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My cats, dog, and ferrets all have fleas! What is the best way to get rid of them without exposing my pets to dangerous chemicals?

Since I have the different animals, it's important to me that if your suggestions aren't supposed to be used on one of them that you tell me so that I can avoid dangers like cross-contamination.

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I found a stray puppy some months back at the gate to my home and she was covered with fleas and cuts. She kept biting herself and would also wimper in pain. You could see the fleas in her fur, they were huge.

First, I got a small empty aerosol bottle with a spray nozzle and bought a small bag of flea powder (the generic stuff you can get at any store, nothing special). I mixed this with luke-warm water and sprayed her with it for until she was fully doused. About a half-hour later she was fast asleep and when she woke up I noticed she wasn't scratching as much or gnawing at her ankles or rear end as much.

The next day I got some flea shampoo and soaped her up, careful to avoid her eyes and mouth and held her in a bath of warm water for about a minute or so before rinsing and drying her off in a towel.
Note: It is important that you shampoo the head thoroughly especially around the eyes and ears as fleas tend to migrate to those areas when exposed to water and this can be very painful for the animal being treated.

I didn't see her scratching out of the ordinary after that. Within a month, her fur had smoothed out and she had a healthy coat again also sans the wounds she had previously. I also tend to dust around her kennel every now and then with the same generic flea powder and make sure it is swept and kept clean.

Shampooing or spraying a larger or friskier animal might not be so easy and I have never tried this on any other pet I have but I can say without a doubt that it worked. Also, I had never brought her into the house prior to the treatment so no specific advice on that except to perhaps dust corners and gaps in your house, disinfect areas the animals frequent and perhaps also vacuum.

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This is a tricky problem, most pet owners face. I have not been able to eradicate fleas entirely, without the use of some man-made chemical, but have found many natural solutions to use on my pets for most of the time.

To combat fleas, one has to treat the entire environment of the pets and all the pets that can carry fleas. I do this annually, at the beginning of the flea season (warming weather).

This process requires a whole day of good weather, and can be done over a weekend, but I recommend doing it concurrently, so as not to give fleas a hidey hole to wait in.

Treating the pets:

Each pet needs to be bathed individually. I have using chemicals on them, and do not like topical additives to the skin or food.

Depending on the sensitivity of the pet's skin I vary this regime.

Using warm water and I like the laundry tub for smaller animals as there is plenty of access to fresh water to thoroughly rinse. It is important to thoroughly wet the pet all over, as fleas will climb to an animals head, if it is submersed in water. If fleas are the only issue, I bath in a variety of solutions:

  • If dirt is also an issue:

A eucalyptus woolmix (for washing woolen clothing), which needs to be thoroughly rinsed off. The eucalyptus acts as a natural flea deterrent. For sensitive skin a mixture of oats and warm water or other remedies.

  • The flea mixture:

After any premix has been thoroughly rinsed I use a combination of the following, I don't give a definitive combination, as it depends on the animals skin and sensitivity and so this is something that becomes a bit of trial and error and finding the optimal mix for each individual pet.

- tea tree oil
- eucalyptus oil
- lavender oil

I keep all these three oils in continuous stock in my home, as they are very useful and all act as deterrents to fleas, especially the tea tree.

To make the mixture with the oils, if using an 8 litre bucket, I would add a little less than half a capful of lavender, a half capful of eucalyptus and one or two capfuls of tea tree.

I then saturate the entire pet with a washer, including between toes, groin area, around eyes and ears (being careful not to get the solution in the eyes or ears. and allow this to dry on the pet. I do not allow them to go and roll in the dirt. I tie them up in the sun for a short while. I find it's better not to towel dry.

This can be done throughout the flea season, as often as weekly but I would recommend reducing the levels of oils in the solution for subsequent frequent washes, to avoid skin irritation.

Tea tree can be used in stronger mixtures to spot kill fleas. You just need to keep and eye on your pets skin. A stronger mixture of tea tree, 50:50 with water (which is also expensive) can be used on pets with flea infestations. It is not advisable to let the solution stay on the pet fro more than 20 minutes, but to rinse it off, to avoid skin irritation.

Treating the Environment:

Unfortunately when treating the environment, I have not found a non-chemical solution, but have been using this same regime for some decades now.

Internal environment:

I take a warm day when I know the pets can be safely left outside after their treatment, whilst the inside is treated.

When the weather warms and the first flea jumps and bites from the environment. All carpets and bedding need to be vacuumed and/ or washed. Not just pet beds and bedding, but blankets and bedding of children and adult beds, lounges if the pets are part of the family and sleep on these things.

