Getting rid of fleas in the yard and the house

August 14, 2008

We don't have any pets, but our neighbors insist on letting their cats roam outside and feeding feral cats. These cats love to come lounge in our wood chips and under our deck.

Over the past week, my family has been getting eaten by fleas. We assumed that this was from being in the yard, but last night my toddler girl came out of her room complaining of itching. We were horrified to discover multiple fresh flea bits all over her torso. We stripped her bed, and will "bomb" the house with a flea killing agent that combines permethrin with methoprene (an insect growth regulator).

Question 1: is there anything more we should do to eradicate the flea infestation from our home?

Question 2: what is the best way to eliminate the flea infestation in our yard? I bought a permethrin spray, which we'll apply to the areas that we suspect are harboring these pests, but what else should we do?


Comments (24)

  • silversword

    If you would like to go organic, get diatomaceous earth. You can google it for more info. You should be able to buy it at a feed store, pet store, or garden store. It's fairly inexpensive, and in my experience works. I hope you get your problem resolved soon!

    One thing I don't understand... why there are dog leash laws but no cat containment laws. We have the same issue, our neighbor's cats use our gardens for a litter box, constantly are trespassing in our yard and my DH is violently allergic to them. It's really an issue for us!

    Diatomaceous Earth (DE)

    100% Organic. Diatomaceous Earth is the finely ground fossils of prehistoric fresh water diatoms. Kills household and garden pests like cockroaches, ants, slugs, fleas, beetles and many other crawling insects. Works great indoors or out. Insects die within 48 hours of contact. Contains less than 0.1% Crystalline Silica. Food grade. OMRI Listed for use in organic production.


    Earwigs, Millipedes, Centipedes, Silverfish, Cockroaches, Ants:
    Lightly coat a thin layer in areas where these pests are found or may hide, such as cracks and crevices, behind and beneath refrigerators, cabinets, stoves, garbage cans and in and around sewer pipes and drains, window frames and in attics and basements. Dust insects directly if possible. Repeat treatment regularly.

    Thoroughly treat floor and bedding in and around pets' sleeping quarters. Treat surrounding cracks and crevices, baseboards, carpeting and wherever fleas are suspected.


    Ants, Cockroaches, Earwigs and Other Crawling Insects:
    Lightly coat a thin layer in areas where these insect pests are found such as patios, window and door frames, outdoor sills. Dust around foundations, along ant trails, and around sewer pipes and drains. Repeat treatment as necessary.

  • petzold6596

    There are products that claim to keep dogs and cats away from gardens. You can find them at most garden center. This has the potential to keep the cats away, thus reducing future infestations.

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  • petzold6596

    If you are going to use DE, wear long-sleeves, long pants, closed toed shoe, gloves and a dust mask. DE has very sharp edges, easily airborne and an irritant so be careful.

  • lel_h

    Thanks for the suggestions.

    I've tried several pet repellents, plus several methods suggested by a member of these forums, but nothing works that well. We have a Contech Scarecrow that works, but it also triggers when the wind is blowing hard, and doesn't work unless the cat passes in front of the sensor (which occurs maybe 50% of the time).

    I considered DE, but the area that we suspect harbors most of the fleas and eggs is pretty inaccessible unless some sort of spray application can be done. The area is under a large, low deck.

    As for the inside of the house, we can't tell where the fleas are hiding, so it would be hard to figure out where to apply DE.

    So frustrating. My wife woke up with two new bites this morning.

  • lel_h

    I just received an email through this forum from someone who inquired about my situation. She also seemed to indicate that she lets her cats roam her yard, and it has been effective in reducing the squirrel and roof rat problem, both of which can carry fleas. I can see that. Still, it is my opinion that cat owners should take some responsibility for their pets. Given the fact that there are virtually no squirrels or rats in our neighborhood, but lots and lots of cats, I have no doubt that the source of our fleas are the "free-range" pet cats and feral cats.

    Anyways, the Scarecrow is only mildly effective. We ended up having to use a ton of chemicals to treat the entire perimeter of the house multiple times. We had to "bomb" our house four times in order to kill the fleas that were hatching periodically. In the meantime, we accumulated dozens and dozens of flea bites. It was heartbreaking to see my 2 year old son crying and scratching at all these horrible bites.

    In the end, we have successfully eliminated fleas from our home, at least for now. I feel bad about having to use so much chemicals, which have now trickled into the groundwater. If the cat owners would just use a little Frontline on their pets, and if people would stop supporting the unspayed feral cat population, then maybe I wouldn't have to take such drastic measures.

  • calliope

    Have you ever actually seen fleas in your home? I'm not arguing, and am aware they can infest your lawns but I've never seen a home infested with fleas when it didn't have an animal living in it in the recent past. How long have you lived in your present home? I've heard cases of them pupating behind woodwork. Do you have carpet or solid floors?

