Make fleas flee

Safer options to nip the bite in the bud

DOn’t BUG ME! <br>Benny the cat reluctantly submits to having a dollop of chemical flea repellent squeezed onto the back of his neck as a protective measure.

Benny the cat reluctantly submits to having a dollop of chemical flea repellent squeezed onto the back of his neck as a protective measure.

Photo By Stephanie Bird

Growing up, my dad would tell me he knew the world’s shortest poem. Impressed, I’d ask to hear it. He’d say, “It’s called: ‘Fleas.’ ‘Adam had ’em.'”

Despite who had them first, more important is who had them last, or who gets them next. Now that spring is here, the fleas will be on the rise and no pet with fur is safe. Before you shop, remember it’s important to research what’s out there because all topically applied pesticides are not equal. If you are not sure, your best bet is to speak with your veterinarian, as they are trained in the most efficient way to control these common pests.

While it may seem more convenient to stop into your nearby grocery or discount store to pick up some flea drops, it’s important to know the products available at the vet are of greater quality and contain fewer toxins than the knock-off, one-drop applications. The main ingredient in “over-the-counter” treatments is usually organophosphates, permethrins, or pyrethrins.

What most people don’t realize is all three of these are potent neurotoxins and can have potentially disastrous effects, especially when used on cats. According to Angie Blume, veterinary assistant at Animal Medical Clinic, “common signs a cat is having a reaction to these poisons include: salivating, vomiting, and neurological symptoms like staggering.”

Chrysanthemums are the source of botanical pyrethrum, a naturally-derived option for repelling fleas.

Photo by Stephanie Bird

When clients call the vet to ask about their pet having this kind of reaction, she tells them to “wash the cat thoroughly where the product was applied, which often prevents the reaction from going further.” Cats can even have a reaction when they come in contact with a treated dog.

Fortunately, there are many easy-to-administer products you can find at the vet which do not contain the more hazardous poisons and produce better results. Many fleas are no longer controlled by the most common chemicals as a result of overuse; the newer breed of products contain ingredients targeting specific stages of the flea life cycle, and some are akin to “birth control” in that they sterilize the fleas so they can no longer reproduce.

If you are still concerned about the levels of insecticide in the vet-distributed products, there are other options for reducing or eliminating fleas in your yard and home. Highly recommended by Greenfire’s Ryland Beranek are predatory nematodes. These beneficial critters come embedded in sponges that you place in a bucket of water and then use with a low-pressure sprayer or watering can on your lawn, garden, and other outdoor flea habitats.

Nematodes feed on larval stage fleas. One sponge costs $15 at Greenfire, contains one million nematodes, and has a coverage area of 2,000 square feet.

Nematodes will not harm beneficial insects in your garden, though they have been associated with reduction of moles as they consume grubs these rodents thrive on. Beranek assured me they don’t harm earthworms, either.

Other products to consider on the “green” front include diatomaceous earth (DE), which is ground up fossilized diatoms, a sort of hard-shelled algae. Make sure you don’t buy pool-grade as it’s not fine enough to work on fleas. According to Beranek, “[DE] works by cutting up larval stage fleas with its rough edges.” This natural product can be used inside, sprinkled on carpet or on sofa cushions, even dusting your pets, “but be careful about inhaling as it is abrasive to lungs.” In fact, DE is commonly used in grain storage, to prevent infestation of other pests. “If you’ve eaten wheat, you’ve consumed [DE],” said Beranek.

Botanical pyrethrum is another natural option. Made from chrysanthemums, it is not as toxic as its synthetic cousin, pyrethrin. It works on a broad spectrum of insects and can be used as a powder or in a solution. While mildly toxic to mammals of all kinds, when following directions, it can be safe to use on household pets.

If all else fails? “Keep your lawn short. Fleas don’t like the sun,” said Beranek. So how do they survive a Chico summer?


Animal Medical Clinic
3449 State Highway 32
Chico, CA 95973
(530) 343-1234

2725 State Highway 32 #A
Chico, CA 95973
(530) 895-8301