Natural Flea Control – Part Two

Sanitize your pet’s environment

Fleas lay their eggs everywhere — in carpets, curtains, upholstery, animal bedding, cracks and crevices. Destroying the fleas’ eggs by thorough weekly vacuuming and frequent washing of animal bedding goes to the source of the problem and will help eliminate the flea population in your house. After vacuuming, be sure to replace the bag right away and take the old bag out of the house. Keeping clutter on the floor to a minimum also will deprive the fleas of hiding places.

Apply Diatomaceous Earth

Once your home is sanitized, defend against a recurrence of fleas and other insect pests by applying small amounts of diatomaceous earth throughout the home. Diatomaceous earth is a remarkable, all-natural product made from tiny fossilized skeletal remains of unicellular plants called diatoms. But while ‘DE’ may look and feel like talcum powder to us, to insects it is a lethal dust with microscopic razor-sharp edges which cuts the flea`s protective outer covering, leading to dessication and death. And while DE spells death to insects, it is harmless to humans and pets.

Apply DE in places where fleas seem most prevalent: a dusting on the pet’s bedding and the carpet or couch, a teaspoon under the baseboard heater, beneath the stove or cupboards, near the sink, garbage or wherever you suspect fleas. While the effectiveness of the dust does not wear out, it can be accidentally sucked up when vacuuming, so you may need to reapply after using the vacuum in certain areas.

The application of DE has the added benefit of effective flea control whether rooms are carpeted or have bare wood or tile floors. A carpet can be given a light dusting of DE, and a sprinkling on wood floors will find its way to the cracks and crevices where insects frequent. DE can also be rubbed directly into the fur of your pet dog or cat.

The application of diatomaceous earth should continue after the resident flea population is exterminated. This is because tiny hibernating fleas in the cocoon stage may survive in the home environment up to a year without food. This stage can survive most treatments and can emerge to reintroduce the flea population in your home.

It only takes a small amount of diatomaceous earth to cover a large area indoors if it is strategically placed near problem areas or where fleas would likely hide. Since diatomaceous earth usually comes in a fairly large bag, the leftover can be saved since “DE” stores well, but it can also be used outdoors as an effective slug repellent.

Although DE is nontoxic to humans and pets, it is a fine powder and may irritate the lungs of some people especially those with breathing issues. Do not apply DE in windy environments or when the household fan is turned on.

A word of note: Diatomaceous earth for pest control should not be confused with “Pool Grade” diatomaceous earth, which is treated with heat, causing the formerly amorphous silicon dioxide to assume crystalline form which is not effective for insect pest control.

Controlling fleas outdoors

While you can’t kill off the fleas that your pet is going to encounter when it goes outside, you can keep the population down in the area around your house by using nematodes. These microscopic worms eat flea larvae and are therefore a natural way to control the flea population.

You can purchase nematodes at some pet and garden stores. Place them in moist, shady spots near your house; neither fleas nor nematodes survive in the hot sun. A lawn sprayer is commonly used for application, and within 24 hours the resident flea population is reduced up to 80% depending on area sprayed. As nematodes multiply rapidly, you have only to introduce a small initial number to have residual benefits.

Flea control nematodes, however, are not uniformly effective in all outdoor environments. For example, results of flea control nematode trials done under artificial conditions in North Carolina, California, Texas, and Louisiana have been very promising. They sometimes have provided more than 95% control of flea larvae in carefully prepared soil mixes. However, they were much less effective in several preliminary trials conducted in Florida. Although research is inconclusive, evidence suggests that nematodes are most effective against fleas in moist, sandy soil.

Cold winter weather will significantly reduce the population of nematodes in the soil. In most cases, nematodes will become dormant during cold weather, and any survivors would be few in number to provide adequate insect control the following spring. If your flea problems return the following year, another application of nematodes may be necessary.