Often I will get an email asking for an opinion on this product or that product. When I do, if I am not familiar with it, the first thing I try to get is the ingredients of the product. Then I look at any scientific studies I can find either on the product or that chemical(s) listed as an active ingredient. There are other ingredients, called “inert” that can be just as deadly and make up 80%-99% of a formula. The manufacturers do not need to disclose these to the public and even can withhold what they are from the EPA who regulates most of these products in the United States. The manufacturers can claim the “inert” ingredients as a confidential trade secret.
Often I cannot find the ingredients or any studies. Sometimes the ingredient names are made up by manufacturers eventhough the actual ingredient is a common pesticide. If that is the case, especially in the “all-natural” market, I contact the companies directly. I ask them about their products, the ingredients and for Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). Any products listed below are believed to be safe, and at the very least much MUCH safer for the health and life of your pets and family.
We created an Amazon store for Timmy to help you see and learn about several products all in one place. We try to find the best pricing for these for you as well. Timmy gets a small percentage of sales made through his store (4-6%) and this helps us continue to spread his story and educate others.
Combating fleas needs to be an integrated process. You can’t just treat your pet and not your home. You can’t jst treat your home but not your yard. The idea is to make your environment as inhospitable to fleas as possible so that you do not have an outbreak in the first place. The things that create this environment also control outbreaks in process. This is true whether you are considering natural or safer alternatives or whether you choose to use chemical pesticides.
Diet: A good healthy diet is very important to warding off fleas. Fleas will always choose a weaker or sick pet to feed from rather than a healthy one. If you pet is “fairly healthy” their immune system can be lowered through chronic flea bites, making them tastier to the fleas as a meal. Just like some people seem immune to mosquitoes, some pets never seem to have a flea issue. Wholesome foods, no grain and no by-products on the label are best for wet food. You can also look into raw food diets, which many swear by but I do not know much about yet. We feed several types of food, all grain-free and by-product-free, and it has made a world of difference in our cats and dog, their health and coat and their ability to fend off fleas. We have one cat who has such a severe flea allergy that if he gets one bite, his body breaks out with an itchy rash on the lower portion of his body which he then over-grooms.
There are many foods to choose from, and where possible we choose those made in a human grade facility, by small companies. Here are some brand names we use, but like I said, there are many available. Be sure to read the label and if an ingredient like a grain or by-product is in the top 5 or so, the quality of food isn’t that great, despite what you pay for it. We also found that although the food costs more, our pets eat less because the food isn’t full of fillers, so although we were paying more per can, we cut our usage. You might have to play with what works best for you. We tend to stay away from beef as domestic cats and dogs wouldn’t normally eat cow in their natural diet. We like food that has a “fidget factor”, which means it has natural, identifiable food in it. It isn’t just square chunks of something or all mush.
We often have people and vets comment on how soft, healthy and shiny Timmy’s coat is. We are often asked if he is fed a raw diet because of that. We do not. We do, however, try to make the most nutritious choices for him and his housemates.
What We Use: I put this here as an example to help you get started. You will find what works best for you and your pets.
Dry Food: BG (Before Grain) by Merrick
Wet Food: Weruva including BFF (Best Feline Friend), Addiction (also has raw & dry options) from New Zealand for you Kiwis, Aussies and UKers, Wysong 95% canine/feline. Wysong cannot be the only food source as it is not complete nutritionally, but does come in canine/feline large cans (14 oz) so you can use the same can for both cats and dogs.
Garlic and Yeast Tablets also work to repel fleas and ticks, but use these on your dog with caution. Please be sure to double check with your vet if you use garlic as it can be hard on the kidneys and should NOT be used with cats. Brewer’s Yeast, however, can be used for both cats and dogs.
FLEAS IN YOUR HOUSE & ON YOUR PET
Vacuuming: Vacuum once a week. Every other week do a much more thorough vacuum. Be sure to vacuum couches, floor boards, cracks, crevices, rug edges and anywhere your pet frequents like couches or chairs during the more thorough vacuum. In the case of an active infestation you can do the thorough schedule once a week or every other day for about 4-6 weeks. This vacuuming schedule includes carpets, hardwood floors, concrete, tile and linoleum. Studies show that the action of the vacuum alone is enough to kill fleas in all stages of life. Although I am sure the universities who did these studies know what they are talking about, I still empty my bagless canister in the outside garbage when I am done even if it is not full. It used to be thought you had to take your vacuum bag and freeze it when done, but that doesn’t actually kill fleas. It would only make them hibernate. [**NOTE** Some have suggested cutting up flea collars and putting them into your bag or canister. However this not only helps support these companies, it also disperses toxins throughout your home in amounts greater than the EPA deems “safe” for toxicity for humans both adults and children.]