The pets and humans need to be removed from the house and I use flea bombs. I ensure that I use enough to cover the entire house, and place them up high in strategic positions so the gas will diffuse into all the rooms.

I do this for any vehicles the pets travel in. Vehicle need to be bombed so that any portals between boots and cabin can be opened and the bomb can infuse the entire vehicle. A car requires a longer time to air after using a flea bomb and needs a safe place that all doors and windows can be left open for some hours.

External Environment:

I use a tough chemical on all concrete and paved surfaces around the house. Any basic flea mixture for surfaces can be mixed with warm water, as per directions and left to dry.

When the area has a flea plague, fleas will be in the grass and there is not much that can be done to prevent this, except to try and keep pets indoors and let them run in off leash areas that are not plagued, weather the warmer months and hope the next season is better.

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  • Bug bombs are probably the worst solution to treating an environment, because the poison fills the air then settles on everything. You'll need to throw away any food that was in the open, and sanitize your kitchen and it's contents. – Spidercat Oct 3 '14 at 17:05
  • Also it needs to be taken into account that you can't be in the treated area for over 8 hours after setting off the bug bomb. – Spidercat Oct 3 '14 at 18:00
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Dogs and cats have a wide variety of flea management options available, but most flea treatments for ferrets are off-label. In additional to vacuuming and treating the environment, you can try:

Serious flea problems generally require stronger measures, though. Unfortunately, commericial products like Frontline, Advantage, Comfortis, and NexGard are not currently labeled for use in ferrets. Some web sites advocate the use of Frontline or Advantage in cat-sized or smaller doses, such as:

but you'd be wise to consult your veterinarian before using any medications off-label or when determining appropriate dosages.

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  • There are some health concerns with diatomaceous earth (I mention this just for completeness). – Zaralynda Oct 9 '14 at 13:07
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    @Zaralynda There are certainly risks to inhaling any nuisance dust, but DE is widely accepted as an alternative to chemical treatments. There is an OSHA guideline for amorphouse DE. Note that all treatments involve risk vs. efficacy trade-offs, and routes of entry matter a lot too (e.g. don't drink dish soap, even if it might someday be shown to kill fleas). There is no silver bullet. YMMV. – CodeGnome Oct 9 '14 at 14:16
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Dawn Dish Soap

Use the non-ultra blue dawn.

I use dawn regularly for my dogs AND cats however I never used it for ferrets so I had to do some research on the matter and have found that it is also used and safe for ferrets. It seems to be safe for a lot of animals considering it was used to clean off animals during that oil spill.

However be very cautious when washing around the eyes. If contact with eyes occurs, rinse with cool water and dry with a towel.

Since this is referred to as a "home remedy" I may need to elaborate a little to why this works. Here is a link to a grooming site, so I feel it is quite credible. What it goes on to say is as follows "Fleas have this ability to survive underwater. I have been told they emit a greasy barrier around their bodies forming a bubble to protect them from water and it holds oxygen in. By dissolving the grease bubble you allow water to get to the flea and they drown... They DO have an exoskeleton that allows them protection, but soaps dissolve this and then they cannot breathe." they later go on to explain how to use the soap correctly and efficiently.

As I have said I personally use it with both cats dogs, although never with ferrets but it should still work if you follow correct steps. I have heard that if used too often it can strip dogs of essential oils on their skins. If you dilute it like the article tells you and use in moderation you won't run into this problem, but if you find this to be a problem you can also apply oil to avoid it from drying out(I've heard olive oil works).

Here are steps to washing dogs and cats with it

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    Soap does not kill fleas – James Jenkins Oct 4 '14 at 8:30
  • Soap itself does not kill fleas, however the Formaldehyde inside dawn is what kills the fleas. Dawn has such a small amount it is perfectly safe for animals although it is deadly for fleas. As I see from the answer you looked at that the idea was that dawn drowns the fleas. I can assure you it is Formaldehyde that kills them and in some cases attracts them resulting in their deaths. – Swansong Oct 4 '14 at 9:48
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    Can you assure me with reliable references? – James Jenkins Oct 4 '14 at 10:17
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    It seems i have been slightly mislead. It seems that formaldehyde kills bacteria and fungus and although some sites say it kills fleas they didn't properly cite any references so I will assume I am wrong in that part. However that being said dawn does kill fleas but in a different way. I will edit the answer with links and a better explanation to this. – Swansong Oct 4 '14 at 11:22
  • Your reference supporting drowning fleas has in the next sentence "Fleas are also very soft bodied" which is not true. "The flea body is hard...The tough body is able to withstand great pressure," – James Jenkins Oct 5 '14 at 9:20

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