Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on November 11, 2020
Facts About Fleas

Facts About Fleas

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Once fleas make their home on your pet, they can lay up to 2,000 eggs in their lifetime. And they don’t have to be on the animal at all times to survive as an adult, either. That means unless you act quickly, your house soon can be swarming with these jumping insects. Their favorite spots to tuck away? Carpets, furniture, fabrics, and pet beds.

Bugs in Hiding

Bugs in Hiding

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Even when your pet seems to be flea-free, these pesky pests might still be lurking in your home. They can pause their growth at the larval stage (between egg and full-on flea) during cold, dry winter months and camp out in carpets until conditions feel right for hatching.

Why Go Natural?

Why Go Natural?

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Some people control a flea infestation with home pesticide sprays. But you may prefer not to use the chemicals, which can irritate your eyes, lungs, or skin. And mists from insecticides called flea bombs, or foggers, can’t get into carpets or fabric folds. So they don’t work as well. What to do? Get rid of the buggers naturally.

Natural Remedy: Diatomaceous Earth

Natural Remedy: Diatomaceous Earth

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This talc-like powder is made from silica, the same stuff that makes up sand. You can sprinkle it on carpets, bedding, and furniture. Let it sit for several hours, then vacuum it up. It kills fleas by drying them out. You can also use it on your lawn. It’s safe and nonpoisonous. But like any dusty powder, it may irritate your airways if you breathe it in.

Natural Remedy: Sulfur

Natural Remedy: Sulfur

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This is a natural element that makes rotten eggs stink. It also kills fleas that touch it or eat it by messing with their energy production. Sprinkle powdered sulfur on your grass, shrubs, and other outdoor places where your pet hangs out. It’s not harmful to humans. But it can be toxic or even deadly for your dog or cat if they eat too much of it, so use it with care.

Natural Remedy: Citrus

Natural Remedy: Citrus

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You can’t get fleas to scram just by squeezing oranges and lemons all over your house. But extracts from citrus peels, like linalool or D-limonene, can work indoors to treat both fleas and their eggs. Read the label before you buy. Some cats can have bad reactions to citrus peel extract, so do not use it unless your product specifically says it’s safe.

Unproven: Herbal Sprays

Unproven: Herbal Sprays

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Some makers of peppermint, cinnamon, or rosemary oil sprays promise to purge your living spaces of fleas. There’s not much proof they work. Still, they’re not likely to harm humans or animals. Note: Some people and pets can be badly allergic to ingredients in the sprays.

Unproven: Cedar Chips, Wax Myrtle Leaves

Unproven: Cedar Chips, Wax Myrtle Leaves

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We don’t have enough scientific evidence to back up the claim that these strong-scented evergreens repel fleas. But they won’t hurt anything, so you could spread some around your yard or inside your home to see if they help.

Natural Remedy: Light Traps

Natural Remedy: Light Traps

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These lure and trap fleas until they die or you kill them. Experts think that when a trap with yellow-green light is on for 10 minutes and then flashes off for 5 seconds, it fools fleas into thinking a host --  aka your pet -- is moving nearby and makes them jump toward it. That could get them off your furniture and carpets.

Natural Remedy: Boric Acid

Natural Remedy: Boric Acid

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Your laundry detergent might have this as an ingredient. You can buy this white powder at a pharmacy. Sprinkle it into carpets and furniture, let it sit, and then vacuum it up. It’s poisonous to fleas but safe for pets and humans. Caution: It’s not a good choice if you have babies, and it may damage your carpet or upholstery over time.

Unsafe: Pennyroyal Oil

Unsafe: Pennyroyal Oil

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The oil from this plant in the mint family can kill fleas. It’s often used in insecticide shampoos for pets. It may be natural, but it may not be a good choice for DIY sprays or other remedies. The oil’s active compound, pulegone, can poison dogs and cats. It can cause vomiting, diarrhea, nosebleeds, seizures, and even death from liver failure. 

Natural Remedy: Elbow Grease

Natural Remedy: Elbow Grease

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The truth is, the best way to banish fleas is with some good old-fashioned housework. Regular cleaning banishes fleas as they hatch. This breaks the new flea cycle so no new eggs get laid and lead to future flea families.

Vacuum and Steam Clean

Vacuum and Steam Clean

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Take fleas out of the picture by sucking them up. Take your vacuum or steam cleaner to all the likely places: carpet, furniture (don’t forget to go underneath!), pet bedding, and cracks and crevices of baseboards and flooring. Another tip: sprinkle cornstarch before you vacuum so fleas will die once they’re in the bag. Take the bag outside right away, or wash the bagless canister with hot, soapy water.

Wash and Dry Hot

Wash and Dry Hot

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Launder any fabrics your pet uses, like blankets, toys, or bedding. Crank the temperature to the hottest setting, at least 120 F, and dry on medium/high. If you have items that can’t be put in the washer, stick them in the dryer only on high heat for 10 to 20 minutes to zap fleas.

Show Sources

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

Thinkstock Photos

 

SOURCES:

American Veterinary Medical Association: “Safe Use of Flea and Tick Preventive Products,” “External Parasites,” “Bed Bugs and Pets FAQ.”

 

CDC: “Healthy Housing Reference Manual.”

 

University of Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County: “Integrated Flea Control.”

 

Oregon Veterinary Medical Association: “Fleas: Treatment & Prevention.”

 

University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine: “Fight Fleas At All Their Life Stages.”

 

National Pesticide Information Center: “Methoprene,” “Diatomaceous Earth,” “Fleas,” “Sulfur: General Fact Sheet.”

 

Natural Resources Defense Council: “Nontoxic Ways to Protect Your Pet.”
 

Cummings Veterinary Center at Tufts University: “Fleas and Your Pet in the Hospital.”

University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences: “Getting Rid of Fleas,” “Fleas: What They Are, What To Do.”

Cornell University: “Fleas.”