When I got home from Boston a couple of weeks ago I was in for a surprise. And not a good one. Ready to drop from exhaustion, I nearly burst into tears upon finding my dog practically covered in fleas, for the first time in her life. My little pooch has an incredibly healthy immune system, and I was shocked to find the little buggers on her face, on her legs, even down to the end of her tail.
So naturally, I went to war. Immediately. And less than 48 hours later those suckers were gone. Save for a few random tiny fleas here and there, she is now flea-free.
How did I do it you ask? Well, I did NOT do it the chemical way, as I have learned that chemical flea treatments can cause very serious, horrible reactions (like, uh, death for the unlucky) and are carcinogenic. Frontline and others are a *poison* that kills the fleas by entering your dog’s blood system. Poison in my dog’s blood? No thanks, I’ll pass.
Nope, we went au-naturelle. And it worked! And worked incredibly well. Now I know not everyone has had success with natural methods and there are areas of the country where the regular topical poisons are pretty much mandatory because the fleas are so out of control, and I totally respect people’s decisions to use regular flea medication that is recommended by the pharmaceutical companies and the vets that they pay to sell their stuff (sorry), but I had to at least try an alternate route.
Here is my visual explanation of my process, which I’ll explain point by point.
1. Lemons. During my research I learned that fleas don’t like citrus. So I cut up some lemons, boiled them, soaked a washcloth and gave the pooch a rubbing down with the lemon water. This was after I bathed her in Dawn dishwashing liquid, which I’l get to in a second.
2. Apple cider vinegar. Apparently this acts the same way that lemons do, creating a foul-tasting blood for the fleas. I put one small capful in her wet food that day, and have been doing this every day since.
3. Body Guard. This is an awesome dry powder supplement that contains brewer’s yeast, and a bunch of other stuff that fleas hate, which both supports the dog’s immune system and creates an inhospitable host (the dog), which was the whole point of my war. Make the dog ‘untasty’ and the fleas go away. Worked just as planned. You can get Body Guard at most small pet boutiques that focus on healthy food.
4. Lavender. This has the same principle as the lemon, only instead of using it on the dog, I boiled some packets of dried lavender that I bought at Trader Joe’s (they are with the laundry stuff), poured the water into a big spray bottle, waited for it to cool, and went to town on her bed, the couch, the rug and my bed; anywhere the dog likes to lay. You have to be careful not to use too much because lavender can be harmful to dogs if used in large quantities. And of course, first I fully washed all of the bedding on my bed, sheets, pillowcases and all.
5. Garlic. Now this is something that should fire up the comments. I read, for literally hours, about using garlic in dogs, BEFORE deciding to give Fergie any. I was not uninformed about what I was doing. It’s important to know that garlic comes from the same family as onions, and contains the same chemical which is toxic to dogs and can cause serious anemia. BUT, garlic contains a much smaller level of that chemical than onions, making the risk of anemia only possible when NOT used in moderation. I read of a woman’s small terrier that nearly died after eating an entire bulb of garlic, and she made the case that garlic in any amount is very dangerous. Look, I could drink an entire bottle of gin (my favorite alcohol), and I think it would have a different affect on my body than say, one shot of gin, you get what I’m sayin? SO, I gave Fergie one *clove* of garlic that day in her food, and have been giving her a clove per week since then. Having said that, it’s near impossible to find information about dosages for garlic, so I’m erring on the side of uber-moderation just to be safe, and I will have her blood levels tested at her next checkup. If you decide to do this, please do your research first. Use a tiny amount in a small dog, and only during flea outbreaks. Also, now that I am using Body Guard, I see no reason to use the garlic, as it accomplishes the same end goal.
6. Cedar balls. I put these in the vacuum bag to prevent the fleas from hatching from the vacuumed eggs and skidaddling back out of the bag.
7. Dawn dishwashing liquid bath. Man, this stuff does an amazing job of getting rid of the fleas that are on your dog! BUT, you have to do it the right way (I didn’t do it the right way, so I created more work for myself in the following 24 hours). You have to start by putting a thick ring of soap around your dog’s neck, to prevent the fleas from running up to the head, then heading back down once the dog is all dry and cozy. You do the ring, rub it in, get a thick ‘necklace’ going, like a couple of inches wide, let it sit for a couple of minutes, then soap down the rest of the dog. Let the soap sit all over the body for a few minutes before rinsing. Don’t forget the tummy! You’ll see the dead fleas in the bathwater. Gross.
