Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Like a Moth to a Flame...or a Flea to a Nightlight

A while ago I mentioned the flea infestation in our house. In June we adopted a cute little stray kitten that we found in our yard. He was about 5 weeks old, helpless, and cute as can be. 
Dedos, when he was the Cute Flea Trap (you can see the ringworm starting on his whiskers)

But after about 2 weeks, we discovered that he had ringworm (a non-fatal but annoying and infectious fungal infection). Our vet sentenced him to quarantine for 8 weeks. His ringworm was so virulent, that he ended up spending 11 weeks locked in the guest bedroom. It turns out that he was also infested with fleas. Each week when I'd take him to the vet for his ringworm bath, they gave him a flea pill. It would kill the fleas on him for about one day, but by the end of the week he'd be covered again. We couldn't use a topical treatment because he was getting a bath every week. And I couldn't spray the room because that's where he was living. And even though I vacuumed and washed the surfaces with bleach (to kill the ringworm) every week when he was at the vet's office, the fleas managed to lay eggs all over the room. So when our kitten was finally given the all clear for ringworm and I set out to convert the cat quarantine back into a guest room, the fleas were everywhere and really hungry. Within seconds of walking into the room barefoot, I could see 4-6 fleas on my skin. Although the fleas seemed to be contained in this one room, I was afraid that they would spread quickly to the rest of the house. One flea can lay a lot of eggs. All the pets were on serious flea treatment, but the dogs were starting to scratch a lot.  I was at my wits end and ready to just flea bomb the house. But it would be complicated with a fish tank, 2 indoor cats, and my own sensitivity and concern for spraying chemicals.

I read up on flea control online and came across a chemical free product that used a light to attract fleas. From all the comments I read, it sounded pretty effective. I tried to find a place to buy one and happened on a site telling how to make one yourself. I decided to give it a shot. Wow! It really does the trick! It's so easy. Just plug a night light in an outlet close to the floor and set up a shallow pan (I had a disposable aluminum cookie sheet) just under the light. Pour a shallow layer of water into the pan (you don't need much to drown a flea) and add a couple of drops of dish soap. The dish soap breaks the surface tension so the fleas can't float on the surface. The light attracts the fleas, they jump towards the light, but fall into the water on the tray and drown. Within a couple of hours I'd caught 25 fleas. A day later, I checked again and found about 10 more fleas. Fewer and fewer fleas jumped onto my feet. Within 2 weeks, using the trap and frequent vacuuming to get the eggs, we seem to be flea free. I'm feeling pretty pleased. The critters aren't scratching as much, my ankles are feeling better, and the house may not have to be sprayed. What's really cool is that I got rid of the fleas by being able to understand their behavior and use that against them.

Cheap, Homemade, and Effective Flea Trap (See the fleas?)
I think it is really important for us to do our best to limit chemical pest control by using it sparingly and judiciously. We keep learning more about unintended consequences of chemical use. Recently I read an article blaming bee colony collapse on the use of certain field pesticides that confuse the bees so they can't return to their nests. And over-use of chemicals and drugs can lead to resistance. We all know about antibiotic abuse. Our vet has had us change flea treatment for our dogs from our previous topical treatment. I thought the old stuff was very effective, but she told me that the fleas have adapted and are no longer responding to it. I am not against chemicals and drugs for improving our quality of life. Good crop yields are necessary for feeding millions of people worldwide. Malaria is awful. No one should get polio in this day and age. But wanton use of DDT almost killed off the Bald Eagle and California Condor. We've got to be careful. I will jump at any opportunity I have to take care of pest problems without causing other environmental problems. This one seems pretty effective and safe.

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