A small PSA for the Summer.
Prevention is the cheapest and least complicated way to deal with the problem. All three pests can be slowed down by taking the following actions when you spend time outside. Also, if your companion animals go outside for any time…the following applies to them too. For cats…frankly…I have come to the opinion that they should NEVER be allowed to roam freely. Either they are inside only, or have limited access to the outdoors via a Catio. Dogs, do really need to have more outside time, and a large area to play in, so a fence around the yard, strong enough to keep your furkid from escaping is great. And, with some of the products mentioned later on, it will be fairly easy to keep that area free of parasites.
- Wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts when out in the grass for any lengthy time. If possible pull your socks up and over the end of the pant legs.
- make sure to use a good product like Deep Woods OFF to spray legs from waist down to feet.
- Spray your wrists where the shirt sleeves stop (or your entire arm, if you are wearing a short sleeve shirt).
- Do not forget to treat any OTHER exposed skin (back of the neck, face, etc) I suggest spraying the product on your hands and rubbing it on your face, though. I am no fan of spraying stuff directly at my face!
- There are some sporting goods suppliers that sell squeeze bottles of pure DEET…which is GREAT for zapping most bugs that want to feed on you. But, read and heed the instructions for application of the stuff as it is pretty strong stuff.
The steps I suggest above, and others which are talked about in the various articles I have linked, should go a long way to eliminating mosquito and flea bites when outdoors, and, perhaps more importantly, will cut down the chances you will transport parasites into the home.
Ticks, alas are a different issue entirely. While the above precautions will go a long way to keeping them off you, it is not perfect…so you MAY end up being a host. On the positive side, most of the time, ticks will crawl around for a while before biting into your skin.They are looking for a warm, damp, protected place with plenty of blood vessels close to the surface. Also, some ticks are so species specific that they are unlikely to attach to a human…but I would not bet on that to keep ME from being a host. The tick, once it gets onto your skin, and finds a good place will then bite into you, looking for blood. One bit of “good” news is that they have to be dug in for about 24 hours before they are likely to transmit any of the several, nasty diseases they carry.
Update: Now, Another thing that does help is to encourage any opossums in the area to understand that your place is a good place to hang out. Why? Opossums eat ticks like the rest of us hoover down M&Ms! You can do this by putting out a bowl of food for them (dog or cat, dry food), a water bowl – which is kept filled – and perhaps a small habitat for them to find safe shelter in. Of course, if you have dogs, you are 2/3 of the way there already…just need to get a shelter in place for them.
I recommend that when you come in from a day frolicking in Nature (and in this case, I will include working in the garden, mowing the lawn, trimming bushes and trees and such like tasks), head to the bathroom. Strip down to skin and spend some time carefully checking out your entire body for ticks. Remember what I said about where ticks like to hang out? The human body has several areas that qualify so be sure to check carefully there. I suggest having a pair of pliers handy for the ones that have not dug in yet. When you find one crawling around on your skin, grab it with the pliers, crush it, and toss its flattened carcass into the trash. It is a quite satisfying feeling. If they have already attached, there are a number of places on the Net with excellent instructions on how to remove them intact, so one does not leave a head attached to the sin. I do either of the following to deal with the problem. I will slide a small blade from my pocket knife along the skin, and carefully scrape the bug off. Alternatively, I have, in my medicine closet, a defunct credit card with a triangular notch cut out of a narrow side. It starts about 1/4″ wide, and tapers to a point, after about an inch. I press that card against my skin, and slide the notch around the tick. As I keep pushing, the notch will capture it, and lever the jaws out without breaking up the tick. In either case, when they are unhooked, I refer you back to my treatment of them when I find them crawling on me.
(I really want to make a snide statement about the current state of politics in the country…but will restrain myself, mainly to not lose focus and to keep from moving past the point of simply mentioning the urge into a full-fledged rant…)
Now, how about fleas? They are pretty amazing creatures in some ways. They can jump mind-bogglingly high up off the ground, and it seems like they can create generations every two days. I know it takes about two WEEKS, but, if one gets fleas in the house, It seems like the volume goes from no fleas to billions of them overnight! They are a problem that needs dealing with though…as they, too, carry diseases, and, they swarm in such huge numbers that, like vampires, they can kill companion animals from blood loss. Here, by the by, is a good article about fleas…with pretty amazing images….
