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By Jennifer Kvamme, DVM
If your pets have fleas and/or ticks, you have no doubt gone to great lengths to treat them and to control the fleas and ticks. You have probably vacuumed the house and car from top to bottom, and washed everything in sight in your efforts to get rid of these pesky blood sucking parasites. But there is yet another step you will need to take to make sure all your efforts are worthwhile.
Many people forget that their pets also spend time outside in the yard. If your dog or cat spends a lot of time outdoors, this will be where the majority of the flea population is also living. Even if you have treated your pet for the fleas, the problem may persist because the fleas still have a proximal advantage to your home. And remember, fleas can live on your blood, too, not just your pet’s. So, along with the inside of the house, you will need to give the yard some attention in order to bring an infestation under control.
Look around your yard. Identifying the areas where fleas and ticks are likely to live is fairly easy. Fleas love to congregate in places where they are protected from bright sunlight and that have slightly higher humidity. This includes your dog’s house, sleeping and feeding areas, and underneath lawn structures. Ticks, on the other hand, do best in tall grasses and branches, where they can climb up to grab onto a passing animal or human.
A cheap and easy way to reduce flea and tick populations in your yard is to keep the grass, trees and shrubs trimmed and orderly. Clean up all of the piles of debris and leaves that may be littering the ground. Sweep off patios and under decks and lawn furniture. Remove or secure any garbage bins that may attract rodents or small animals that could be carrying fleas and ticks.
Unless you have a major infestation, keeping the yard clean and debris-free should help break the flea and tick life cycle. You may not need to use chemical treatments in your yard, but if it becomes necessary, make sure to read the labels carefully before choosing which one to use.
This last precaution is very important, since some chemicals can be harmful to pets, fish, and humans, so be sure you know the correct way to use them before you use them, and follow all application directions closely. If you are using the chemical outdoors, look for a chemical that is specifically labeled for outdoor use, otherwise you might be wasting your money on a product that will break down in sunlight and humidity/rain.
Flea treatment should only be necessary in the shady, humid areas of the yard, where fleas like to congregate. Open areas that get plenty of bright sunlight won’t need to be sprayed. Focus on areas under bushes, trees, decks, dog pens, and such. This will help control the immature stages of fleas that make up the majority of the population.
As an alternative to chemicals, you may consider using beneficial nematodes in the yard. These are microscopic worms found naturally in the dirt. Application of nematodes is done with a sprayer or spreader. These types of worms are not parasitic to mammals and do not affect humans, pets or plants.
What they do is actively seek insects, such as fleas, inserting themselves into the immature insect’s body. The nematodes then send out a toxin that kills the fleas within a short period of time. The nematodes are able to reproduce in the yard where they have been released, and their effects will last for several months.
Other options may be to spread an abrading agent, such as diatomaceous earth, on the lawn. This product is made from the ground-up bodies of microscopic fossils; it works by drying out the bodies of adult fleas, thereby killing them. Look for a natural grade of diatomaceous earth in your garden or pet store. This dust works best when conditions are not very wet, so if you live in a very humid, rainy part of the country, where this product can be washed off or broken down by moisture, this may not be the best solution for your outdoor spaces.
No matter which method you choose to use in your home or yard to eliminate fleas and ticks, be sure to get advice from your veterinarian before use. Chemicals — and even naturally derived products — can be dangerous to animals when not used in the intended manner, or when an animal’s health is already at risk.
The term for an animal who has the ability to carry a disease or parasite