8. Earthbath dog shampoo in Orange Peel. This does the same thing as the dawn dishwashing liquid, only it’s more dog-friendly as it’s all-natural. I’ll use that from now on. Fergie got another bath outside yesterday, and I was so pleased at how easily the shampoo rinses, and how awesome her fur smelled after that.
9. Flea comb, plastic tupperware container, and Dawn. You don’t see this pictured here, but a great way to get rid of those last pesky fleas is the old-fashioned way. Get a small tupperware container, fill it with water and dish soap (but not so much you’ll spill), sit down in the bathroom, your deck or hardwood floor, have the dog lay down, and comb over their entire body with a flea comb (can be bought in any pet store). When you see a flea on the comb, *quickly* dip it into the soapy water and it will kill the fleas. Do it fast cause the fleas will hop off! Fergie loves being combed out and will usually fall asleep. This is an important part of our flea-removal process. Time-consuming? Definitely. A great way to bond with your animal? I think so. Of course, it helps if your dog has short fur as mine does. I imagine for a long-haired dog this would be a less-fun process.
So that was, and is, our process. Like I said, no more fleas. This is a dog that is outside all the time (and we have a swimming pool in our backyard, so lots of moisture, which I read is heaven for fleas), goes to the dog park and is around other dogs regularly.
It’s important for me to point out that while eradicating the fleas when they appear is an important step in keeping my pooch flea-free, the real war begins with supporting Fergie’s immune system. Dogs with healthy immune systems are less prone to getting fleas.
Starting with her diet, she eats Nature’s Variety (Prairie) venison dry food as her main protein. She gets wet food to supplement, which is either fish of some type or even 95% salmon (usually Wellness), or Trippet’s beef tripe with mussels or some other foul smelling seafood. Fergie LOVES the Trippet. Me? Not so much. It smells like a mixture of bowel movements and rotting animal carcasses. And I’m not kidding. But oh well, anything for the pooch. And it’s apparently like a super-food for canines. I tend to think that any dog food that the pooch is going completely nutty over is probably pretty good for them. I think dogs are good at knowing what’s best for them (note I said *dog* food here, not *people* food. yes, my dog goes batty over the smell of pizza too, lol).
Along with a great diet, Fergie also exercises daily, and by ‘exercises’ I mean, runs full out at the park until she is exhausted, not walks laps around our yard for 10 minutes or does a quick spin around the block. She is on the lean side, which improves her health. I am very careful about her not gaining weight.
She swims regularly in the warmer months and when we walk together we cover some serious ground and we walk fast.
She doesn’t eat people food, (except for the occasional goldfish cracker, which we like to share), she gets plenty of sleep every night and lives a pretty low-stress lifestyle.
During the first vet trip we took when she was 7 months old, our vet did a once over, examined her, rolled his chair back and, (I’m not kidding here), with hands in the air exclaimed “she’s perfect!”. He went on to tell me how this was the perfect mix and size and type of dog for good health and a long life. Every time we go the vet says “whatever you’re doing, keep doing it”. So as you can see, I’m pretty conscientious when it comes to my dog’s health.
But our recent move at the end of July coupled with me leaving her shortly thereafter for 5 days were enough to dip her immune system down and expose her poor body to the horrible flea season we’ve been having here in the PNW this summer. I learned that dog’s immune systems naturally go down after a major life event like a move, which is something I never knew before. (Who knew?)
Anyway, in short, I do every single thing I can to see to it that my pooch will live a long healthy life. We are aiming for 15 years+.
Part of this health goal is to reduce her exposure to potential toxins. As a professional pet photographer I am acutely aware of the rising tide of canine cancer, and I can’t help but think that it’s the crap in our environment that is playing a role in this horrible illness. I can’t tell you how many dogs I have photographed that have died of cancer (because I honestly can’t count all of them), and it completely breaks my heart.
Anytime I can do something more gentle and more natural for my dog, like the aforementioned natural flea control, you can bet I’ll choose that route. Even if it means more work, and more money, for me.
For more information on natural flea treatments, please see this page on the All The Best Pet Care website (the store that Fergie and I shop at). Another helpful read are the comments on this site, which I read in it’s entirety before waging my own war.
If you have any questions for me about our process, or my logic in deciding what to do, feel free to ask and I’ll be happy to answer!