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Excerpt: Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats
The following is an excerpt from the book Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to
Natural Health for Dogs & Cats
by Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, PhD, and Susan Hubble Pitcairn
Published by Rodale; September 2005;$18.95US/$25.95CAN; 1-57954-973-X
Copyright © 2005 Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, PhD, and Susan Hubble Pitcairn
Safe, Effective Flea Control
The best approach to controlling fleas is to start with the least toxic and
most natural choices, resorting to stronger measures only if reasonable
control is not achieved. As a prerequisite to any flea-control program, I
recommend building up your animal's health and resistance as much as
possible through a healthy diet and lifestyle. Along with that, it's
important to practice thorough sanitation and cleaning.
Understanding the life cycle of the flea makes it clear why cleaning is so
important. Adult fleas live about three to four months. During that time
they are steadily laying tiny white eggs on your pet that look like dandruff
or salt crystals. Flea eggs hatch out into larvae that live in the cracks
and crevices of rugs, upholstery, blankets, floors, sand, earth, and the
Because these tiny larvae cannot jump or travel very far (less than an
inch), they feed on the black specks of dried blood ("flea dirt") that fall
off along with the eggs during grooming and scratching. After one to two
weeks, the larvae go through a cocoon stage (pupa). A week or two later,
they hatch out as small fleas that hop onto the nearest warm body passing by
(usually your pet -- sometimes you!), bite it for a meal of blood, and then
start the whole process all over again. This cycle takes anywhere from 2 to
20 weeks, depending on the temperature of the house or environment. During
summer -- flea season -- the entire cycle is usually just 2 weeks long.
That's why fleas increase so rapidly at that time.
The bad news is that, no matter how many adult fleas you manage to kill,
numerous future fleas are developing in the environment simultaneously. The
good news is that these eggs, larvae, pupa, and the flea dirt they feed upon
can be sucked up by a vacuum cleaner or washed away in the laundry. And
because the developing fleas are so immobile, they are most concentrated
wherever your pet sleeps, so you know where to focus your efforts.
Your important ally in the battle against fleas is cleanliness, both for
your pet and your home, particularly in your pet's sleeping areas. Regular
cleaning interrupts the life cycles of the fleas and greatly cuts down on
the number of adult fleas that end up on your pet, especially if you act
before flea season begins. So start your program with these nontoxic steps.
Steam clean your carpets at the onset of flea season (or whenever you begin
your flea-control program). Though it is somewhat expensive, steam cleaning
is effective in killing flea eggs.
Thoroughly vacuum and clean floors and furniture at least once a week to
pick up flea eggs, larvae, and pupae. Concentrate on areas where your pet
sleeps and use an attachment to reach into crevices and corners and under
heavy furniture. If there is a heavy infestation, you may want to put a flea
collar (or part of a flea collar) in the vacuum bag to kill any adult fleas
that get sucked up and might crawl away. Or else immediately dispose of the
bag or its contents because it can provide a warm, moist, food-filled
environment for developing eggs and larvae. Mop vinyl floors.
Launder your pet's bedding in hot, soapy water at least once a week. Dry on
maximum heat. Heat will kill all stages of flea life, including the eggs.
Remember that flea eggs are very slippery and easily fall off bedding or
blankets. So carefully roll bedclothes up to keep all the flea eggs
contained on the way to the washing machine.
Bathe the animal with a natural flea-control shampoo. Use a nontoxic shampoo
as recommended above, such as one containing d-limonene (dogs only).
Use a flea comb to trap and kill fleas that are on your pet. Most pet stores
carry special fine-toothed combs that trap fleas for easy disposal. Make a
regular habit of flea-combing your pet while you watch TV or talk on the
phone. Depending on the degree of infestation and the time of year, this
might be daily (at the onset of the flea season), weekly, or monthly.
Gently but thoroughly comb as many areas as your pet will allow, especially
around the head, neck, back, and hindquarters. As you trap the little
buggers, pull them off the comb and plunge them into a container of hot,
soapy water (or dip the comb and pull the flea off underwater). Cover your
lap with an old towel to catch extra clumps of hair and flea dirt and to
wipe the comb off as you work.
When you're finished, flush the soapy water and fleas down the toilet.
If your pet goes outdoors, follow these steps as well.
Mow and water your lawn regularly. Short grass allows sunlight to penetrate
and warm the soil, which kills larvae. Watering drowns the developing fleas.
Encourage ants. Perhaps I should say "do not discourage ants." They love to
eat flea eggs and larvae. This is another reason not to use pesticides that
kill all the insects in your yard.
