Getting Rid of Fleas and Ticks

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The generally ineffective canine solution to fleas and ticks.

In a prior issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS Larry and Nina Knapp ask about getting rid of fleas and ticks in their house . . . we recently went through a similar problem and were turned on to a very sane cure.

What we discovered was silica gel, the main ingredient in two commercially available products called “Dry-Die” and “Superkill” (although we’ve seen these only in hardware stores).

Silica gel has been used experimentally as a permanent termite control sprinkled in a building during construction. Its effectiveness comes from the fact that it’s extremely absorbent . . . when it touches an insect’s shell, it actually dries a hole in it and then goes on to dehydrate the critter.

Because insects have exoskeletons, they’re the only ones affected by silica gel . . . and if it’s sprinkled into carpets and chairs, it lasts long enough to kill the eggs left by fleas and their ilk. Of course, the best part about the stuff is that it isn’t a nerve gas type of insecticide . . . it’s totally non-toxic to folks and other animals.

David and Jackie Browning
Brownsville, Ore.

Hope this will help Larry and Nina with the flea and tick problem. We’ve found an inexpensive solution, but it only works if you’re going on vacation. (Go camping for a weekend if you have to!)

Buy several boxes of naphthalene flakes . . . we usually use one box plus per 16′ x 16′ room. When you’re ready to go, get dogs and everybody out of the house, close the windows and doors and sling the flakes liberally all over the floor. Be sure to get plenty in the corners and the cracks in boards and linoleum. Then get yourself out fast! The fumes from the flakes aren’t pleasant (and may even be dangerous) to people, but are lethal to fleas.

Stay away as long as you can . . we’ve had luck leaving the flakes down for a weekend, but a week would be better. When you come back, reverse the procedure: Leave the animals outside, open windows and doors and then clean up the flakes that are left (they dissolve with exposure to air). Note: If you vacuum, be prepared to throw away the bag, or you’ll recycle the smell of mothballs every time you use the appliance.

I have no idea whether this idea works on ticks, because we’ve never had a problem with them in the house. We think prevention is the best answer for them and we inspect our dog daily for the pests and try to bathe him regularly in a special dip our vet gave us. Ask your veterinarian what to use . . . the commercial soaps aren’t worth the boxes they come in.

More on prevention: Keep weeds and brush under control and, if you must, use a pesticide such as chlordane. (We haven’t done this, but a county health official here suggests it if the situation is desperate.

Please remember that ticks are dangerous, especially in summer. They can carry spotted tick fever, which may be fatal . . . especially, if it isn’t treated in time. It looks and feels a lot like flu, so it’s very tricky. If you pull a tick off your dog, never squash it with a finger or fingernail . . . that’s a good way to get infected.

Hope this works for you, Larry and Nina. Good luck, and than MOTHER for being a go-between.

Debbi K
Durham, N.C.

Fleas on dogs could probably be handled by powdered pennyroyal, also called tickweed, which is probably good for ticks, too . . . it does a thorough job on goat lice. Indiana Botanic Gardens, Hammond, Indiana carries the American pennyroyal. But don’t let anyone tell you that herbs don’t have side effects . . . some do.

Orissa Rines
Alton, N.H.

Larry and Nina Knapp asked in Dear MOTHER for a remedy for ticks. Had the same problem myself in Arizona–our house, three dogs were full of them–and found a remedy that really works. Purina Dog Powder (from your Purina Chow dealer) is great stuff. It smells like talcum powder and keeps the animals free from ticks, fleas, lice, etc. Even the house became free of the pests (they would crawl on the dogs every night but be killed by the powder as soon as they did. We used to pick ticks off our pets by the hundreds every evening . . . but after we applied this powder several times our dogs became completely free of the pests. I wouldn’t be without it.

Mrs. R.L. Sossaman
Riverside, Calif.

Readers who aren’t dead set against all chemical pest control method might want to try the Purina product. Our veterinary consultant, however, tells us that although it’s not harmful to dogs, the Purina “cure” should never be used on cats because some of its ingredients are toxic to them . . . which would also make me think twice about having the product around humans.–MOTHER.