Purge your pet and home of fleas without resorting to dangerous chemicals

Rating: NNNNN

Q. How can I control fleas without using chemicals?

A.You never know when the little biting buggers will strike. Pets seem to make tasty meals for fleas, so if your cat or dog goes outside in the warmer months to roll in the grass or walk through a park, he’s prime bug bait.

Many of us just run to the pet store to stock up on flea collars and sprays. But what we don’t realize is that we’re dousing our furry babies in hardcore pesticides.

Take organophosphates, for instance. This old-school family of pesticides (which includes chlorpyrifos, malathion and diazinon) is designed to mess with insect nervous systems, and wouldn’t you know it? They also have a tendency to damage the nervous systems of our pets, triggering seizures, twitching and in some cases death. You certainly don’t want to be using these sprays or powders in your house if you have young children.

Even more common are collars, sprays, dips, spot treatments and shampoos containing pyrethrins, which can be especially toxic for cats. Yes, some may be derived from chrysanthemum blossoms, but synthetic versions called pyrethroids include permethrin and ain’t natural. In fact, permethrin isn’t even allowed in camping bug clothes in Canada. Yet it’s in several flea-control products, often in high concentrations.

According to one Toronto vet, the level of pyrethrin that is effective against fleas is uncomfortably close to the level that causes tremors in cats. And if your kittie’s health is compromised in any way, this could definitely do her in. There are whole victim-run websites dedicated to spreading warnings about the use of these products on both cats and dogs. Bayer (the maker of several flea control products) says permethrin is safe for dogs but can be lethal to cats and should never be used on them.

No surprise, then, that most vets have moved away from both types of flea control systems. They now tend to focus on newer-generation products like Advantage and Revolution . Veterinarians and the product manufacturers swear by their safety and insist they won’t harm a hair on your pet’s head. But even though they’re considered less toxic, you’ll still find plenty of devastated pet owners online who insist their dog or cat’s sudden vomiting and shaking came on right after such flea treatments. Something to keep in mind.

So what’s a flea-infested owner to do? First of all, bathe your pet in mild soapy water to drown any existing fleas. You can also sprinkle Muffy or Buster with all-natural diatomaceous earth , available from Grassroots on Bloor or Danforth. Vacuum your house thoroughly and often , even daily, to remove eggs, larvae and adults, making sure to vacuum furniture (both under and over), baseboards and cracks and crevices. Make sure to throw some diatomaceous earth or borax in the vacuum bag to kill any eggs. Sprinkle some around your house as well, under rugs and furniture. Renting a steam cleaner might not be bad idea.

As for prevention, keep in mind that while many natural solutions are great for your dog, some are actually harmful or allergenic to cats, including feeding them raw crushed garlic, dousing them with lemon-peel-based d-limonene sprays and natural essential oils like tea tree oil. Even pennyroyal should only be used in small quantities, although Health Canada’s Pesticide Management Regulatory Agency says you can bathe dogs with a little pennyroyal or eucalyptus oil every other week . Cats once a month. You can give both dogs and cats a teaspoon (or for dogs over 50 pounds a tablespoon) of brewer’s yeast in their food every day as a preventative. Fleas don’t like the taste.

FYI, everyone seems to agree that ultrasonic flea repellent gizmos don’t do diddly, so don’t bother.

But don’t stop at your pet and your living room. Those fleas are coming in from somewhere, and you might as well fend them off as best you can in your backyard. You can sprinkle diatomaceous earth everywhere and release microscopic nematodes that prey on flea larvae and pupae (pick up nematodes at garden supply stores).

If you want a good selection of all-natural flea remedies, including diatomaceous powders, neem-oil-based sprays and shampoos, check out .

Got a question?

Send your green consumer queries to

Leave your opinion for the editor...We read everything!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • This Week’s Issue