Putting the Freeze on Fleas: A Basic Tutorial

by Matt Solis


When fleas occupy your home, you’ll need to act fast to mount a successful resistance. Photo: Killroy Pest Control (2014)

So your dog went out back to do its usual business, but this time, when it returned, it brought along some uninvited guests. That’s right: fleas have dropped in for a surprise visit, and they just might end up staying for dinner. Before you know it, you’re scratching and slapping at these nearly imperceptible pests. A barrage of questions storm through your mind: Will I have to vacate my house? Are chemical treatments my only option? Will Fido have to go to the vet? Relax: the answer to all of these questions is a resounding “no.” Take a deep breath and follow these simple steps:

1. Decontaminate the host. Since your pet is the one who started this mess (albeit unwittingly), it should be the first to get treated. Start by washing your pet in warm, soapy water; as a supplementary measure, add a cup of white vinegar to the water and use a citrus-scented soap (fleas hate both). Following bath time, use a flea brush to excise the hardier fleas who survived the deluge.

While you may have removed the fleas inhabiting your pet’s fur and skin, you’ve merely given the ones camping out in your carpet a fresh surface to occupy, so be sure to follow up with remedial treatment (oral supplement, topical medication). If you don’t like the idea of giving chemicals to your pet, try massaging its fur with an essential oil like lavender or citronella.

2. Secure the home front. Once you’ve dealt with your pet, it’s time for phase two: ridding your home of the encroaching enemy. There are several strategies for eradicating a flea infestation, from chemical treatments like a “flea bomb” or borate application to natural remedies like spraying a homemade lemon solution or placing cedar chips around your house. One clever alternative strategy is to set a shallow bowl filled with water and dish soap beneath a nightlight and leave it overnight—if all goes according to plan, the next morning you’ll wake to find a bowl of drowned flea soup.

However you choose to handle your flea problem, it’s important to take additional measures like washing all bedding (both yours and your pet’s) in hot, soapy water and vacuuming frequently. Vacuuming is a particularly effective step because, unlike most chemical applications, it removes both the mature fleas and their eggs. However, if you’ve applied a borate or diatomaceous earth treatment to your carpet, you’ll need to abstain from vacuuming for at least a week so it can do its work.

3. A blitz is best. When formulating your plan of attack, there’s one crucial thing to remember: flea eradication is most effective when approached from several angles at once. Rather than treating your pet and your home in subsequent order, make the effort to employ both measures simultaneously. Just think of it as a quick one-two punch to keep the fleas on the ropes before landing the final knockout blow.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, the fleas just won’t back down, in which case you’ll need to call in reinforcements. 

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