If your household is becoming deluged with fleas, as mine is, you won’t have any trouble believing this statistic: Fleas spend only 5-10% of their lives on animals.

The rest of the time, they’re lying in wait on your floor and furniture. Their ability to jump nine inches straight up or five feet sideways makes your ankle an easy target.

The fight against fleas includes dealing with their various stages of development, making treatment an ongoing process. Most chemical pet-care products state “wear protective gloves” or “don’t expose your skin or breathe the fumes”. When we douse our pets with these liquids, the chemicals can be absorbed through their skin.

If we need to be warned about our contact with these products, how can we justify using them on our pets? Here are some ideas to fight back, organically.

You can shampoo animals regularly with non-toxic pet shampoos containing herbal essential-oil repellants, including citronella, eucalyptus, rosemary, bay leaf and cedarwood. You can make a non-chemical dip by adding ¼ teaspoon shampoo to 1 cup water. Mix thoroughly, pour over your pet, and let it dry. (Make sure to avoid the eyes and mouth.) Decrease the amount applied if your pet appears to be sensitive.

Other shampoos include products containing D-Limonene and Iinalool, whose active ingredients are derived from citrus peels. If you have your pet dipped, request products containing these ingredients. Other products to try include Safer’s Insecticidal Soap and Pet Chemicals’ “Hill’s VIP”.

Homemade citrus solutions are inexpensive alternatives to store-bought products. Put orange skins through a food processor, then heat them in an equal amount of water to release the oils. After thoroughly cooking, strain through cheesecloth or pantyhose. Take the cloth, with the thick liquid left inside, and rub it over your animals.

You also can use orange skins directly on your pets. Score navel orange skins, making the cuts close together. When the oil is released, rub the peels directly on the animals. Even though these products are homemade, caution should still be used, because citrus oil can irritate skin. A thorough rinse is a good idea.

Try non-toxic flea powders between baths. With repellant properties similar to the essential-oils, these products contain ground aromatic herbs such as sage, wormwood, eucalyptus, and bay leaf.

Essential-oils are at work again in herbal flea collars. Chemical flea collars contain a myriad of toxic substances. When your pet wears one of these collars, it’s constantly breathing chemical fumes.

Diatomaceous earth (DE) can be used on your pets, in your home, and on your yard. (Don’t buy the swimming pool variety.) DE works by piercing the protective coating of the insects. In a few hours, they dry out and die. Try using a salt shaker to evenly distribute the powder. After shaking on your pets, comb through to make sure it gets down to the skin.

Be particularly careful around your pet’s eyes, nostrils and mouth. In your home, sprinkle DE under the couch and chair cushions and lightly dust your carpets and floors. Repeat the application in seven days and again in seven more days.

Remember that frequent vacuuming is a must to pick up flea eggs. Don’t leave the bag inside the vacuum cleaner, since the eggs can hatch and reinfest your home. Instead of tossing the bag or trying to remove its contents, put the vacuum bag inside a dark plastic trash bag, and place both in the sun for a few hours. The heat will kill the fleas, and you can then reuse both bags.

For yard treatments, mix 2 tablespoons of DE with one gallon of water, and spray your outdoor area. After the initial application of DE, the process needs to be repeated in seven days, and then in another seven days.

Or you can spray with a mild soap and water solution mixed at a ratio of 5 parts soap to 95 parts water. Try a vegetable-based soap such as Dr. Bronner’s Eucalyptus Castille or a pet shampoo containing D-Limonene and linalool. Soaps work by dissolving the outer waxy cuticle of the insect.

Fighting fleas can be frustrating. With our mild winters, it seems like the battle begins earlier and earlier each year. Try these environmentally friendly approaches to wage your warfare against fleas.

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