to drown the fleas, and the limonene in the lemon works as a flea repellent. And I get a little massage!
<><><>  <><><>  <><>
My lemon brew.
Miss Monique also has to let Dr Renee bath her when she has fleas, and she gets a lemon rinse as well. She’s not a fan of either, but she tolerates it well, because she was bathed a lot as a kitten when she had her leaky bottom problem.

There are also natural flea repellents out there, and Dr Renee has even made one up for me from essential oils including tea tree, eucalyptus, rosemary, pennyroyal, & lavender in a citronella base, but these are a bit of a pain to use as you have to use them almost daily for them to be effective. They smell nice though! (Miss Monique told me to mention that cats are very sensitive to essential oils, so please don’t try this on your feline friend.)

I check daily for any sign of fleas. Usually in dogs they are found over the rump and around the tail base, and under the arms, but I also often find them down the insides of my front legs. Miss Monique sometimes has a few around her face and neck, and on the sides or underside of her belly. Some really allergic animals will get rid of a flea before you spot it, so check for ‘flea dirt’ as well, which looks like small dark flakes or grit in the coat, as this will sometimes give them away.

We also put Dr Renee to work regularly vacuuming the house, including rugs, doormats and under the couches. Your vacuum is one of your best weapons when fighting fleas, as they stimulate fleas to hatch and you can suck them up with the vacuum, and apparently they die from the turbulence. Luckily our new pack member loves the sound of the vacuum. Not sure if he finds it boring or comforting, but it puts him to sleep! Miss Monique can't understand it; she runs a mile as soon as the vacuum gets turned on!

Dr Renee also found these chemical-free flea traps that attract fleas and their larvae to a sticky adhesive sheet, making a big dent in the flea population inside your home. 

So that's what we do to try and stay flea-free, which is not an easy task in our sunny Australian climate.  Not using chemicals is much safer for us earth doggies and our feline friends in the long-term, but if you have a really itchy pet suffering from a nasty flea infestation, it may be kinder to use a flea chemical from your Vet in the short-term while you undertake an holistic approach to long-term flea control. Get your pet comfortable, and then keep them healthy by not having to rely on the chemicals in the future.

Me pondering the future.


  1. Great tips! I like the lemon bath! We're lucky Darwin has been flea free so far! We used to use those flea meds from the vet but stopped using it. The fact that you cant touch that area on the dog for a few hours afterwards seems bad (also the cheaper kind at the regular stores STINK). We started giving Darwin a powder supplement (BodyGuard http://www.protec-pet-health.com/body_guard.html) that we got at our neighborhood pet store and they said that one of the benefits is one of the ingredients is good for flea repellent and so far its worked!

  2. Great post Miyuki! YOu are certainly a very resourceful canine..and your new pack member is absolutely flawless, isn't he?

    Now question for you: could the lemon brew be made with lime? No lemons here in Brazil.
    Also, could fleas get through the fabric of a mattress? We might have to throw away all the canine beds here...

    Keep up the good job in the veggie patch!
    Woof woof!

  3. The lemon brew can also be made with lime - all citrus fruits contain limonene in their rind. Why no lemons in Brazil?
    Fleas do burrow down into carpet layers, so it's likely they can also get through the fabric of a mattress, depending how tight the weave is. Your best bet is to vacuum the mattress using the strongest suction you can, and if the fabric is removable, wash this on the hot cycle, dry in the sun, and dust the bed with diatomaceous earth before putting the cover back on.
    Will post photos of our luscious vegie patch soon!

  4. Hi, Dr Renee
    thanks for the info on fleas.

    I'm wondering if one of these days you might do something on ticks. It's a problem we in Victoria have little experience of, but now the pesky little creatures have arrived along our coast and I'm not sure what to do.

  5. Hi Miyuki - sorry I haven't visited in AGES!! Things have been awfully hectic in my house, what with my humans travelling so much recently, etc. And now that we're finally all back home together, it's time to start preparing to move again!!!!

    Anyway, thanks for a great post! It's great as my humans are just starting out to try this natural flea protection on me & Muesli - and your post really helped to summarise everything for them again! It's so informative & well-written. We have started the rinse (well, we use apple cider vinegar instead of lemons) and that's working very well but we haven't really gotten round to using the environmental products yet. My humans made up a solution of that dia-dia...whatever earth for the garden but then they had a problem with the sprayer and it didn't go where it should...blah, blah, blah...anyway, next weekend, they're not going down to Sydney (again!) for househunting as Paul is on-call so they may try again.

    But I seem to be quite lucky in that I have never had a flea problem. Maybe it's my short coat? Even when my humans were a bit lax about using the chemcial spot-ons in the past (they used to lapse in winter) - I've never suffered from bites, so I've never had to experience your itching & scratching - you poor thing!

    Oh - before I forget - I also came over to tell you that I FINALLY posted about our dune playdates on my blog! And my human has made a movie of us playing - do come over to my blog to check it out sometime!

    Honey the Great Dane

  6. I have 3 dogs and 3 cats that are all indoor/outdoor, and have found that keeping all of them treated for fleas goes a long way to keeping the house from getting infested. Products such as Advantage and Frontline are easy to use and quite effective.vet north shore

  7. Fun post! Thanks for sharing these great tips. I've actually found that the first step in flea control for my pets is often treating the indoor and outdoor areas that they frequent. I learned a neat trick- fleas are attracted to white (poor Miyuki!) so if you're unsure where the infestation originated, lay a couple old white socks around the suspected area.