While most Garden Buffs can hardly wait for spring and summer to arrive, many pet owners fear this lovely time of year. They know it’s the beginning of flea and tick season. While the exact time when these tiny pests appear en masse to torture pets and humans alike may vary, a wise Pet Owner starts to prepare for their arrival as the snow melts, flowers bloom or the temperatures start to climb.
Preparation can help avoid infestation. Flea and ticks may seem like super-pests that are able to thwart even professional efforts to get and keep them out, but they are not as tough as you might think. In most cases, people actually invite these pests on to their property and into their homes by their action or inaction. They do this by creating a flea and tick friendly environment.
I received a letter from a big city apartment dweller a few years ago. He had a small dog and lived in a clean, well-kept New York City apartment. He took stellar care of his dog, had his place professionally cleaned and always made sure that his pet avoided contact with other animals and areas likely to be infested. Despite all these precautions, his pet always ended up with fleas. Having lived in the Big Apple myself for a number of years, I knew that his problem was a common one. People who live in urban areas or clean suburban neighborhoods fail to understand how their pets get flea and tick infestations. Well, it’s a lot easier than you might think.
During my days in New York City, I watched more then a few people walk their pets near trees. I mean, when a dogs gotta go, they’ve gotta go! The problem is that almost all trees in urban or suburban settings have grass, weeds or some other form of flora near or around them. That grass is rarely trimmed to proper standards. Fleas love tall grass because it’s just a hop, skip and jump to the next animal that happens along to use the nearby tree as an animal restroom. Ticks also have a field day with these areas. Animals free and clear of these tiny pests interact with infested pets and you know the rest of the story.
There are just no shortcuts to preventing flea and tick infestation. It is all about cleanliness, vigilance and making the right choices. Providing a clean and well-kept environment for your pet is the best way to avoid infestation. Problem areas include refuse storage, lawns, trees, plants and bushes. Problem situations include contact with other animals and exposure to environments outside of your residence.
Let’s begin with the garbage. Refuse areas are the perfect breeding ground for all kinds of pests. Keeping the inside and outside of garbage containers clean and making sure they are tightly covered is a step in the right direction. However, you also have to be sure that pets cannot get near or have regular contact with the containers or the area where they are kept. Pets are attracted to the smell of garbage (which you might not even be able to detect). So are other animals. Birds and various animal visitors to your property can bring unwelcome pests. These pests can end up infesting your pets. Refuse areas should be fenced off or placed outside of your pet‘s roaming area. Bird feeders should be placed away from areas where your pet eats, drinks or exercises.
Wild birds carry a number of tiny pests and diseases that can seriously affect the health of domesticated pets. When birds use pet water bowls to drink or bath, they can pass all kinds of health problems along to your animals. A large or concentrated number of bird droppings are also a major problem. While you cannot avoid having birds visit your yard or balcony, you can help limit their access to your pet by not going out of your way to welcome large numbers of them. Feed and water your pets inside. Avoid Bird Feeders if you have pets that eat, drink or exercise nearby. Keep pets inside when you seed your lawn.
The best way to place a NO VACANCY sign on your property when it comes to fleas and ticks is to avoid creating a pest friendly environment. Keep your lawn, trees and bushes trimmed. Use small portable gardening fences or other means of containment to keep your pet away from areas between bushes, small trees, gardens and your house. Purchase flea and tick preventive lawn sprays. These attach to your garden hose and allow the spray to be easily applied to your lawn, trees, plants and bushes. Most of these spray products are available at large pet or department stores. Outside areas should be sprayed once a month from March until October (and later if temperatures remain mild). If your pet has access to a balcony, patio, deck or garage, these areas need to be kept clean as well and may also be treated with anti-flea and tick sprays available in aerosol cans.
Dog Houses, concrete Pet Runs and containment areas can become havens for all kinds of bacteria, pests and disease. Unless you have a specific need to have these artificial areas on your property, don’t bother with them. Your pet is better off without them. These kinds of areas require a huge amount of maintenance and cleaning. Even when properly maintained and cleaned, it’s difficult to keep these structures free of troublesome pests.
Once you get the clean pet area thing down, you have another big hurdle to jump. Spring is the perfect time to take advantage of public picnic and park facilities. We all love to take our pets to the park and show them off. Well, fleas and ticks love that too. As pets meet and mingle, all kinds of pests and health threats rear their ugly heads to threaten your beloved pet. That is why it’s smart to stay away from public areas with lots of other pets, wild animals, tall grass and poorly maintained flora.
If you’ve got Spring Fever, curb your enthusiasm and keep your pet safe. I just cringe when I see people bring their pets out to public areas and allow them to run all over the place unleashed. That’s wrong on so many levels and it is an even bigger problem during flea and tick season. Maybe they watched too many Lassie reruns and have a vision of their dog running across a high grass meadow to save old Mister Hobbs who had a heart attack while plowing his field? Perhaps they saw Free Willy, all the sequels and want to give their pet a respite from the gated existence they endure as domesticated pets? Either way, letting your pet run free in public areas is not doing them or any one else any favors (except fleas and tick, they love you for it).
Another way to help keep your pet free of pests is by keeping the outside from coming inside. During the 1970s, everyone wanted to be Grizzly Adams. My mother loved to go walking out in the country (as long as it consisted of meadows off any one of a number of local expressways, parkways or highways). She brought all kinds of wild plants and berries into the house from those places. My favorite was the time that she decided to make Dandelion Wine, spent a couple of days collecting Dandelions and a couple of months trying to get the vile brew to taste like something someone would actually drink.
After any one of her attempts to get closer to nature, our home quickly filled with wild flora and all kinds of annoying flies, tiny flying insects and other annoying bugs that came along for the ride or were attracted by them. My Mom got really mad at me when I kept insisting that she had caused a fly with a human head to be brought into the house after collecting a bunch of wild plants and ferns from near an old research laboratory. I think the fly kept saying, “Help ME…Help ME!” The object lesson here is to keep inside plants and wild foliage brought in from the outside away from your pets. Trudging around nature and making it welcome in your dwelling can bring many tiny pests into your pet’s environment. May I suggest getting your inside flora from a reputable Nursery?
Because fleas and ticks have become such a big problem, there are now a number of indoor and outdoor chemical treatments available for your pet and their environment. Given the possible repercussions of exposing a pet to any chemicals, I suggestion you ask your Veterinarian for their input on these choices before using any. They are some natural choices that produce the same result.
A natural flea repellent can be produced by cutting up a lemon, allowing it to sit in a spray bottle overnight and then spaying it liberally on your dog. Avoid their eyes, but spray behind their ears. The spray can also be used on your pet‘s environment. A small amount of eucalyptus oil can be added to the final rinse of your pet’s bedding to help keep those tiny varmints away. Fleas hate salt and it can kill them. If your dwelling is really hopping with fleas, apply a thin layer of salt to your floor, carpet and furniture, then vacuum. You will be surprised how effective salt can be against all kinds of annoying pests. Dogs who need a flea bath can be bathed with some Lavender oil. And then there’s the G-Bomb. Dogs hate garlic, but so do fleas and ticks. Garlic can be added to a nice piece of meat or chicken. When you pet sweats, they drop the G-Bomb on pests.
When it comes to fleas and ticks, they always prefer to come into a pest friendly environment. The best way to keep fleas and ticks away from your pet, your housing and yourself is by making sure that you do not put out a WELCOME sign. Keep your pet and their environment clean and well groomed. Pest proof your dwelling. Use common sense when taking your pet outside or away from home. Like poor relatives, it’s much easier to keep these pests out then to make them leave once they have found a nice place to stay.