  • lel_h

    Oh, we most definitely saw fleas in our home, usually in the beds as we stripped them. But we didn't need to see them to know they were there, because my children would wake up in the middle of the night with new bites, as mentioned in my original post.

    At the time we had the infestation, we had been in the house for over 2.5 years. The previous owner, who had lived in the house since it was built in 1970, did not have pets. We have hardwood floors throughout the house. The only rugs are in the bathroom. The infestation correlated with an increase in cat (some domestic, some feral) activity in the neighborhood. Our neighborhood association looked into a trapping program, but we decided against it because we did not want to inadvertently trap household cats. We didn't want to anger our neighbors, even though they ignored our pleas to keep their cats indoors.

    I should also add that because some owners leave food outside for their cats, they also unintentionally support the feral cat population.

    We assume that we brought the fleas in on our clothing. My kids and I love to play outside, and we would enter and exit the house many times a day.

    This is what we had to do, which was effective though time consuming.

    Outdoors: several treatments with Archer (an insect growth regulator) and Dragnet (insecticide) mixed together. This was delivered by a 20 gallon hose-end sprayer according to the instructions; I calculated the square footage of the area to be treated to make sure that I didn't exceed the recommended amounts. A perimeter extending 6 feet around the house was treated, as well as any wood chip areas in the garden. This was repeated every 3 weeks (I think; I don't remember the precise interval but it was supposed to take into account the life cycle of the fleas). I believe I treated the outdoor area at least 4 times.

    Indoor: We "bombed" the house 4 times using a product containing both an insect growth regulator and an insecticide. Admittedly, we used more bombs than we should have, but the flow of air from room to room was not great. Like the outdoor treatment, we spaced out each treatment by about 3 weeks. For the week after each bombing, we vacuumed the house every day - and I really mean every day. We focused especially on the baseboards and under the beds, where fleas and their eggs and pupae were likely to hide. The vacuuming was intended to both suck up the eggs and to stimulate the pupae to emerge through the IGR and insecticide. For the next two weeks before the next bombing, we vacuumed about every 2-3 days. If we were still getting bitten, then we'd repeat the process again.

    We're flea-free now, but cat activity is starting to pick up again. The resurrection of this thread reminded me to consider re-treating the perimeter of the house, before it becomes a very expensive and environmentally toxic endeavor again.

    I know that some of you think that I have a vendetta against cats. I do not, nor does my wife. We were both cat owners for 25 years until allergies to cat dander made it impossible to keep our pets. Years back, long before we moved into our current house, my wife used to volunteer for the Stanford Cat Network, a feral cat program which focused on the trapping, domestication, and spaying of cats roaming the campus, and feeding the spayed feral cats that could not be socialized. We love cats, and would love to own them again. We were always responsible owners and good neighbors, and we wish we could have the same consideration from our current neighbors.

  • calliope

    Oh no, I am not arguing at all that it couldn't be the case. Nor that you necessarily don't like cats. I just have seen bites resembling flea bites not caused by fleas. Fleas can indeed take a ride into your house on your pants legs. I have been a cat owner for ever, used to be a nurse and am now an horticulturist and always ask my clients if they have ever really seen the critter they assume is causing the problems. You'd be surprised at the number who haven't, but are sure anyway.

    Also I am empthathetic to the dilema of feral cats. It's a problem caused by people. I also am not in your geographic zone, and imagine this situation isn't as common in our climate as your's. Good luck and wish I could help.

  • maifleur01

    Vacuming the hardwood floors and dusting baseboards with Roach Proof will help. I agree with calliope that many flea bites are not from fleas but other things. Currently there is a reaccurance of bed bugs in all parts of the country which could leave blood specks in the bedding. A fellow worker thought they had flea bites but it turned out to be chiggers. When the right treatment was applied to the bites they went away. One thing about chiggers is that the spots seem to move from one area to another close area.

    You mentioned the cat population is growing. If you really think about it no population grows with a food supply. The food supply must be increasing in your area. The one year we had a bad problem with fleas we had a larger than normal squirrel population and when we put bird/squirrel food out you could see the fleas hopping onto our pant legs.

    Roach Proof active ingredient is boric acid. You can also carefully spray boric acid eye wash on the floor and baseboards. After allowing to dry you can if you are worried about residue wipe the area with a damp cloth. This will leave a little in the cracks. Do not allow anyone to walk in the sprayed area until dry.

  • lel_h

    Okay, I suppose it's possible that these things weren't fleas. But they looked like the fleas that my childhood cats would sometimes get - hard shell, dark brown, about the size of a pinhead, and able to jump remarkable distances.

