Flea control is a challenge with cats for many reasons, not the least of which is ingestion concerns. From what we've seen on the list these last thirteen or so years, cat livers are ill-equipped to handle the chemicals in flea products such as bombs, foggers, sprays, collars, shampoos, and powders containing insecticides, oils, and other noxious substances. Please be careful with "natural" products as well. Don't assume something that says "natural" is automatically safe for a cat.
While I'd love to say raw-fed cats are impervious to fleas, sadly I have not seen any evidence that this is the case. So much of it depends on where one lives as both temperature and humidity come into play. While climate can't be controlled, by taking a multi-pronged approach - exterior and interior of the house as well as topical applications - one can keep house and cats flea-free.
One has to attack fleas on all fronts and through at least 2 entire life cycles (each lasts 3-4 weeks).
Exterior of the house
Treat outdoor areas with beneficial nematodes. They're little bugs that chow down on Japanese bettles, and grubs, but also work on fleas. I get mine from Gardens Alive (online or catalog only, no B&M stores). Depending on the size of your yard, nematodes can be a bit expensive. In such cases, one can use them in a vegetable garden area and elsewhere apply diatomaceous earth (DE) garden-grade, not pool-grade, as well as Boric Acid (BA). Typically DE and BA both need to be repeated after rain.
For pest control, I use neem leaf in my gardens. If fleas are a concern, neem leaf should also help on that front. One can combine it with DE and/or nematodes. A 1lb bag from Frontier or Starwest herbs is only around $10 or so, and well worth the price.
Bathe cats with a gentle castile soap (liquid) such as Dr. Bronner's, or Black Soap (Fair Trade) from Togo or Ghana.
- Brew a strong concentrated tea using herbs like rosemary, neem leaf*, and lavender. Can also cook a lemon half in water for 20 mins, strain and add to the tea mix. Apply on kitty and leave on. If your cat gets too enthusiastic grooming him/herself following application, help things along by wiping with a microfiber cloth or hand towel (dipped in warm water then wrung) to remove some of the herbal liquid.
- 1/4-1/3 cup comprised of a mix of:
- 1 part lavender or rose geranium (also works on ticks) hydrolat
- 1 part lemon verbena hydrolat (can substitute with rosemary or citronella hydrosol/hydrolat)
- 2 parts water
Dab on and do as with the tea application above.
*Neem Leaf - this is not what most would consider to be a pleasant scent so consider yourself forewarned:) It is worth it though to put up with the funky smell. YMMV.
Note: although these can be ingested, don't let your cat do any major licking off because at the end of the day, we really don't want anything ingested in significant quantities.
This is where it gets even trickier. All these are only somewhat effective if done in isolation but together, they are gentle yet effective.
- Get a commercial flea trap, or make your own by adding a few drops of dishwashing liquid to water in a pie plate or very shallow bowl. Place under a small lamp or light source. In the morning, you'll see dead fleas in there. Dump the contents and start over. Kitties don't usually bother with these traps but as always if yours are different, you'll have to be creative as to where to place these traps.
- Make sachets at home containing dried eucalyptus leaf, neem leaf, cedar pieces (not shavings), pennyroyal, and lavender. Or place 1 teaspoon of this mix in any cloth square and tie using a rubber band or ribbon. Place these in corners, tucked into furniture, and other areas around the house in places where your cats won't be messing with them. Mine don't, and they're quite mischievous as a general thing but YMMV. You can always add some dried citrus rind/peel in the sachet/handkerchief to ensure kitties don't go near it.
- Place salt in small plates/saucers in as many rooms as possible. Remove and replace periodically.
- Place cedar blocks in various area. If you use small cedar balls used to repel moths, they can become cat toys so blocks are safer. As long as the cedar isn't in shavings form the aromatic oils won't bother cats, so placing a cedar block under their bedding or in areas they hang out shouldn't harm them.
- Put some of these dried herbs in the vacuum bag to kill fleas that get sucked up during the vacuuming process. Later, remember to dispose of the bag promptly, or if you have a filter-less vacuum, empty the contents outside and wipe down the vacuum prior to bringing it back into the house.
- * Vacuuming kills fleas. Researchers at Ohio State University found that vacuuming kills not just adult fleas, but also pupae and larvae:
- The main takeaway for me was that while vacuuming 2-3x a week might work as prevention, it is daily vacuuming through the entire flea life cycle that is critical.
Floor/Carpet treatments around the house:
Flea Busters appears to have changed their formula, but they used to use just plain ole Borax - sodium tetraborate (Na2B4O7), which is the same thing as 20 Mule borax from Target or a grocery store.
The best results have been if Borax is worked into the carpets one room at a time, then vacuumed up after a minimum of 24 hours keeping cats away from that room in the meantime. Might need to repeat depending on extent of infestation, and timing of flea life cycle.
Diatomaceous earth (DE) does work but be *extremely* careful about its use especially if you're an asthmatic like me. I always use masks when handling anything powdery, and this is no exception. DE can be cut with salt and powdered herbs like neem and lavender but even so, it's not safe for a cat to inhale it. Use DE only if a cat will be nowhere near the area treated or can be removed from the treated area for that period of time.
DE's mechanism is physical in nature as opposed to chemical so as long as one takes care not to inhale it, in some ways its safer for cats than a dangerous topical or those foggers sold at stores but if cautions cannot be followed, it's best to avoid it and Boric Acid as well.
DE works by cutting/puncturing fleas and others insects' exoskeletons dessicating them (by absorbing their body fluids). So it is not supposed to be harmful to warm-blooded creatures with endoskeletons like cats, dogs, and people. For that reason, it won't cut your cat's paw pads or anything like that but the big issue with DE is that it's very fine and powdery and has a tendency to fly all over the place if not handled with deliberation and great care. Since we don't have a lot of other choices with cats, I'm hesitantly putting it out there, but I can't overstate the precaution.
You can make up a mix of 1/3 salt, 1/3 DE, and 1/3 powdered herbs (dried lavender, fennel, neem ground up) and put some in the vacuum bag/compartment as well as work it carefully into the carpets, upholstery, bedding, etc. Vacuum up in 12 - 24 hours.
Handle DE very gently and deliberately when scooping out to mix with salt, and apply in a controlled and careful manner somewhat like this (same cautions apply for Boric acid).
DE, BE, and/or powdered herbs can also be sprinkled on hardood, tile, or vinyl floors, and vacuumed up. Even better is to follow this with a good mopping using a 25% concentration of citronella or neem hydrosol and water.
I'll leave you with an entreaty to give natural options a chance before resorting to nerve agents such as Frontline, Advantage etc. That said, these topical applications are preferable to foggers, bombs, powders, sprays, and collars. Beware essential oils in so-called "natural" flea collars. For more information on how dangerous essential oils are for cats, read our article here by a an aromatherapist.
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