So…what do we do when the period on the page your are reading starts moving and then springs away and your realize your companion animal(s) have been scratching and grooming almost constantly for the past few days.
Update: First off, I want to make it clear that if you can buy a flea treatment in your grocery store, it is NOT likely to do any good (Hartz…I am looking at YOU). I have, over the years, tried many of these products, and found that while they are certainly cheap…they more than make up for that in their failure to work. Flea collars I have purchased have had no effect on the fleas; Several times, they have caused hair loss and skin irritation on my cats. Here is an essay about this issue. So…go to a Pet Supply store, such as Petsmart or Pet Supplies Plus or a reputable online source, such as Chewy.com to get your medications. Yes…it will cost a bit more…but they WORK and are safer. By the way, there are other excellent companies out there that provide Quality products. HERE is a more extensive list. The ones I have mentioned here are the ones that I typically use, and so have personal experience with.
Now, then…back to the topic at hand: I tend to attack the flea problem both in the short term and the long-term.
- If I do not have any Capstar tablets at hand, I get a bowl, water and Dawn Blue (original Formula) dishwashing detergent. I put the water in a bowl (at least half full), and then a goodly squeeze of the Dawn. I then, carefully, swirl the water to mix the detergent in to the water – without creating foam. Foam is bad in this case!
- I take the bowl, and a flea comb, to start working on the first animal I can get my hands on. I comb the areas where they cannot reach easily (upper neck – under their chin, side of their face behind and below ears, and across the top of the head and down the spine to the tail.
- With each stroke of the comb, I usually get a combination of some hair, and a bunch of fleas. I take the loaded comb, and dip it into the bowl, then, scrape the flea/hair mix off into the bowl. The detergent ensures that the fleas will not float, so, they are goners. If, by the by, when you are doing this, the water starts turning red, that is blood from the animal that the flea has already ingested and defecated. It is a sign that it is VERY GOOD to be doing this. Repeat this step for all companion animals in the house.
- As quickly as possible, I get a topical flea treatment for the animal(s), and treat all of them. If, by the way, your fur-kid does have some patches of skin irritation from the fleas, there are a number of products to make them feel better. Here is one of them.
- Speaking of topical treatments. There are three that I have had excellent results from. Revolution, Advantage II and a clone of the latter called Advectra. I have used many of the absorbed insecticides over the years, and these are the only ones I have found that do not bother the animals, do a great job of killing the fleas and ticks on them, and keeping them parasite free for up to a month. Update: There is a three month version, called Bravecto, which is by prescription only, which does a great job too.
WARNING, While these products are, in general, very safe, some animals can have a reaction to them. Usually it is no worse than some hair loss at the application site, and some skin irritation. However, on very rare occasions, there may be a more severe reaction. If your fur-kid seems shaky, lethargic, or drools excessively shortly after application, quickly wash off the application site with shampoo or Dawn original formula dishwashing liquid, and a lot of water. Rinse well. Contact your vet immediately, too, and follow their advice. Here and Here are more detailed discussions of the issues that can arise and the best way to deal with them.
- It is also possible to get a flea shampoo from the Vet that works well, but, the joy of that experience depends entirely on how happy your animals are about getting a bath. I have had a few over the years that were fine with it, but most of them hate it. As an alternative, the “Original formula” Dawn dishwashing detergent works VERY well. It will not leave any residue that will help keep the fleas from repopulating the animal, but, it does get rid of the current crop on your fur-kids.
- Update: Capstar, for example, is fairly cheap, and will kill all the fleas on a companion animal within hours of getting the pill into them. This kills the fleas on the fur-kid, but does not provide further protection.
