alternatives to pesticides - bugs/pests - fleas
Actual size: Adult fleas – 1/16”
Fleas are a common pest west of the Cascades where winters are mild and homes are relatively damp. They inflict annoying bites, transmit tapeworms and can cause allergies in both animals and humans. Fleas are almost impossible to eradicate. You may kill most of the adults, but new eggs or larvae are waiting to carry on, and your pet will bring in more fleas from outside. Don’t be dismayed. You can keep the flea population low enough that it won’t be bothersome, and you can do it without using highly toxic products.
Inside - Restrict your pets to certain rooms in the house. If possible establish one regular sleeping area for your pet in a place you can clean easily and regularly. With cats, you may have to place removable cloths in several places where they like to sleep. Any bedding materials and nearby rugs should be removed frequently and washed.. Do not allow them in bedrooms, hard-to-clean rooms such as basements and attics, or rooms belonging to family members particularly susceptible to flea bites.
Outside - In severe cases, keep animals either outside or inside, but don’t let them go back and forth. Small areas outside where your pet spends a lot of time (concrete areas, dog houses, garages or decks) can be kept relatively free of fleas by vacuuming. However, it is better to focus your efforts indoors, where you have more control.
Vacuum - Vacuum all areas to which your pets have access every week with a strong canister-type machine. Use a crevice tool and don’t forget the upholstered furniture. During the “flea season” in the late summer and fall, you may need to vacuum more often – every third day or so. Dispose of the vacuum bag immediately so that the fleas cannot escape after the vacuum is stored away. Severe flea outbreaks may require shampooing or steam cleaning rugs and upholstered furniture.
Flea Comb - To remove adult fleas from pets, comb them with a flea comb and bathe them. A flea comb has specially designed tines spaced to allow hair, but not fleas, to pass through. Several tine spacing sizes are available. As you run the comb through your pet’s fur, some fleas will jump away, but others will stay on the comb. Remove the fleas from the comb and drop them into a container of soapy water. When finished, flush them down the toilet. Count the fleas removed to estimate the flea population and monitor the need for other controls.
Fennel, Rosemary, Red Cedar Shavings, Sassafras, Eucalyptus, or Pennyroyal - Spread leaves or shavings of these plants under and around the pet’s bed.
Salt - Salt the crevices of the doghouse and/or wash the pet periodically in salt water.
Vinegar - A ratio of 1 teaspoon vinegar to 1 quart water (per 40 pounds of pet weight) in their drinking water helps to keep your pets free of fleas and ticks
Least-Toxic Chemical Controls
Boric acid – Boric Acid can be applied on inside carpets. Boric acid is a slow acting, low-toxicity, long-lasting (if kept dry) powder that is effective against ants, cockroaches and other structural pests. It is a digestive and contact poison and is usually applied as a dust. Products often come with a duster-type applicator. It is toxic if ingested, inhaled or comes into contact with abraded or broken skin. It poses a risk to children and pets if they come into contact with it. It is safe to place it in wall voids because it does not evaporate and cannot enter living spaces.
Diatomaceous Earth - Diatomaceous earth can be spread over lawns. Diatomaceous earth is made from ground up fossils; it comes in a powder form and is very abrasive. It is a dust that abrades the skin and body joints of insects. Dry diatomaceous earth makes an effective slug barrier. Do not inhale the dust.
Flea collars are not recommended because they contain very potent chemicals that may harm your pet.
Imidaclopril - Imidaclopril (Advantage) and fipronil (Frontline) are liquid formulations that are applied externally in one spot on the animal’s back and kill adult fleas. They are effective for one month. They work by spreading over the body through skin oils, and kill fleas within 24 hours.
Insecticidal Soap - The safest chemical for killing fleas is an insecticidal soap. Separate soaps can be purchased for treating the pet and its surroundings. Insecticidal soaps are a highly refined liquid soaps (technically the potassium salt of fatty acids), sometimes combined with citrus oil. Soaps are normally mixed with water and sprayed onto leaves to control spider mites, aphids, scale insects, whiteflies and other soft-bodied insects. They are contact insecticides, meaning you must wet the pest for them to be effective. As always, follow package directions and cautions when using these products.
Lemon Peel Oil - After soaps, the safest chemicals to kill adult fleas are the natural constituents of lemon peel oil, which are quite toxic to adult fleas and relatively safe to vertebrates.
Linalool - Use shampoos or area sprays that contain linalool. Do not substitute these products for a year-round program of non-chemical control.
Lufenuron - Lufenuron (Program), also known as “flea birth control,” is a once-a month oral medication veterinarians can prescribe for pets. Fleas that feed on a dog or cat treated with the drug produce eggs that are unable to develop. When administered to all pets in a household, the treatment can be effective in reducing indoor flea populations. Because it does not kill adult fleas or prevent new fleas from being introduced from outside, it should be used in combination with other controls. Tests performed on dogs and cats taking lufenuron for two consecutive summers revealed no obvious side effects. However, because long-term toxicity studies have not yet been published, possible cumulative effects on pets are unknown.
Methoprene - Methoprene, an insect growth regulator, mimics natural insect hormones and prevents immature fleas from becoming adults. It is quite specific to the target insect and is fairly safe to mammals. However, it does not kill adult fleas or eggs, so it must be used in combination with other controls. It is more effective when flea populations are just beginning to build, but you may not know that the problem is going to be serious enough to need chemical treatment. Methoprene is available in aerosol foggers and a concentrate. Foggers are not recommended because they do not concentrate the application in the areas where adults and larvae hide (carpets, bedding, etc.) and often contain other toxic ingredients. Spray the concentrate as directed.
Pyrethrum - There are also insecticidal soap sprays available for inside/outside use to which a small amount of pyrethrum is added. Many other pyrethrum-based products are available. Pyrethrum is an effective, short-lived, naturally derived insecticide made from chrysanthemum flowers. It is toxic to all insects, including beneficial ones, and moderately toxic to birds and mammals. It should be the last resort for ornamentals and is not recommended on food crops. Avoid using formulations that contain piperonyl butoxide, which is currently being evaluated for its carcinogenicity. Pyrethrins are the individual chemicals found in pyrethrum. Pyrethroids are a new array of synthetic chemicals, such as cyfluthrin and cypermethrin. They resist breakdown, thus negating their major environmental advantage. With the three names being so similar, they can easily be confused. Pyrethrum is the least hazardous. Cats are especially sensitive to pyrethrum, so if your cat does not tolerate it, try something else.