Our experts answer a question about fleas from one of our readers:
Q: Is there any way to get rid of cat fleas without using chemicals?
Lola Michelin, Northwest School of Animal Massage:
Yes, although it takes commitment and diligence and even then, results vary. Anywhere the cat spends time has to be heat cleaned regularly for a while until several cycles of eggs are killed or eradicated. This means hot or sanitary wash cycles for bedding and fabric they come in contact with a few times per week, vacuuming and using a steam mop over areas where the cat spends times including along floor molding and corners daily if possible or at least several times a week.
People recommend boric acid but it can really irritate the eyes and some animals are allergic. It dries out the exoskeleton of the flea but it can also be very drying to pet’s skin so I don’t use it around animals who already experience skin or coat issues. You can use it outside the house. A safer alternative is diatomaceous earth. If you get the highest grade, you can use it to dust along the cracks and crevices in the floor, put in on rugs or in carpet before vacuuming, dust the cat with it and even put a little in the food as a top dressing. This is one of the best things I have found to consistently help with knocking down the flea population without chemicals.
You can also put plants that are naturally repelling, like pennyroyal, in pots around your house and even outside in beds near the house. A solution of lemon juice and water can also be sprayed directly on the coat, avoiding the eyes and mucous membranes. It is also drying but not in the caustic way that boric acid is. I don’t use this daily, but every few days for a few weeks is usually fine. These are all methods that were recommended to us by our veterinarian and we have used with success. There are essential oils that combat fleas but remember… many essential oils are toxic to cats so I would avoid this route.
Once you have the population under control, I would still be diligent for a few months if they are in your house. They will die off only to reappear if a few eggs survived the process. You can usually knock the population down enough so your pets are not bothered in a month or so, but it took us about 18 months to truly eradicate fleas from our house after a friend’s dogs brought them over. We live on a farm of course, so it was a little harder than maybe a downtown apartment… but treat, treat, treat until you go a good three months without seeing a flea to truly be rid of the little buggers! Good luck!
Theresa Gagnon, Mending Fences Animal Wellness:
Citrus oil will kill fleas. There are shampoos with various citrus oils added to them – be sure that the product is safe for cats. When I worked in veterinary clinics and grooming shops, we used Lemon “JOY’ dishwashing soap. You would have to check the ingredients on the label to make sure that there actually was lemon in it and not just lemon scented. We used to start by making a ring of soap around the cats neck – this would prevent the fleas from running up to the face where you can’t wash effectively. That being said – you must be sure to rinse the cat thoroughly after bathing to remove all the soap residue.
It may take several baths before all the fleas are killed. Only about 10% of the fleas in an infestation live on the animal, the rest are in carpets and bedding. So be sure to vacuum daily and wash the animals bedding.
Caroline Thomas, Hoof and Paw Emotional Healing for Animals:
As a qualified Animal Aromatherapist (I have used this with my own cats) allow them to sniff first but you can use green clay with neem powder. It is safe but allow the cat to choose to how much you apply. Sprinkle over the cats belly and over their coat.
I also did an experiment a couple of years ago, and this is a wonderful combination of flower essences (given orally): Crab Apple, Amber, Amethyst, Garlic flower and Pennyroyal (remember it is only the energy) and it works as it raises the vibration of the animal to a level that fleas don’t like.
Shirley Moore, Save a Dog: