Is there an effective way to control fleas 
that is safe for my pet and
my family?
UPdate Summer 2001

Andrea Johnson responds:
Yes, there is a natural flea-control program which builds upon optimizing your pet's health, regular grooming and regular house cleaning.

To avoid flea problems, you want to make your pet less attractive to fleas. Supplementing  your pet's diet with garlic and brewer's yeast will help. Garlic acts as a flea deterrent, as well as an all-round immune system and cardiovascular tonic.  Mix fresh garlic, 1/2 to one raw clove, grated or minced, into each feeding.  Brewer's yeast creates an odor that is unpleasant to fleas. Depending on your pet's size, mix from one teaspoon to two tablespoons of brewer's yeast in each meal.

Bathing your pet with a good quality Castile soap or a natural pet shampoo will keep fleas down. You can add ten drops of tea tree oil, a natural and safe flea repellent, to an eight ounce bottle of natural pet shampoo.  Lather your pet, starting at the neck and avoiding the eyes. Let the shampoo stand for six to ten minutes.  Rinse well.  Rinse again with a pint of water combined with one tablespoon apple cider vinegar. This removes soap residue and restores the natural pH of the skin.  If you cannot tolerate tea tree oil, you can follow the vinegar rinse with a rosemary rinse (one teaspoon dried rosemary steeped in one pint boiling water for ten minutes; strain and cool to body temperature.) Fleas can't live in salt water, so periodic dips in the ocean (or a salt water rinse) can also help keep fleas under control.

During flea season, comb your pet daily with a special flea comb. Cover your lap with an old towel to catch extra clumps of hair and flea dirt. Pull the fleas off the comb into a container of hot, soapy water.  After combing, try a herbal flea powder. You can make one by combining in a shaker jar as many of these powdered herbs as you can tolerate: rosemary, fennel, yellow dock, wormwood and rue. Comb sparingly into your pet's hair.

Regular house cleaning is essential because it interferes with the flea's development cycle.  Adult fleas account for only 5% of the total population.  Flea eggs hatch into larvae, then pupae before hatching as adults.  It is a 2 to 20 week cycle, depending on temperature and humidity.  Eggs, larvae and pupae are nearly immobile, so clean your pet's favorite rest areas and you will greatly reduce future flea populations.

Vacuum floors and furniture at least once a week. Dispose of the vacuum bag immediately after each vacuuming.  Wash floors with a non-toxic soap. Also wash your pet's bedding in hot, soapy water at least once a week. Dry on maximum heat to kill all stages of flea life.

If you just don't have the time and energy to use the natural method, you may wish to consider an oral insect development inhibitor (IDI) such as Program.  Program is a pharmaceutical product but is not a pesticide.  Program is absorbed from the pet's stomach into the pet's fatty tissues, then released slowly into the bloodstream.  When the flea bites the pet it ingests lufenuron which stops eggs from hatching.

 Program's manufacturer, Novartis, claims that their product is safe in all mammals.  However, Novartis states that some animals may react to Program with individual sensitivities in much the same way as some humans react to Aspirin with a stomach upset.  Dr. Fernando Moncayo, a holistic veterinarian, has noted these side effects: vomiting, skin rashes, and possible adrenal gland problems.

 I do not recommend commercial pesticide products for flea control even though manufacturers claim they are safe.  These products are composed of active and "inert" ingredients both of which may cause toxic reactions.  The actives kill the flea; the "inerts" make the pesticides more potent or easier to use.

 Common actives in flea insecticide products are pyrethrin,
pyrethroids, organophosphates, carbamates, organochlorines,
imidacloprid, and fipronyl.  All these insecticides kill fleas by
interfering with their nervous system. All potentially cause toxic
reactions in pets and humans, including excess saliva, skin rashes,
diarrhea, vomiting, tremors and seizure.

Of special concern are the organophosphates which are responsible for most pet poisonings and yet are among the most common active ingredients.  On June 8, 2000 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate, from most indoor and outdoor uses because of its risk to children's health, particularly nervous system and brain development.  But chlorpyrifos has not been banned in Canada and is still used in flea collars.

"Inert" ingredients may also be volatile and toxic.  Among Canada's 50 most toxic chemicals one-third are "inerts".  Chemicals banned as actives can be used as "inerts".  Manufacturers are not required to list "inerts", they are regarded as trade secrets.

Exposure to chemical insecticides can occur through skin contact and inhalation during application.  Once you have dipped, shampooed, powdered, sprayed, or flea-collared your pet, or sprayed your floors and furniture, you and your family members are further exposed to insecticides from touch, gassing off, and contact with any surface that pets have rubbed against or slept upon.  Children are at greater risk because of their tendency to put their hands in their mouths after handling pets.

Stay flea free by pesticide free methods and keep your family and your pet healthy.

Andrea Johnson lives in Halifax and is interested in environmental  health  issues. She recommends Dr. Pitcairn's Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats for more pet health tips. Manufacturer's information on Program can be found at