    No blood spots to suggest bedbugs. We did inspect the batting and welting of the mattresses to see if we could find little bugs hanging out there. The fact that our problem responded to our treatments argues against bedbugs, because I understand those can be extremely difficult to eradicate, even with the best professional treatments. Hopefully this will never be an issue with us.

    maifleur, the food supply is definitely there for the cats. Like I mentioned in the original post and again yesterday, there are some cat owners who leave food out for their own cats, and thereby feed the feral cat population. There are some neighbors who don't have cats, but still put out food for the neighborhood and feral cats.

    I thought that boric acid could be kind of sticky/pasty when it gets wet. Since it gets a little humid in the summer around here (though not as bad as some areas), we weren't certain that we wanted to use boric acid. I forgot to also mention that in addition to bombing the house, we also used an aerosol spray to treat the baseboards.

    I'm just happy that we haven't had a problem. Hopefully I won't have to take such drastic measures again. I really don't like all the chemicals, but I felt like my back was against the wall.

    This has turned out to be a fascinating discussion. I appreciate the feedback!

  • maifleur01

    At first I thought you had a current problem. So sorry I was aiming at a shadow problem. However for those that may currently have the problem perhaps they can gain some insite from the following.

    Boric acid crystals can be worked into any thickness of solution from thick to thin. The eye wash solution is about as thin as you can get.

    What is described does sound like fleas however since you were finding them in bedding I have a couple of questions because fleas can jump up but from much that I have read in older books from the time that fleas and bedbugs were common is that a high bed will lessen the chances of infesting bedding. Did you have bedskirts on the beds, fleas can climb. Did you have a woven blanket on the beds. I had a triple layer blanket that fleas from my dog at the time would high in. Hot water took care of that problem.

    Although you do not have pets I would caution anyone that has a pet with fleas in the house not to use too many chemicals. I lost my dog to kidney failure shortly after the flea infestion. I used the bombs, sprays, chemical dog baths, animal sprays on Walter and in the house. The combination of chemicals was too much for his system.

    Some times the only solution are chemicals. I use some but also use the adage "Less is More".

  • calliope

    One sure way to detect if you have fleas in the house is to lay a yellow sticky card on the floor at night, and put a lamp to shine over it. Fleas will be attracted to the heat/light and jump for it and land in the traps. You'll find some stuck to the card in the morning. Some commercial flea traps use this method. A pie pan of water works too with some soap in it to break the surface tension so the flea can't land and then spring out. I am reluctant to suggest this, however, especially if there are kids or pets in the house who could topple over a gooseneck lamp and cause an unsafe situation having it near water and get shocked or electrocuted.

  • lel_h

    maifleur, I resurrected this thread when I received an unexpected email from a person who saw the original discussion and seemed to cast doubt on my statement that cats were responsible for our flea problem.

    calliope, we did try the lamp-and-soapy-water trap for one night, but just as you predicted might occur, my daughter woke up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and we found her reaching for the exposed light bulb. So we put an end to that experiment!

  • taz6122

    Cats are not responsible for your flea problem. Humans are. Why are animal control not involved in this? It's everyones responsibility to see that these Ferrel cats are caught and euthanised(?spelling?). While I'm not a fan of killing innocent animals, I'm also not a fan of sending an animal out into the wild that has been cared for it's whole life. I am the owner of two Rescued Persians that were about to get tossed into the street. Two females that are not spayed. They don't go outside and haven't had any fleas for 4 years. I have not sprayed or used FL on them in 4 years. DE does work well. BTW my fleas were immune to FL and FL plus, advntg is the stuff. Just my $2, inflation, you know!

  • lel_h

    taz6122, that is my point exactly! The cat owners and the feral cat feeders need to take better responsibility for their pets. Like I mentioned a few posts earlier, our neighborhood association did consider a trapping program, but backed off because we didn't want to trap domesticated cats by accident. Several cat owners spoke vehemently against any sort of trapping program, and promised to be more responsible. I haven't seen much change, unfortunately.

  • maifleur01

    Ok we are back to the feral cats. What will eat the mice, rats, squirrels, and other things when the cats are gone. I believe I have read that cyotes are becoming a problem in many cities. We have resident bobcats, cougars, skunks, and lots of racoons in this area. I do not feed cats outside but am aware that in areas that have removed the cats others will move in to eat the expanding food supply. I would rather have the cats than some of the others.

    The catch and release programs have helped reduce the population of feral cats by neutering them. Something that the original owners did not do. If you have heard of a person releasing or dumping a cat normally with kittens have you spoke up? If not you are a major part of the problem. If more people spoke up the next time someone wants to show the joy of birth to their children with out a thought of what to do will the kittens less cats would be dumped. Even no kill shelters must cull the older and less healthy cats to make room for more. When you see a cat with the tip of it's ear cut off this is a sign that it was caught, given shots, fixed then released.

