A flea problem can run the gamut from a mild annoyance to full blown insecticidal warfare.
Often, a pet owner’s reaction will be based upon their animal’s sensitivity and reaction to flea bites – and of course the severity of the epidemic itself.
Flea allergy dermatitis is one of the most common consequences of a flea problem. The flea’s saliva is what actually causes the irritation and allergic reaction – usually resulting in redness, severe itching and scratching. . It softens the animal’s skin and makes it easier to feast through. Overuse of vaccines, antibiotics and cortisone-like drugs has helped to create a situation in which many pets have no tolerance for fleas at all and suffer from a severe allergy to their bite.
In more severe flea infestations, the animal can be bitten so much that anemia can actually result, due to the loss of blood. This is most common in younger puppies and kittens as well as immune compromised pets. Because of the state of these animals, it’s even more important to avoid the use of chemical flea treatments in these cases, because they can further disrupt the animal’s already fragile state.
Tapeworm infestations can result when an animal plagued with fleas ingests tapeworm eggs, which use flea larva as a host. Tapeworms look like little flat white rice grains, and may be found under the tail, on the upper back legs or in the feces. In otherwise-healthy pets, tapeworms don’t typically cause too much physical harm. They can however cause intestinal cramping and increased gut motility, gas, scooting, licking around the anus or vomiting. Preventing your pet from ingesting fleas is the best way to prevent an infection of tapeworms.
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Diatomaceous Earth is great product for killing fleas that live in yards and homes and can really help to destroy fleas at all stages of the life cycle. It doesn’t contain harsh chemicals, and can be used freely on furnishings and carpets as well as outdoor areas. Vacuuming up the excess product (as well as fleas, eggs and larvae) is a vital step in controlling fleas, too.
Pennyroyal herb is another renowned flea repellent although it should not be used around pregnant animals or people. Pennyroyal is a member of the mint family, and can be planted around yards and particularly near doorways to homes, to help keep fleas at bay. In addition, Pennyroyal Essential Oil can be diluted in water and sprayed liberally in indoor and outdoor areas.
Nematodes are a highly effective option for lawns and other outside areas. These microscopic organisms feed on flea eggs and larvae and help to control flea populations, naturally. Nematodes can usually be found at garden supply stores, or online.
An electronic flea trap may be another worthwhile investment, to combat fleas in the home without the use of chemicals.
Essential Oils like Tea Tree or Citronella can be applied directly on the inside of a pet’s collar, to act as a natural flea repellent. Lavender, Lemon Balm, Rosemary and other woodsy essential oils are also thought to be helpful – add 2-3 drops of essential oil to ½ litter of water, then spray your pet carefully, as well as the surroundings. Remember, dogs and cats have very sensitive sniffers so be sure to dilute essential oils well, and be careful not to apply them near their faces.
Neem Oil shampoos and sprays can work wonders to kill and repel fleas – however Neem should be used with caution the first time because some pets can be very allergic to them.
To make a soothing herbal tea rinse, steep a couple of Chamomile tea bags in 1 gallon water, then add a handful of rolled oats some dried Comfrey leaf and or Aloe Vera leaf for additional soothing relief. Allow tea to cool slightly then strain and soak the pet’s skin and coat with it, and allow it to dry naturally without rinsing off.
Evening Primrose oil, which can be purchased from health food stores, is also excellent for helping to combat and soothe the adverse effects of flea bites, and can be applied directly to irritated areas of the skin.
Building a strong immune system is crucial for helping pets to fend off fleas as well as overcome the effects of allergic reactions to flea saliva (flea bite dermatitis). First off, a natural diet is essential, and most pets who consume a healthy whole food diet tend to suffer the ill effects of fleas much less than their processed-food consuming counterparts.
Supplementation with a skin-nourishing herbal supplement such as Sparkle or one that supports the immune system like Invigor, is also beneficial.
Homeopathic remedies are also helpful. Urtica Urens (made from Nettle), Sulphur, Rhus Tox (Poison Ivy) and Pulex Irritans (Human Flea) are all used for various flea bite reactions. The homeeopathic remedy Apis, which is actually made from bee venom, is also helpful in some cases, especially where a more severe reaction like hives, results from the bites of fleas.
Along with a fresh, natural diet, dietary supplements with Vitamin C as well as an Essential Fatty Acid are also thought to be beneficial for immunity and reducing any inflammatory response.
Lucy Postins is founder and Chief Integrity Officer at The Honest Kitchen. She is a companion animal nutritionist who started The Honest Kitchen in her kitchen in 2002. She is passionate about advanced nutrition and holistic health including complementary modalities such as herbalism and homeopathy. Considered an expert in her field, Lucy frequently writes articles for local and national media, conducts radio interviews and educational spots, and occasionally holds educational seminars for pet owners on the importance of good nutrition. She also recently authored Dog Obsessed, a guide to a happier, healthier life for the pup you love.