Home Remedies: Using Salt for Fleas (and other natural remedies)

Once upon a time, I didn't have a cat.

[Cut for the bug squick, click through for more:]



But somehow our apartment was infested with fleas. And so was my parents' house, who did have a cat. We used the moth balls method, because I'd gotten pesticide poisoning from lice treatment and was warned never to do that or flea bombs again. But from the moth balls I got formaldehyde poisoning and was sick for a week. It was awful.

As a result, when my roommate's cat brought home a tasty bed of fleas, and he refused to deal with it, I had to spend some time figuring out how to do so without risking pesticide poisoning again. This essay is a result of that, and multiple treatments to nail down my methods (due to moving into houses already infested, and a cat that refused to stay inside).

There are for the most part two kinds of fleas in North America:
* Dog fleas, which can feed on dogs & cats & humans just fine but thankfully aren't as common; and
* Cat fleas which will feed on everything but can't actually gain nourishment from anything but cats, which means if you don't have a cat they die out on their own, however if you do you might not notice them except on the cat.

Cat fleas have a lot more longevity, and none of the flea bombs I researched worked to get rid of the eggs and were not rated for larvae. So you'd have to keep doing it. Also obnoxious is that fleas like to come in on pant legs and shoes, so you can get them even if you don't have an outdoor cat. Promise, this doesn't mean you're dirty.

This will work on either one. The salt works to break down the exoskeletons of the fleas, and dehydrate them at every level - egg, larvae, and adult. The flea bath soothes the wounds from the flea bites, and repels the fleas. If you can feed your cat garlic, it will also help keep them away (great preventative if your kitty likes to go outside a lot). The salt can get eaten by your pets, so they may get dehydrated. Watch them for that, but that issue is addressed. So without further ado...

Make a flea bath. 

What you need: 
2-3 cups of water
Fresh rosemary
Lemon/orange/citrus
Garlic (fresh or ground, totally up to you)
Apple cider vinegar

Simmer the rosemary, garlic and citrus in water for 10 minutes (and if you are missing any one or two of those ingredients, that's ok, you just may have to repeat more times). Pull off the heat and let cool to baby bathwater temp (warm to the touch but not hot).

Add enough apple cider vinegar to make a roughly 10:1 ratio of rosemary tea to vinegar. Less than two tablespoons per cup. Keep in mind that the vinegar will burn your cat's nose so don't go overboard.

Apply this tea to your cat with a washcloth. Anything you can get on them is good, if you can get a good bath on them great, but if not you will just have to reapply a few times. Focus on that neck area where flea meds are supposed to go; the fleas love that spot anyway. Also the base of the tale. I try to saturate my washcloth and let that soak through the fur.

Apply this tea to your ankles and feet before the salt step. The fleas will be angry and try to bite you to survive. The tea will help prevent this.

The Salting Part:

What you will need:
Sifter/mesh strainer
Salt (a 5lb bag did my 3 bedroom townhouse alright)
Vacuum, with either no bags or a few extras

Vacuum the crap out of your carpet first. Move your furniture around; you're about to anyway, so don't worry about replacement.

Get a mesh strainer/sifter. Handle preferred. They have these at the dollar store. Scoop salt into the strainer and use it to sift salt all over the carpet and any upholstered furniture. Get the salt into the cracks of the furniture, and the edges of the carpet. Fleas like to hide in dark cracks. You can salt the trim in rooms with wood floors, but it won't help to salt the wood floors themselves. Use a broom to help distribute the salt sort of evenly. You don't want gaps, and giant piles don't really help.

Place bowls of water in the center of the room. The fleas are attracted to white, so that's best, but any will do. The fleas may try to jump into the water to rehydrate, so you need something to break the surface tension. Your pets may get salt on them and need extra hydration, so these bowls serve double duty (you can also feed your pets wet food for the duration, that will help). Some recommendations say to use a drop of soap in them, but that will make your pets sick. However, a few drops of vinegar will break the surface tension AND increase water absorption in your pets, just like how humans crave acidic things on hot days like lemonade and iced tea. WIN WIN. Replace the bowls of water every day.

Leave the salt on your carpet for 24-72 hours depending on schedules and infestation level. Wear slippers or flip flops around the house for this time, the salt on your feet feels weird and makes wooden floors slippery.

Vacuum. Everything. Twice. Maybe three times. Start in one corner and do it systematically. Don't move furniture more times than you have to.

For each square of the room: Do a cursory once-over to get the majority of the salt up. Empty the vacuum canister. Then go back over it and drag the vacuum back verrrrrry slowly. If you need to, empty it again. Then do the next square of the room. Vacuum furniture before you put it onto vacuumed carpet. If you still feel salty after you've done the whole room, do another once-over. You will still be getting salt out of your carpets for the next month anyway.

Do this for every place you put salt. That's it. No re-do's unless you get reinfested. The rosemary tea will help the pets repel more and get rid of the ones they had. Regular vacuuming will prevent most reinfestations, I try to aim for twice a week because of this and my cat allergies.

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And because it's related: I will try to post later this week about how to get rid of lice without chemical pesticide shampoos. 

Comments

  1. You might want to skip feeding garlic to your cats and dogs. This is from the ASPC website:
    Onions and Garlic

    All members of the onion family (shallots, onions, garlic, scallions, etc.) contain compounds that can damage cats’ red blood cells if eaten in sufficient quantities. Garlic tends to be more toxic than onions on an ounce-for-ounce basis, and cooking does not destroy the toxin. While it’s uncommon for cats to eat enough raw onions and garlic to cause serious problems, exposure to concentrated forms of onion or garlic, such as dehydrated onions, onion soup mix or garlic powder, can put cats at risk of toxicosis (poisoning). For example, some sick cats who are fed baby food containing onion powder develop anemia. The damage to red blood cells caused by onions and garlic generally doesn’t become apparent until three to five days after ingestion. Affected cats might seem weak or reluctant to move, or they might have pale gums. Their urine can be orange-tinged to dark red. Cats with any of these symptoms should be examined by a veterinarian immediately. In severe cases, blood transfusions may be necessary.

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    1. Thanks for sharing that, Harmonie! It was our vet who originally suggested the garlic trick, so I never would have guessed it was unsafe! Certainly as with all things and especially home remedies, I recommend that people do research, ask their doctors/vets/an expert, and make their choices from there.

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