What are the most effective, cat-safe methods, both organic and not, of...
What are the most effective, cat-safe methods, both organic and not, of treating a residential lawn and landscaping to eliminate and prevent fleas? What are the pros and cons of each? (Neighbors' cats and dogs roam through our yard, as do deer, coyotes, foxes, and other wildlife, if that influences the consideration.) We had intended to cultivate a pesticide-free butterfly- and bee-friendly yard, but we have to deal with the fleas! (Our indoor cat occasionally escapes outside, and so acquired fleas, despite monthly topical flea treatments.) Also, besides frequent vacuuming, is there a safe treatment for inside the home? We, and our cat, look forward to your response. Thank you very much!
Flea control is best achieved with simultaneous coordinated efforts involving the pet, plus premises treatment. Adult fleas spend most of their time on the pet. Adults lay eggs on the pet but the eggs soon fall off the animal into carpeting, beneath furniture, and wherever else the pet rests, sleeps, or spends much of the time. After the eggs hatch, they develop into wormlike larvae which do not affect the pet. The larvae pupate and remain in the area until becoming fleas.
Regular preventive treatment of pets is the most reliable way of keeping them free of fleas. Non-chemical treatment of the home would include repellants which are only for humans being bitten. Biological treatments include diatomaceous earth which could be sprinkled in corners of rooms and near furniture where the pet sleeps. It causes dehydration of the fleas. After a period, you need to vacuum it up. There are numerous botanical products on the market that claim to be effective against fleas. The most common of these are pyrethrum based products. Unfortunately many flea populations are resistant to natural pyrethrums as well as synthetic versions, pyrethrins. Frequent vacuuming (every other day) has been shown to remove up to 95% of flea eggs, some larvae, and adults. A steam extraction carpet cleaner is effective in killing all stages of fleas.
Chemical flea control, insecticides, would be used where fleas have become well established in the home. To determine if there is a problem in the home, utilize the white sock test. This involves walking through the house wearing long white socks. The fleas attracted by the warmth and movement as you walk will jump to your feet and ankles. It is easy to see their dark bodies against the white background of the socks. There are literally hundreds of products on the market for control of fleas on premises. The most effective formulations contain both an adulticide (permethrin) effective against the biting adult stage and an insect growth regulator (methoprene or pyriproxyfen) necessary to provide long term suppression of the eggs. Insect growth regulators are virtually non-toxic to people and animals. Read the “active ingredients” panel on the product label to determine if these ingredients are present. Examples mentioned by the University of Kentucky include: Raid Flea Killer Plus, Siphotrol Plus, BioFleaHalt, and Fletrol. Most home owners will find aerosol formulations easier to apply than liquids. If insecticides are used, pets and people other than the person performing the application should be out of the house until the treated surfaces are completely dry. Read and follow all label directions. Expect to see some fleas for two weeks or longer following treatment. These are likely newly emerged adults which have not yet succumbed to the insecticide. Instead of re-treating, continue to vacuum.
Treating the outside of the house is usually only necessary if the pet spends most of its time outdoors. It is seldom necessary to treat the entire yard but just areas where the pet rests, sleeps, etc. An insecticide label for insect/flea control outdoors would be used. Read the label to determine restrictions regarding pets.
Proper use of an insecticide for fleas should have little effect on the butterfly/bee garden as those insects and larvae are primarily interested in the flower and leaves of the plant and not the lawn area.
Sources: The Extension Services of Ohio State University, University of Kentucky, and University of Minnesota.