Washing: At least every two weeks, and weekly if you have an outbreak, be sure to wash all pet bedding, blankets or other things your pet frequents. You don’t have to worry about washing it all in hot or cold water. The detergent and agitation is enough to kill fleas. Be sure when you gather the bedding that you take care and do not just grab it. Remember flea eggs can roll off! If your pet sleeps on your bed with you, that means your bed linens need to be washing as well! During an outbreak we do this before vacuuming incase any flea eggs have dropped to the floor. We also add a small amount (about a teaspoon) of vinegar. This not only acts as a water softener, but it will help repel fleas when you return the bedding to yourself and your pets. And not to worry – it won’t make your laundry smell like vinegar!
The above two steps are usually enough to keep most homes flea free. But what do you do when it isn’t?
Bathing: It is most efficient in the fight against fleas to vacuum your house, wash bedding and bathe your pet on the same day whenever possible (we also incorporate flea combing – below – into the bathing). Bathe your pet using all natural bar soap or shampoo, without scents, fragrance, perfumes, essential oils or essences added such as lavendar, citronella, penny royal, neem, tea tree or peppermint (to name a few). Soaps that are primarily shea butter, coconut butter or jojoba are best. They create a wonderful, thick foam and the foam will kill the fleas on your pet, not the ingredients. Also avoid products containing neem oil. Although sold as a natural flea and tick remedy, it is toxic to cats and dogs. We have developed an excellent flea & tick soap called Tiny Timmy’s Sudz. Tiny Timmy’s Sudz are non-toxic to both cats and dogs, soothe irritation, itching and dermatitis, kills fleas on your pet and helps repel fleas and ticks (as an added bonus, mosquitoes also don’t like it). You can use this even if you do not have fleas but your cat or dog needs a bath.
Chemical-Free Castille soap is also good, particularly with coconut, jojoba and hemp oils. Oatmeal soap is also great for skin issues if your pet is sensitive. Glycerin based natural soaps are wonderful as well as long as they are high quality and vegetable-based. (Most glycerine soaps on the market have chemicals in them and are not totally plant based). Things like dishwashing liquid soap, such as Dawn Blue Dish Soap, is great when wanting to remove chemical residues and sticky oils from your pets fur and skin. However, you should not use it for regular bathing as it also removes the natural oils from your pet’s coat and skin. NEVER use any soap or product that is labeled as “ANTI-BACTERIAL” on your pet.
Flea Combing: Flea combing is incredibly easy and an enjoyable way to get rid of fleas and bond with your pet. You can purchase Flea Combs rather inexpensively and they come in all sorts of different sizes and shapes. Some have plastic teeth and others have metal. We like the metal ones and you will need to try out what works for you best. We have both single and double combed Flea Combs. The double combed has two rows of “teeth” which traps fleas in between them so your strokes can be longer, but you need something to put between the teeth to remove the fleas that are trapped and this can be frustrating sometimes. Be sure to have a bowl of soapy water handy. I usually flea comb in the same area so I can contain any fleas by treating a small area instead of a larger one with vacuuming and DE (see below), but you can do this where ever you are most comfortable. I sometimes use the toilet with soap around the bowl to keep the fleas in. The fleas get weighed down by the soap and drown in the water. Pay special attention to gently comb cheeks, chin, around the ears, stomach and near the tail. Those are areas that fleas like most. When you catch a flea in the teeth of the comb, grab it with your fingers and put it into the water. It might take a little while for you to perfect your combing technique, but it is well worth it!
Diatomaceous Earth (aka DE): This is my favorite. As you know, Timmy was covered in more than 350 fleas when we rescued him. We treated his “room”, which is a carpeted bathroom, every week with diatomaceous earth. If you use DE, please be sure it is FOOD GRADE. The other DE is chemically treated or structurally changed through use of heat and is used in filters for swimming pools. We used about a teaspoon for every 2 square feet, rubbed it in with a broom, let it sit for about an hour and then vacuumed it up lightly. Please be sure to wear a mask if you handle this for larger areas as it is a powder and you do not want to inhale it while applying. It can dust up while you apply it. However, once applied, it is totally safe and you do not need to worry. You can leave it spread into your carpet and floor and furniture and pet bedding, or you can vacuum it up next time. [See also diatomaceous earth application for yard for more background on DE.] You can even very lightly dust your pet with DE. If you do this, please make sure to start at the back and push forward with your fingers to get the DE under the coat. A little goes a long way, so you would likely need less than a teaspoon for cats, as an example. Also be cautious and do not apply around eyes, nose and mouth. This can irritate their mucos membranes.
Flea Traps: A flea trap is simple but very effective. There is a lightbulb which emits light a small amount of heat, a sticky glue pad that traps the fleas and phermones to help attract more fleas. You can make a less effective one yourself using a bowl of water, a night light and some soap. If you want to make one of these yourself, simply put a shallow bowl of soapy water near your pet bedding at night under a night light. In the morning, being attracted by the light, you should find a few fleas in the bowel. However, with the store bought flea traps, after 24 hours you should have 10-30 fleas and within a few days you can have upwards of 100 if you have a severe infestation. You can also use these traps during flea season as a “warning” before you notice fleas in your home or on your pets. We have used the Victor M230 Ultimate Flea Trap to great success. Here are some more options for you to choose from: Flea Trap Assortment.
