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Recently, my dog and I moved to an apartment that opens to the backyard. It’s a beautiful Southern California living environment: open, sunny, lots of air — and perfect for fleas to find their way into my house!
My dog, Riggins, is 11 years old and has never had a flea issue. He gets treated with a topical monthly, and that’s worked well for us. That’s why I was shocked when I realized I was being eaten alive in my own house by the little bloodsuckers. I didn’t want to believe that fleas were the problem, instead blaming spiders and other insects. If Riggins didn’t have fleas, how could it be such a problem? But the little itchy bumps all over my body didn’t lie.
Here are some tips on how I dealt with the issue.
Keep your pup clean and flea free
Even though Riggins wasn’t the problem, you can usually track the source of fleas to the family pet. Fleas are professional hitchhikers and will happily ride your dog into your house. After playdates, hikes and dog park adventures, do a quick once-over to make sure your pup isn’t carrying unwanted guests (like ticks, too!). Bathe and comb your dog regularly, and definitely talk to your vet about the flea prevention treatment that will work best for your pup and his lifestyle.
Vacuum everything constantly
Some people suggest daily, others every three days, and some say weekly. I suggest doing it as often as you can. When I had a flea problem, I vacuumed daily, being extra diligent in dark corners and under the bed and furniture. Empty your vacuum canister (in the outside trash) because you’ll just be removing fleas and eggs, not killing them. Put a flea collar in the canister after it’s empty to help prevent stragglers.
Linens, your sheets, dog blankets, dog beds, soft toys or anything that can be thrown in the washing machine: Do it. Although it’s more energy efficient to wash in cool water, do these loads using hot water, and dry with high heat if the material can handle it.
Treat your back and front yards
There was no doubt that my flea problem got worse when work was being done in the backyard. The fleas that were happily hanging out in the yard needed somewhere to go, and that somewhere was my warm and comfy bed. Do what you can to make your yard less inviting to fleas.
Diatomaceous earth — I used this in the backyard. Food-grade diatomaceous earth is a natural and safe product made from the fossilized remains of tiny organisms. The silica that makes up these organisms absorbs into insects with an exoskeleton, like fleas, and causes them to dry out and die. Just liberally sprinkle it everywhere you think fleas might be hiding out. You can also use diatomaceous earth inside your house — just vacuum up after it’s had time to work its magic. The material that is harmful to fleas is also tough on vacuum cleaners with filters, so use a Shop-Vac for this job.
Sun — Fleas, much like their bloodsucking vampire relatives, don’t love the sun. Cut back any bushes or plants that create shady spots for flea families to make a home, and keep your grass cut short. Plant an herb garden. Fleas don’t like strong-smelling herbs and plants. Planting these near your doors and windows can help keep fleas from hanging around too long. Thyme, sage, eucalyptus, clove, basil, lavender, mint and citronella are all good choices.
Natural predators — Snakes, ants, beetles, spiders, frogs and lizards eat fleas. I’m not suggesting you have any of these creatures roaming around in your house, but keep that in mind before attempting to get rid of any that are hanging out in your yard.
Welcome nematodes — Think of nematodes as the probiotics of your yard. These tiny multicellular animals are already in your garden — you just need to increase their population so there are more out there to take out those pesky fleas while they’re still in their pupae and larval stages. You can easily purchase them online or at a local garden store. Mix the microscopic roundworm with water, and spray over your yard. Nematodes enter the flea larva and infect it with toxic bacteria.
Call the professionals
If you’re dealing with a bad case of fleas, it might be more than a single mortal can handle. If all else fails, call a professional exterminator. Let them know you have dogs, and follow their instructions on how to keep your pets safe while your house is being treated.
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