Fleas, Ticks - and even Mites, Oh My! Your How-To Guide to Flea Control that You've Never Been Told Before
So I’ll admit, I intended to keep this one kinda short. Why? Because I’m exhausted. Exhausted after a full weekend of treating my homes for fleas. Yep, The Dog Lady (as the guys at my local auto mechanic call me) ain’t perfect, y’all (I’m pretty sure by now you know how much my dogs jump, too, right? Ahem, that’s a different blog). Now, why, if I know how to deal with flea and tick prevention, did I have to lose a few days of my life still dealing with them? Because here’s the secret, revealed:
NONE OF THE FLEA AND TICK TREATMENTS, PREVENTATIVES, “SECRET SAUCES” - ALL-NATURAL OR ALL-CHEMICAL WORK 100%.
And none of them ever will. Especially with rapid climate change and our slowly-disappearing winters (which freeze fleas out from being able to reproduce). You do your best, you do what you believe to be the best choices for your own animals as well as your household, and you go from there. But any product literature that tells you that you will never have to deal with vermin again with its use is just lying to you. So don’t say I didn’t warn you - and don’t think that I’m anti-any specific product…What I am anti is FLEAS AND TICKS ON MY PETS and IN MY BED!
One of the greatest difficulties in flea management is the misinformation given to the average consumer (and/or really smart marketing) that makes folks think that one little dropper on your cat or dog’s neck will stop 100% of fleas or ticks from ever latching on to their body, or will kill them instantly if they do. But - ta da! - monthly spot-on chemical treatments do not kill live fleas nor do they repel ticks from latching on.
That’s right. If you have fleas, do not just go out and buy more Advantix, slap it on your pup or cat and think “problem solved.” I promise you, your problems are only just going to continue - and even get way worse.
If you find fleas, flea bites, or any other indication that your pets have fleas, then a) yes, your home does, too, b) “I only saw one” means that’s all you saw. There are thousands more where that little guy came from, and c) act fast, don’t be complacent.
Let’s chat ever-so-briefly about signs that you have a flea problem - beyond seeing them, because you often won’t:
- Scratching, obviously
- Random scabs on their body
- Excessive licking & grooming, especially around their genitals (fleas really love orifices)
- Worms in poops
- Pale gums
- Patches of hair loss
- Bites on your own body, especially ankles
- Sudden restlessness/changes in behavior from calm to excitable
- Seeing flea “dirt” (aka flea poop) - tiny flecks of brown or reddish-brown in places your pets sleep, or under your couch cushions, or even in the lint trap of your dryer.
Once you have fleas on your pets and around your house, know that if you only take one type of measure against them your problem will not go away (ie, only give a flea bath, only put preventative product between your pet’s shoulders, etc). That is because these little creatures must be treated for each life cycle - adult, larvae and eggs. Gross, I know. Each of these means a different product and a different part of the process - skip one part, and you’ve missed the part of the life cycle (which only lasts just about 3-3½ weeks) and boom! here’s a whole new population.
Here is your guide to the exact products you need, the exact order in which to use them, and instructions as to why & how:
- The Why:
- The How:
All three of these products are tablets that are administered orally to your cat or dog. The pill only lasts for 48 hours in your pets’ system, so please note that your full process following this must take place within that span of time. If you cannot finish within 48 hours, it is safe to give your pet another dose so that you can ensure no return of live fleas to restart their life cycle while you finish the rest of the steps.
2. Bathe pets in with Flea & Tick Shampoo
- The Why:
This will continue the process of killing the live fleas, wash them and all existing flea dirt (again, that’s flea poop, in case you weren’t in the loop) off of your pet, and, most flea & tick shampoos contain some form of agent for helping in the job of preventing future development of the larvae stage. With many of the more natural flea shampoos, you can also have a soothing agent, such as oatmeal, aloe, or other essential oils, which will help to soothe your pets’ itchy or dry skin.
- The How:
Dogs: As a Fear-Free company, it is our hope that your dog is ok with being bathed, and not completely terrified. However, we know that this is not the case for everyone. Make bathtime more calming by easing your pup into the bathroom with treats and pets and a soft voice, and praise him as much as possible for being so brave.
One tool that is extremely helpful to get pups who are fearful through a stressful bathtime is the Kong Licks Treat Dispenser, which suctions to any surface, including your shower wall/tub sides. You can spread this with anything spreadable that your dog absolutely loves. Not likes, but loves, since bathtime may require that you go high-value. So, if your normal treat is peanut butter, this time go with squeezy cheese (yep, that aerosol cheese in a can we all loved to squirt in our mouths as kids…it’s a genius dog treat!). Let your pup lick away while you bathe.
Ensure that you use the shampoo well - really get in there - especially around the groin, anus (outside!), ears (without getting the water IN their ears!), as these warm places are where the fleas just love to hang out. Uch, they’re the literal worst!
Cats: Here’s where Fear-Free and fear for your own life may collide! Most cats will not allow you to bathe them. If your cat does, first of all, please tell me your secret. Second, go ahead and give your cat a soothing, gentle bath in a deep sink or even a prepared, large, shallow bucket/basin. Ensure you hold onto them the whole time so that they do not try to hop out and that they remain higher than the water level. Some flea and tick shampoos are labeled only for dogs, and this suggestion MUST be adhered to, as there are many things that can poison a cat but not a dog. We recommend Miracle Care Flea & Tick Shampoo for Cats.
That said, the general best way to flea bathe a cat is with a waterless bath shampoo, so that you can simply put it on her fur, rub it in with your hands, and you’re done! Once again, be sure that you get some around the ears and, if your cat will allow it, near, but not on nor in their genital area. A shampoo of the belly is also very helpful if you’re allowed.
Best advice with your cat: do the best you can on this step of the process. Bathing a cat is quite difficult to make a Fear-Free/Force-Free process. Adding in LOTS of comfort and praise, one of the best treats for a cat enduring a longer stressful situation is Caru Smoothie Lickable Treats.
3. Clean your entire house - and don’t forget your car, if your pets travel in it.
- The Why:
This is where all those little suckers (literally) are living, and most of all, breeding. A female flea lays 40-50 eggs per day. And no, you cannot see them, and YES, you DO have them. If you don’t address the eggs, nothing else you do will fix your infestation.
- The How:
Alright, here’s the trickiest part of this whole process.
Your first option is to hire an exterminator and do flea “bombs”. In order to do this, you must remove all living beings from your home for no less than 12 hours. You either have to cover everything precious/non porous with sheets, tarps or something else, or, upon return, you must wipe down literally everything, as the fog will land upon all surfaces and objects. You must still wash all bedding - human and pet - in hot water.
Pro: Gets the job done, covers all surfaces, fastest version of de-fleaing your home.
Con: Highly toxic, could cause allergic reactions in your pets, a lot of work to prep and then post-work of cleaning.
Go non-toxic and grab yourself a bag of Red Lake Food-Grade Diatomaceous Earth (D.E.) or another brand, but make sure it is Food-Grade!) as well as one or more (depending upon the size of your home) bottles of Skout's Honor Flea & Tick Dog & Home Spray. You’ll use the D.E. by sprinkling it - well, kind of everywhere; ideally, put it in a sieve (or a sock that has threading that isn’t super-tight) and shake it on couches, under cushions, on your mattress, in your carpets, on your wood floors (fleas live and lay eggs in the crevices of your wood floor planks). Basically, anything you cannot wash in your washing machine gets treated with D.E. And guess what else? In small quantities, you can even comb DE through your pet’s fur if they absolutely will not allow you to bathe them (you’ll likely need some wipes afterwards so their fur isn’t dusty) (please do not use it on young puppies, kittens or small mammals)!
Let the diatomaceous earth remain in place for at least two hours, but up to two days, to ensure penetration. Then, vacuum it up with a strong vacuum cleaner (note: your little stick vac will get hella clogged if you try to use that here) or a shop vac. Throw away the vacuum bag or empty the container outside when done - this vacuumed material is now choc-full of fleas and eggs!!
Wash all pet beds, blankets and your own sheets in hot water cycles. And, the mother of all inventions for every pet-loving household (also great if you’ve got kids, from what I hear - all my kids have four legs), you are WINNING half this battle if you own Ruggable rugs! These washable bad-boys come in a ton of colors, styles, sizes and even shapes, and they are a game changer. I can literally fit my 9 x 12 in my washing machine, and boom! - that jawn is clean, flea-free (or cat vomit-free, who’s with me?) and ready to be put back down on the floor like it's brand new within a few hours! Insanity. I think only two rugs remain in my house that aren’t Ruggables, ‘cause Momma didn’t raise no fool. **Commercial done**
Anything that you don’t want to sprinkle with D.E. (couch cushions that might be hard to vacuum or are light-colored so you don’t want to risk the d.e. leaving residue, for example) gets spritzed with the Skout’s Honor spray - which, by the way, smells fantastic. And that product, too, can also be used directly on your dog (not on your cat, please note)!
Pros: Non-toxic, gets everything super-clean, inexpensive
Cons: Time consuming, can be dusty
Do only part of either options above. Then get fleas again in 3 weeks when the new eggs hatch.
Sorry, you knew I had to be cheeky…
4. NOW is the time to put on that back-of-the-neck preventative!
- The Why
This is the step that ensures no eggs are laid or, if they are, they cannot mature.
- The How
You do have several options here:
- Advantix for dogs or Advantage for cats (chemical)
- Earth Animal spot-on treatment or collars (for dogs and cats) (natural)
- Seresto flea collar (chemical)
- Daily or regularly-applied natural sprays, such as Wondercide
- Regularly-used Flea & Tick wipes, rubbed on your pet’s body.
- Ultrasonic protection attached to your dog or cat’s collar (they make them for humans, too!)
Whichever approach you choose, ensure you apply, use or replace as directed for constant/consistent protection.
5. Repeat steps 2 and a less-intense version of step 3
- The Why
To ensure that you have fully eliminated all life cycles.
- The How
Bathe your pets again. That same day or weekend, re-do the cleaning of your home, paying special attention to crevices of couches, beds and floors and/or carpets. This round, you can do a bit less diatomaceous earth, or, if you haven’t seen any further signs of fleas since the first time, you can probably skip the d.e. and just use your Skout’s Honor (or a similar product, Wondercide).
- If you have a yard, no matter the size, a great way to keep the likelihood of the fleas returning is to spray your outdoor space with Skout's Honor Yard Spray, which will kill fleas, ticks, and-bonus-even mosquitos! Repeat after major rain storms.
Now I know that was a lot - but, if you follow these protocols, your pets and your home should be flea-free for a long time. The multi-step process addresses all life stages of the flea, not just one, so you are actually addressing the true problem and not just putting a bandaid on one part of the wound.
Fleas last farther into the end of the year than they used to, and ticks get far worse in the autumn as they hide in all the leaf piles. Don’t let your guard down just because it’s no longer summer. One last item I would be remiss not to recommend is the ultrasonic flea and tick repellent, Tickless. This is a small device, worn on your pets’ collar (and they make them for humans, too!), repels fleas and especially ticks…with a sound neither you nor your pet can hear. And yes - it works! This is the method I use on my dogs, and the only time I have found ticks on my own dogs has been when they lost their collars and the Tickless had not been on them - it’s wild!
I hope this protocol is clear and helps you through this flea & tick season and many more to come.