ShooTAG: ShooTAG is a small card with a magnetic stripe. It resembles a credit card in material and magnetic strip. It reaches “maximum level” in up to 36 hours of attaching it to your pets collar. It lasts 4 months. Each ShooTAG has two fobs – one for fleas and one for ticks. It says the magnetic strip emits a 3-dimensional radio frequency that combines with your pets own electromagnetic field. In short, it tricks fleas and ticks into thinking your pet is incredibly healthy and so not a good meal choice. I have had reports from people stating these work wonderfully and others that claim a magnetic strip can’t possibly work the way described. They give a no-hassle money back guarentee, so you really have nothing to lose by trying it. At first, they appear expensive, but when you figure out their 4 month life span (a two pack is especially cost effective) it comes out to around $5 to $7.50 per month. I would suggest bathing your pet before putting on the ShooTAG to get rid of any hitch hikers already on your pet. We tried this on our dog, who is a Shiba Inu. The biggest drawback we found was keeping the magnetic strips facing her body as directed. She picked up minimal fleas on her walks outside while using it. We returned it for our money back and almost immediately she picked up more fleas outside.
TREATING THE OUTDOORS AND/OR YOUR YARD
You or your pet can bring fleas in from outdoors so it’s important also to treat your yard and not just your home. Fleas love sand, gravel and bark dust. The like heat and high humidity so keep this in mind when landscaping and treating your yard. They love to hide under debris and things like dead leaves that have fallen to the ground.
Nematodes: Beneficial Nematodes are microscopic worms that feed off of different larvae, including flea larvae. They live in the ground and when their food source is exhausted, they die. You can get these at your local gardening supply store or from Amazon. You will need to also get a pump sprayer. Spray your yard, under bushes, hedges, sand boxes, plant beds, dirt crawl spaces under your house and anywhere your pet frequents. The specialist at the garden center can give you guidance so ask them for suggestions on application. I have found in recent years, things like nematodes and DE are harder to find in garden stores, so we simply order online.
Diatomaceous Earth: Diatomaceous Earth is found in fresh water lake beds and contains fossilized pieces of a hard-shelled algae called diatoms in it. It is a fine white powder and looks something like flour. The fossil shards penetrate the waxy coating on flea bodies and they dehydrate and die. You can spread this, using a small amount, in your yard safely. You can either “dust” your yard, sprinkle it or add anywhere from 1 table spoon to 1 cup per gallon of water to a sprayer and spray your yard. If you spray the DE, be sure to continually shake up the canister to keep the DE spread throughout the water. Some people do this once a year, twice a year or more often. How often you decide to use DE in your yard will depend on how much water run off you have and whether or not you have an outbreak. DE is a mechanical method of flea control, meaning it scratches the waxy coating and this is something that fleas cannot build an immunity to like they can (and do) with chemicals.
As a side note, DE can also be used against various garden pests including ants, spiders and fungus on roses. It can be taken internally to detox the body and to eliminate worms and parasites. It can also be used to treat mites or clean teeth.
There are also various plants that act as natural flea and tick deterrents such as pennyroyal, chrysanthemum and cedar. However please be aware that these can also be toxic to cats, dogs and other animals. You should be able to ask your garden specialist for advice on non-toxic alternatives for your yard. Some garden centers offer a list of pet-friendly plants and shrubs.
IF YOU NEED CHEMICAL TREATMENTS
If you need to use chemical treatments due to health issues that hinder you from vacuuming, washing and flea combing as much as needed or you have tried everything else and need a little bit of help, the following two products are safer than most. They come in a pill form so will not leave toxic residue in your house.
Capstar: Capstar is the same for dogs and cats. It kills fleas on your pet (much like bathing would) and is active for 1-3 days only. It claims that it will be completely out of the body in up to 7 days. It also claims to be safe used multiple times per month and with other flea and tick control products. Basically, Capstar gives you a little bit of time to do that other things you need to inorder to fight off fleas. It is also useful in a rescue setting where incoming animals are routinely treated for fleas.
Comfortis: Comfortis is regulated by the FDA and EPA depending on the intended usage. It is a product only for dogs and requires a vet prescription, even if you buy online. It is a chewable tablet and contains spinosad which is believed to be low toxicity and not a carcinogen to humans. Please keep in mind, Comfortis has only been on the market since 2007 so there is very little true historical information on potential dangers and side effects. Although marketed as a “monthly” use product, the EPA recommends only using chemical treatments when all other approaches have failed and only when you have an active outbreak. Do not use Comfortis or any product containing spinosad with heartworm medication or mite/mange treatment particularly ivermectin as it can cause a higher potential for life threatening issues and even death. Do not use in dogs who have seizure disorder as it can evoke a seizure response.
Read about toxic flea and tick products
Read Understanding Fleas