I rolled Buffy onto her back and saw a tiny flea run across her belly. I ran for the flea comb, telling her to ‘stay’. Of course she didn’t, and I had to flip her on her back while I searched through her shaved fur to find the little bugger. A quick flash of brown and the flea ran again as I tried to scoop it up with the flea comb. But it was too fast and small, sneaking between the comb’s fine teeth. I checked the calendar, when did I last put Frontline flea preventative on her?
The calendar showed two weeks ago, so maybe this flea just jumped on her from her recent excursion to the backyard. If the flea bites Buffy, it should die, preventing any buildup. When I re-checked Buffy a few hours later she seemed free of fleas and flea dirt (which are really eggs). Good. No worries.
Until eight years ago, I never used flea or tick preventative, thinking the chemicals were worse than just being diligent about keeping the flea population low. Poor Cassie, and Kaylee, another springer, I owned before her. From the middle of July until the first good frost in November, I checked my dogs bellies daily for fleas and combed their fur with a fine flea comb. I sat on the kitchen floor with a cup half full of water with a drop of dishwashing detergent. As I caught fleas I tossed them into the water and watched them sink and drown, (soap broke the surface tension so the fleas sank). Some days I caught twenty or more. If their numbers became too high I scooted the dog to the basement for a flea bath. They hated the ten minute soak while the soap killed any fleas. But the effects of the flea bath didn’t last. A few hours later I might find more fleas on the dog.
I vacuumed all the rugs, sometimes twice daily to get rid of fleas, not wanting them to overwinter in my house. I often threw my bed covers in the dryer hoping to kill any fleas that might lurk in them from when my dog laid on the bed. I also washed dog beds frequently. But often, all this work only kept down the fleas—it didn’t eliminate them.
When I lived in a log cabin house with actual logs for the walls, I never got rid of the fleas. Year round they lived, somehow finding hiding places between the logs. But when I moved to a frame house, I felt joyous at not finding any fleas on my dog after the first frost, finally able to take a break from my flea vigil.
But what a fool I was wasting all this time to be chemical-free. In late October of 2006, over the course of about six hours, Cassie’s limbs became paralyzed. While the vets were trying to diagnose her condition, one of their concerns was the possibility of a tick-borne paralysis. A month before, I had found hundreds of deer ticks on Cassie, which I eliminated by using a chemical treatment. But Cassie had developed Coonhound Paralysis, an autoimmune disease that affected her for a week. After spending a small fortune at the emergency vet for five days of observation, I decided to follow the vet’s advice and use a flea and tick preventative.
I never looked back. No longer do I have to spend so much time and energy trying to reduce the flea population. Yes my dogs still get a few fleas and ticks, but they die within a few hours, and the chemicals have made their lives much healthier.