"Sterilize" bare-earth sleeping spots. If your pet likes to sleep or hang
out in a certain bare or sandy area, occasionally cover the spot with a
heavy black plastic sheet on a hot, sunny day. Rake up any dead leaves and
other debris first. The heat that builds up under the plastic does an
excellent job of killing fleas and larvae. Of course, this is not
appropriate to use where you want to preserve live grass or plants.
Apply agricultural lime on grassy or moist areas. This helps to dry out the
fleas. Rake up any dead leaves and grassy debris first.
Along with the above steps, you might try these methods to repel fleas that
may try to jump back on your pet, especially those harder-to-kill ones
hanging out in the backyard.
Use an herbal flea powder. You'll find them in pet stores and natural food
stores, or you can make your own. Combine one part each of as many of these
powdered herbs as you can find: eucalyptus, rosemary, fennel, yellow dock,
wormwood, and rue. Put this mixture in a shaker-top jar, such as a jar for
Apply the flea powder sparingly to your pet's coat by brushing backward with
your hand or the comb and sprinkling it into the base of the hairs,
especially on the neck, back, and belly. To combat severe infestations, use
several times a week. Afterward, put your animal friend outside for awhile
so the disgruntled tenants vacate in the yard and not in your house. Some
herbal flea powders also contain natural pyrethrins, which are not strong
flea-killers but do seem to greatly discourage them.
Use an herbal flea collar. These are impregnated with insect-repellent
herbal oils. Some are made to be "recharged" with the oils and used again.
Buy them at natural food stores.
Try a natural skin tonic. The animal herbalist Juliette de Bairacli-Levy
recommends this lemon skin tonic, which many of my clients successfully use
on their pets for a general skin toner, parasite repellent, and treatment
Thinly slice a whole lemon, including the peel. Add it to 1 pint of
near-boiling water and let it steep overnight. The next day, sponge the
solution onto the animal's skin and let it dry. You can use this daily for
severe skin problems involving fleas. It is a source of natural flea-killing
substances such as d-limonene and other healing ingredients found in the
Add ample nutritional or brewer's yeast and garlic to the diet. Some studies
show yeast supplementation significantly reduces flea numbers, though others
indicate no effect. My experience with using yeast is that it has some
favorable effect, particularly if the animal's health is good. You can also
rub it directly into the animal's hair. Many people also praise the value of
garlic as a flea repellent, though so far studies do not support this.
If these methods do not control the fleas sufficiently, take the following
Get your carpets treated with a special anti-flea mineral salt. There have
been some developments in safe flea control. My clients report success with
a service that applies or sells relatively nontoxic mineral salts for
treating carpets. (Fleabusters is the company recommended.) Effective for up
to a year, the products safely kill fleas and their developing forms over a
few week's time.
Once or twice a year, sprinkle natural, unrefined diatomaceous earth along
walls, under furniture, and in cracks and crevices that you cannot access
with a vacuum. This product, which resembles chalky rock, is really the
fossilized remains of one-celled algae. Though direct skin contact is
harmless to pets and people, it is bad news for many insects and their
larvae, including fleas. The fine particles in the earth kill insects by
attacking the waxy coating that covers their external skeletons. The insects
then dry out and die.
I do not recommend using diatomaceous earth frequently or directly on your
animal -- mostly because of the irritating dust that can be breathed in by
both of you. It is also messy. Be careful about breathing it in. Wear a dust
mask when applying. It is not toxic, but inhaling even the natural,
unrefined form of this dust can irritate the nasal passages.
Important: Do not use the type of diatomaceous earth that is sold for
swimming pool filters. It has been very finely ground, and the tiny
particles can be breathed into the lungs and cause chronic inflammation.
Use a spray or powder containing pyrethrins or natural pyrethrum. These are
the least toxic of all the insecticides used on pets, and they are found in
both conventional and natural flea-control products. For a more lasting
effect, use a microencapsulated product, which is perhaps labeled "slow
release." Repeat the applications as you simultaneously use the carpet
treatment system or diatomaceous earth. This will help kill both adult fleas
and developing fleas at the same time.
Reprinted from: Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs &
Cats by Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, PhD, and Susan Hubble Pitcairn © 2005
Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, PhD, and Susan Hubble Pitcairn Permission granted
by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098. Available wherever books are sold or
directly from the publisher by calling (800) 848-4735 or visit their website
Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, PhD, opened the Animal Natural Health Center, a
clinic offering only holistic animal care, in 1985. Recently retired from
practice, he teaches post-graduate courses in homeopathic medicine to
Susan Hubble Pitcairn was a major contributor to the first two editions of
this book. As the third edition goes to press, she is splitting her time
between artistic pursuits and the support of positive social change.
For more information, please visit www.drpitcairn.com