On March 17, 2010, the EPA issued a warning about possible safety issues regarding many of the most popular flea control products. In 2008 alone, the agency received roughly 45,000 complaints of negative reactions to flea control medications. Most of the complaints were minor, but 600 involved the death of the treated animal.
It may be that not every complaint was valid, and perhaps not all the deaths were related to the medications. But keep in mind that many popular flea control products come labelled with cautions to "avoid contact with skin" or "in case of accidental contact, wash affected area thoroughly." Some labels contain other admonitions about the dangers of fumes and heartening phrases like "harmful to wildlife" and "may cause vomiting."
Do you really want to drench your pit bull with a chemical that carries so many warnings for you to avoid the slightest contact?
Fortunately, you don't need to use these products. There are plenty of safe, effective natural remedies available.
Signs of the Adversary
While fleas are more likely to appear during hot, humid seasons, you don't have to break out the pest control at the first sign of summer rain. But there are times when you definitely want to take action.
First you might see your dog scratching a little. Then, the scratching grows more persistent. Or, she hasn't even started scratching yet, but you see a little brown oval crawling through her fur. You wait and hope, but then you see another. You find the next one crawling on you, and spy four more on the blanket. At this point, you have to consider the possibility of a flea infestation.
First Things First--Vacuum!
Before you do anything else, vacuum the carpet and throw any affected clothing into the wash. Then use a flea comb on your dog and vacuum again. Vacuuming is a simple remedy that rarely works by itself, but will usually at least slow down the infestation. Every once in a blue moon, you'll get lucky and that will be the end of it. Generally, you'll need to follow up with other measures, but regular vacuuming should definitely be one of your first lines of defense against fleas.
General Health: A Key to Flea Prevention
Along with vacuuming, another key preventive measure involves a healthy diet for a healthy immune system. Some dogs seem more flea resistant than others, and both diet and overall health appear to be the key factors. According to many experts, including Dr. Robert Pitcairn, switching your pit bull to a diet based on raw, unprocessed foods will often keep your dog from getting fleas altogether. If you must feed a processed dog food, choose one of the varieties made from human-grade ingredients.
Supplements and Flea Control
A number of supplements have proven effective at both improving your canine's immune system and making her more flea resistant. A quick rundown of the most successful:
- Garlic - One or two garlic cloves pulped and mixed in with your pit bull's meals during the day is a great health tonic, as well as one of the best ways to make your dog less attractive to fleas. And garlic supplementation has the advantage of working faster to discourage fleas than changes in diet or many other supplements. Fleas dislike garlic, so you don't have to wait for an overall health improvement for it to have an effect. One caution: With garlic, more is not better. Too much garlic can lead to Heinz body anemia, so don't try to get better results by increasing the dosage.
- Vinegar - A spoonful of vinegar, especially Apple Cider Vinegar, deters fleas. Add it to your pit bull's water or mix it in with his food. You can also spritz it on your dog, though many don't find it the world's most pleasant aroma.
Essential Oils, the Natural Flea control Remedy for Dogs
Before going any further, let me emphasize "for dogs". NOT for cats. Essential oils tend to be toxic when applied to cats, so if you also have cats, please research other remedies for them and only use the essential oils on your canine companions.
That said, essential oils, mixed with water and/or a base oil and placed in a spritzer, make great flea repellents. The following is a list of oils commonly used for this purpose:
- Tea Tree
You can use these oils alone or in a variety of combinations. Mix 10 to 20 drops with spring or distilled water and pour into a dark colored glass bottle with a spritzer. Spray the mixture on your dog daily, and also use around doors, on bedding, etc. to keep fleas away. You can also try a few drops of an oil such as lavender applied directly to the base of the neck and tail.
The famed Juliette de Bairacli-Levy, the godmother of modern holistic pet care, recommends slicing up a lemon, placing it in boiling water, and letting it steep overnight. In the morning, you can use the mixture to spritz your dog (being careful not to get it into her eyes) or sponge the solution into her skin. This mixture contains both natural flea-killing substances and healing ingredients for the skin.
Another effective herbal remedy consists of leaving rosemary leaves to steep overnight. The next day, mix with a gallon of hot water, let it cool down a little, then pour over your dog.
It helps to keep your yard as hostile to fleas as possible. Here are some ways to accomplish this goal:
- If you have a lawn, keep it short.
- Don't kill ants or other predatory insects. They provide great natural flea tool.
- Use nematodes. These are tiny worms that eat flea larvae. You can order them from a number of sources, and within a few days after application, you'll have no more larvae in your yard. Depending on your personal situation and perspective, they also have the advantage or disadvantage of eliminating other species of insects and pests from your yard. They will need to be reintroduced at least once a year, maybe more often, as they eat all their prey species and die off.
Many people recommend spreading diatomaceous earth or boric acid products, the latter primarily for indoor use. While spreading both of these will work to eliminate fleas, diatomaceous earth has the (potential) disadvantage of killing ants, and you don't want to breath in the dust of either (especially avoid diatomaceous earth meant for swimming pool usage).
Ultimately, an improved diet, judicious use of essential oils, regular housecleaning, and keeping your yard neat provide the best flea control, without resorting to damaging chemicals or harming the ecosystem around your home. So, next time flea season rolls around, keep in mind that a variety of effective, inexpensive and SAFE methods for keeping your pit bull flea-free abound.