Now, then…For a longer term attack on the problem…Here are various things I do, in no particular order:
- After getting the animal(s) treated and cleaned up a bit…wash every bit of clothing or cloth items that they have been in contact with. Hot water and extra detergent. and an extra rinse is the way I go about it. This includes bedclothes, beds, pillows…whatever…
- If you have a single area where the animal(s) like to hang out a lot, set up a “Flea Trap” there. If you have a small, desk lamp, no purchases needed. make up a detergent bowl as detailed before, and set it on the floor where there is likely to be a concentration of fleas. Set the lamp up, pointing down into the bowl, with the shade two or three inches above the bowl. Turn the lamp on and leave it for a few days. You will likely see a bunch of flea bodies at the bottom of the bowl. Leave the trap there until the bodies stop accumulating.
- Get a treatment to spread around the house and kill the fleas in the rugs, curtains and furniture. If none of your furniture has cushions or cloth upholstery on it…that makes the job easier. There are several good products for this. Talk to your Vet, look on Amazon, poke around on Chewy, and visit your pet supply stores in the area.
Update: I do not recommend JUST using flea bombs that fill the air with mist as your only tool. While they do well enough at general coverage, typically the mist does NOT penetrate into the cracks that fleas hide in. Hence, my suggestion below to use liberal amounts of Diatomaceous Earth around the house.
- Get a spray type treatment for furniture, curtains, mattresses, pillows and the like. spray everything down with a fine mist that covers the surfaces as evenly as possible. They do not have to be WET, but they should be covered. This is a product I have used that does seem to work quite well. There are others, of course, and Google can be your friend, at finding the products, as well as reviews by actual users.
- Another treatment that works quite well too is Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth. It is available from many sources (health food stores, food co-ops and the like). It is a fine, flour-like powder, created by grinding up the beds of fossilized diatoms that used to be on the ocean floor in ancient times. It is quite non-toxic and works very well for killing off fleas. I sprinkle it on the carpet, work it in with a broom, leave it for a day or so, then vacuum the rug. The D. E. flour consists of tiny, very pointy chunks, that dig through the carapace of the flea, gets into their joints, and that sort of thing…killing the fleas. It does not kill the eggs, but the moment the fleas hatch, they get coated with it, and die soon after. A good vacuuming removes the D.E. powder, the carcasses of the dead fleas, and a bunch of live fleas who are crippled by the effects of the D.E. on their joints. One can use it to treat animals too…just sprinkle it on the animal, and work it into their fur. Breathing the small amount of dust that is raised by this is not recommended, but, has not been a problem for me. I suspect people with respiratory issues should wear a mask when working with it.
- Vacuum often. if you have a hose type vacuum, or a hose attachment, be sure to run slowly along the molding at the base of the walls. When the bag is full, take the cleaner outside, carefully remove the bag, and dispose of it without taking it back inside. The bags typically hold the fleas in, but, there is a chance that the fleas will escape and re-infest.
Update: Since I wrote this, I have used Seresto flea collars to combat a nasty problem one of my girls has with flea allergies. I am a fairly big fan of Seresto collars, as they work very well, last a long time, and do not bother the cats. HOWEVER…be sure and get them from a reputable source (Chewy.com, your Vet, etc). The Chinese have flooded the market with counterfeit collars that are either pretty toxic, or as useless as Hartz products at killing the parasites.
- If you go outside and see fleas on your skin or clothing right outside the door, there are some spray concentrates that hook to a water hose and will cover several thousand square feet, killing off the fleas and ticks, and often slowing their return.
The flea reproduction cycle ranges from a few days to a couple of weeks…so any eggs that are not killed by the mentioned treatments will hatch out with the plan of getting some food and reproducing before they die. So…to be safe, plan to treat the companion animal(s) once a month for at least three months. Plan to spray or use DE a couple of times a month for three months. It is a pain to do, but, it takes work to beat back Nature at times.
With luck you will never have to deal with these issues…but if you do…hang in there. In the end, the fleas will be gone and by doing some preventative treatments next year, (Topical Flea treatment when the fleas start hatching out in the early Summer, or DE treatments, and a yard spray), they should not come back.
Have a great Summer.
God Help Us ALL
Bee Man Dave
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