Looking For A Natural Flea Killer? (How About 2?)

Natural flea killer is in demand, as cat owners join the green movement and try to reduce the toxins that their cats are exposed to every day.

And, unfortunately, there are lots of toxins.

More and more, cat people want a green cat lifestyle.

We don't want our pets to be exposed to nasty chemicals that are reportedly causing diseases and shorter lifespans.

We want non-toxic fertilizers and pest control products.

We want our homes to be green and our products to be safe.

But, what about fleas?

Green paw
Spot on flea treatments are advertised everywhere, but they're being looked at with a skeptical eye, and they're perhaps not as effective as we'd like.

The good news is, there are natural flea killer solutions that are considered safe for pets, and greening your cat doesn't mean you have to suffer from flea infestations.

Got Parasite?

Gray tabby cat face
Did you know that ants kill fleas? We usually try to get rid of ants, but ironically, ants are a type of natural flea killer.

They feed on flea eggs. Ants aren't practical, however, for natural flea control.

But that brings up a simple question...

Is there a parasite that feeds on fleas that we could use to naturally control their numbers?

Answer: yes, they're called nematodes, and we'll talk more about them below.

The traditional approach to flea control is to use chemical insecticides and growth inhibitors to stop the infestation. This usually involves treating the home and the cat with chemicals.

A good flea control program involves a multi-pronged approach, including treating the outdoors as well, again, usually with chemical insecticide.

If your cat goes outdoors, if you have other animals that go outdoors, or if there are stray or neighbor animals that visit your yard, treating the outdoors becomes even more important. It's also possible to drag fleas or flea eggs into the house on your clothing.

Speaking of flea eggs, only 5 percent of your flea population will be the adult fleas. Although adult fleas do the biting, about half the population will be flea eggs, and the remaining 45 percent will be developing fleas in the larva or pupa stage. This is why you can use insect foggers and flea bombs and still have an ongoing flea problem.

Besides ants, another type of natural flea killer is a parasite, the beneficial nematode. Many gardeners have successfully used nematodes to control many kinds of garden pests.

Beneficial nematodes are microscopic worms (the "good" kind of roundworms) that are natural predators of fleas. They're also called insect parasitic nematodes or insecticidal nematodes, and sometimes written up in company literature as "flea control" nematodes.

You can purchase them from organic garden shops, nurseries, or online. They're kept in the refrigerator until ready to use. Then, they're mixed with water and applied with a garden hose sprayer, hand-held sprayer or watering can.

So how do beneficial nematodes kill fleas? They destroy fleas by entering the larva, which lives in the soil. You see, before you ever see them and before they can jump, fleas are crawling around in the soil outside.

Flea control nematodes will seek out immature fleas in the soil and kill the fleas before they become adults, so they can't bite or breed. They enter the body of the flea, release bacteria, and essentially disintegrate it from the inside out within about 48 hours.

When applied to the soil, they immediately start seeking out insects to attack. They mature, breed and lay eggs, so they're self-propagating. They not only act as a natural flea killer, but they can attack and control many other kinds of pests. They're non toxic and won't harm humans or pets, and can also be used on foliage and in garden beds.

Sounds great, right? Well, there are some things you should know with respect to usage and effectiveness:

  • Nematodes are sensitive to temperature and are subject to drying out. So, it's best to use them in moist, shady spots in the yard, when temperature is ideal (check the directions for use).

  • There are different types of beneficial nematodes, and some do better in warmer climates. Some are best for killing bugs that move (like fleas, caterpillars, and worker ants), and others are best for killing bugs that are more stationary (like termite queens).

  • Make sure your nematodes are alive before you apply them, otherwise your efforts are for nothing. See this post by the mid-Atlantic editor for the National Gardening Association for more on that.

  • Check this article by Allen Buchinski at Master Gardeners for some good practical tips on buying and using beneficial nematodes for outdoor pest control.

You can purchase nematodes from Fleabusters (they also have application and storage instructions at their website).

NemAttack from Arbico Organics offers two types targeted at fleas, one type for warmer climates.

You can also purchase flea control nematodes from Gardens Alive.

Diatomaceous Earth

Insects wear their skeletons on the outside of their bodies. To get around that hard shell of the insect, nematodes utilize a Trojan Horse-like method of entering the host and destroying it with bacteria from the inside.

Another natural flea killer, diatomaceous earth, attacks the exoskeleton itself, causing the insect to die of dehydration.

Flea eggs and larva aren't just outside, of course. Fleas lay eggs on the host (your cat), and those eggs drop off of the animal and land on carpets, floors, pet bedding, and so on. They make their way into cracks and crevices and you won't even know they're there.

In the 1960's, the US Department of Agriculture tested the effectiveness of diatomaceous earth as a non-toxic insecticide, and found that it was an effective alternative to chemical pesticides, like malathion, with none of the dangers.

Diatomaceous earth (DE) is made from the fossilized skeletons of diatoms, a type of algae. There are several types of DE, including salt water derived, fresh water derived, and food grade.

It's used as a filtering agent, and you may have seen or used a DE pool filter. Food grade DE is approved as an animal feed additive and is sold as a dietary supplement.

As a natural flea killer, food grade DE is safe for pets and non-toxic, so you can actually use it in cabinets where food is kept, and, important for our discussion, where your pet spends time.

Sprinkle a fine layer on freshly vacuumed carpet. Place a small amount of DE powder in corners, cracks, and crevices. You can also remove wall plates and use a turkey baster to blast any insects behind the wall.

Note: Use a mask when applying DE, and remove all animals from the area as it is dusty and the dust should not get into the lungs. Non-food grade DE should never be breathed in.

Due to the type of silica contained in food grade DE, the dust is supposedly safe. But, if you, your pet, or your family members have asthma or any other respiratory problems, you may want to avoid it.

This can be quite the messy project, so don't go the DE route unless you're prepared for a dirt-fest. Although researchers and the distributors of DE products say you can use it indoors, Dr. John Heinerman (in Low Cost Natural Cures for your Dog and Cat) said to only to use it outdoors.

Some recommend dusting your pet with it. I would never do this. As always, check with your vet before using any products just to be sure.

You can use DE as a barrier to prevent insects from entering the home from outside. Place the powder around the entire perimeter of the home. Be aware that it also kills beneficial insects as well as the unwanted ones, so outside use should be done carefully. Also, you'll have to reapply it after heavy rains.

Make sure that the DE you purchase is food grade, with low crystalline silica content. Some DE sold as "insecticidal" may include food grade DE, but also contain other insecticidal agents, such as pyrethrins and a synergistic chemical to make it work faster.

Pyrethrins are "natural" pesticides made from pyrethrum (chrysanthemum flower extract). Even so, pyrethrins are listed as "Very toxic to cats" by the Natural Resources Defense Council. There are also synthetic versions of these chemicals. See this list of health hazards from flea and tick products.

You can buy food grade DE from Perma-Guard in the form of Fossil Shell Flour as opposed to their insecticidal version, which contains pyrethrum.

Is DE green? Well, that depends. There is some debate over just how eco-friendly DE is.

As a natural flea killer, it is much better than using poisonous chemicals. But, DE is obtained through a mining process. So although its use is advocated by some proponents of green lifestyles, there are some questions.

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