This summer, I got two kittens of my very own, and I am completely obsessed with them. They are orange calico brothers named Ender and Bean. As I will my own children, I am trying to raise E&B in the most eco-friendly manner possible. (In fact, these two sometimes make me question having human babies at all, first because they are such a handful as it is, and second because I honestly fear that I will love my cats more than my children. But that’s another story.)
I adopted them as 11-week-old neutered kittens from a shelter, which addressed two of the biggest green-pet criteria and helped to quell a tiny part of the unwanted-pet cycle. I feed them Nutro Complete Care dry food, and Merrick canned entrees with names like California Roll and Grammy’s Pot Pie — made with USDA-inspected, and even some organic, meats. Their natural litter, aptly named World’s Best Cat Litter, is made from whole-kernel corn, has no toxic additives, and is safely flushable. I’ve even incorporated an element of re-use into their playtime — they love to chase empty toilet-paper rolls and beer-bottle caps before I dispose of them.
But by violating one important green-pet rule — succumbing to guilt and allowing my cats to frolic outside like the wild creatures they are — I found myself with an environmental quandary — how to get rid of fleas without bombing my apartment with potentially harmful chemicals.
The active insecticides in many home flea treatments (organophosphates, fipronil, iminacloprid) are nerve poisons that kill insects by inhibiting proper function in their brains and spinal cords. They are toxic enough to require that we remove ourselves and our pets, as well as our dishes and bedding, from the house before use. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, such chemicals can harm humans and pets as well as fleas, especially with long-term exposure. If pregnant women are advised to avoid contact with these pesticides (because they could cause birth defects), did I really want to blanket my home with them?
The answer was no, but I also didn’t want to leave my cats in itchy agony. Troublingly, the same chemicals are used in topical anti-flea treatments such as Advantage or Frontline. Some greenies reject them entirely, resorting instead to essential-oil sprays (such as those containing citronella, pennyroyal, or cedarwood oils), or by adding brewer’s yeast to their pets’ food (which supposedly makes the animal’s blood bitter and unpalatable to insects). I tried a store-bought natural flea spray that combined various oils, but that seemed ineffective.
Ultimately, I made the potentially controversial, vet-counseled decision to use monthly applications of Advantage, which addresses my cats’ discomfort while helping to kill the next flea generation around the house.
I also sprinkled a mix of Borax and salt into carpets and crevices and then vacuumed; boric acid is often recommended as a less-toxic chemical pesticide, and the combo of salt and Borax dries out the fleas’ living environment. Another option would have been to order DIY flea-control products from Fleabusters, “a unique alternative to liquid pesticides and foggers...[that] kills fleas physically rather than chemically.”
Perhaps most importantly, I stopped letting the little guys outside, which the Humane Society of the United States estimates could gain E&B an extra 10 years each. It could also ensure that once I get rid of this cycle of fleas, I can stop using the harsh stuff and switch to more natural preventatives.
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Deirdre Fulton: firstname.lastname@example.org