I’ve complained before about how bad the fleas are here in Oakland. And the item in my plastic tally that makes me the saddest are the packages of Frontline flea killer that occasionally show up. They make me sad not so much because of the plastic packaging but the toxicity of the chemicals inside.
Frontline is made from a combination of fipronil and s-methoprene.
Environmental Impact of Fipronil
According to the National Pesticide Information Center’s fact sheet on fipronil(PDF),
- The U.S. EPA has classified fipronil as “Group C – possible human carcinogen,” based on “increases in thyroid follicular cell tumors in both sexes of the rat.”
- Fipronil is highly toxic to bobwhite quail and pheasants
- Fipronil is highly to very highly toxic to marine and freshwater fish and freshwater invertebrates, including oysters.
- Fipronil is highly toxic to honeybees!
That last item is what worries me the most, as honeybee populations have been declining at an alarming rate. Honeybees pollinate approximately 1/3 of U.S. crops. Without them, there goes much of our food supply. I’m not saying fipronil is responsible for Colony Collapse Disorder, but I sure wish I didn’t have to use a flea treatment that could contribute to it.
Fortunately for the bees, our cats never go outside, so the environmental impact of the stuff pretty much stays in our house and affects the cats and Michael and me. If we had kids, they would be exposed to it too.
Environmental Impact of S-Methoprene
S-Methoprene is a hormone disruptor meant to inhibit juvenile insects from maturing into adults, and thus breaking the reproductive cycle of fleas and mosquitoes.
Methoprene has been implicated in the development of deformities in some frog species.
There is also debate about whether or not Methoprene can affect lobster populations, lobsters being distantly related to mosquitoes apparently. A 2005 study published in the journal Integrative and Comparative Biology found that low levels of methoprene had adverse effects on lobster larvae (PDF of full article).
Looking for a Natural Flea Killer/Deterrent
Well, not wanting to contribute more toxic chemicals to the environment and our home, I have sought out less harmful alternatives. Less harmful to us. Harmful, of course, to the fleas that are driving our kitties crazy.
Challenges we face:
1) Wall-to-wall carpet that cannot be removed. We are renters, so we can’t do anything about the carpet, in which fleas love to hide. And we can’t really afford to buy a Dyson.
2) Sensitive nervous systems of cats. Unfortunately, cat nervous systems are not like dogs’. What might work for a dog could kill a cat. Garlic, for example, will repel fleas but is hazardous to cats. Similarly, you have to be careful with essential oils and cats.
Steps We Have Taken
1) Keep the cats inside. They NEVER go out.
2) Take off our shoes when entering the house. We have always done this. And yet the fleas get in anyway, even though we live on the top floor. How is this happening?
3) Washing the kitties with peppermint soap (since peppermint apparently repels fleas.)
Effect of peppermint soap: two pissed off cats and not much (if any) effect on fleas. Soots was scratching again as soon as he dried off.
4) Sprinkling salt all over the carpet:
Result: Crunchy carpet. No discernible decrease in fleas.
5) Diatomaceous Earth. The jury is out. This morning, I vacuumed up all the salt and replaced it with a liberal coating of diatomaceous earth, which is made from the fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of hard-shelled algae.
Unfortunately, what makes this test less than scientific is that I also gave up and administered another dose of Frontline last week. I just couldn’t watch them scratch anymore. So who knows if the diatomaceous earth will help or not? We won’t be able to tell this time around.
And also? I’m worried that I shouldn’t have sprinkled so much d.e. on the carpet. The box warning says to avoid breathing the stuff. I would imagine the effect is similar to breathing sheet rock dust, which construction workers wear masks to avoid. Sitting here typing, I think I feel the stuff in my nose and throat. But that could just be my hypochondria acting up again. Nevertheless, I opened some windows just in case.
My concern: Will the cats kick up the dust and breathe it, running across the floor during the night time crazies? And should I be concerned?
Your Flea Treatment Suggestions
So, what has worked for your cats? Once again, please keep in mind that cats are not just small dogs. If you’ve tried something non-hazardous to cats, humans, bees, and any other animals besides fleas, ticks, or mosquitoes, please let me know! Oh, and the treatment doesn’t actually have to kill the fleas as long as it keeps them off our kitties and us.
In addition to being a cry for help, this post is my contribution to this week’s Spring Cleaning Get the Junk Out Carnival focusing on pesticides. You can read the carnival posts about the problems with pesticides and how to avoid them here and here.