    To reduce the number of feral cats and give all cats a good chance at life humans need to become more active and vocal.

    I have wondered if a poll was done what animal's would people pick to replace the outdoor cats. Since removing the cats would create a vacuum and nature does not like a vacuum what would the posters like to replace the cats?

    I would like never to have homeless cat but know without outdoor cats we could go back to the middle ages when mice and rats were everywhere because people did not like cats and thought they were bad luck.

  • taz6122

    lel h you're still missing the point, you blame everyone else and haven't done anything yourself. I realize that you may not have let any cats go but some idiots are irresponsible and responsible adults have to help where the idiots failed. Complain to animal control constantly if you have to. If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. It takes action, not idle threats.

  • lel_h

    maifleur, I see your point. Maybe if it weren't for the cats, we'd have a larger raccoon population. There were more raccoons a few years ago, so maybe the cats are keeping them away. Although our neighborhood association members say that people leaving food out for their pets is something that attracts raccoons as well. I know for certain that Stanford's feral cat feeding program - for cats that have been spayed but can't be socialized for adoption - led to an increase in the raccoon population.

    taz, you're right, I could do more. I did go to all the neighbors in my immediate area and ask them to keep their pets in check, but beyond that I didn't do much more. Like I said, the problem was addressed in our neighborhood association meetings, but there was resistance to any sort of trapping program. I admit, I have been hesitant to unilaterally start trapping cats in my back yard, because I know I will end up trapping a house cat roaming around (I don't see tags on most of them), which would tee off my neighbors if they had to go down to the humane society to retrieve them. So you're right, there's blame to be shared among all.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Stanford Cat Network

  • oilpainter

    Encourage the birds to come to your yard. Build birdhouses and provide plants for nest building and shelter. Birds eat an enormous amount of fleas. If you think the cats are under your deck set up a motion sensored sprinkler system around it. I guarantee that a few sprays with the hose will keep them away.

    I wonder if your cat loving neighbors would go for a trap and spay program for feral cats.

  • xices

    I got on this Forum for the purpose of finding more information about the use of Diatomaceous Earth (DE) in controlling fleas on cats and feeding DE to cats to kill internal parasites. I have read many times that dusting DE on their fur and rubbing it in well, will do the job. But how often should this be done? I feed 18 feral cats dry cat food as part of a volunteer effort in feral cat control. I need help in finding a way to incorporate DE into their diet.

  • sweetpea123

    What I did: I stayed out of the back yard, and kept my children out of the backyard. We do this every summer too, and during the seasons when it seems to occur most (mostly spring/summer). When we do go outside, we wear insect repellent on our skin, and clothes. And when we go inside, we lightly spray the bed sheets with unscented insect repellent for our skin. The brand we use is OFF! Next, get traps, to get the cats. We get them from our local animal shelter. We will usually catch kittens with them, rarely adult cats. In either case, in our state, once an animal is captured and detained in a box or cage, animal control will pick them up. I know it sounds like a fairy tale, but the kittens get spayed/neutered and adopted. All the neighbors pitch in and help catch the cats. They wander in all our yards unfortunately.

  • jplee3

    Quick question on DE for fleas. What's the most effective way to apply DE? I see a lot of people talking about "dusting" but what exactly does this mean? Lately I've been going around with a small trowel and my bucket of DE and trying to sprinkle it randomly all over the yard, which I have been digging up and getting rid of roots, etc. But there's all these splotches of white all over the yard now. I don't know exactly where the fleas are at but just yesterday I was out there and came back in with a couple fleas on my legs. I've also setup a desklamp/bowl in the yard overnight and caught one flea per night using this method. It doesn't seem very effective overall.

    Any tips on how to more effectively apply this stuff?

  • jplee3

    Well, I just used a trowel to sprinkle around the yard as much as possible. But then I had to do more yard work and dug a lot of dirt up. I thought this would have spread some of the DE around. I walked outside last night and found a small flea on my foot. Then the rain came and washed away most of the DE, so it looks like I'll need to re-apply. Ugh...

    Do fleas burrow into the ground or something? Right now my yard is all dirt (mostly clay-like) but I've had to dig up at times to remove roots, etc. I also have a couple of small deck areas so I'm wondering if they might be under the deck too, although I usually pickup a flea or two walking through the dirt part of the yard. I'm guess I just need to keep reapplying the DE (after the rain) and just letting it sit out there as long as possible. I wonder how long this will take...

  • begingardener

    If your children are being tormented at night to such a drastic extent and you haven't physically seen fleas in your home nor have pets in the home, you may want to consider inpecting for bed bugs. They leave horrible itching bites. I don't have cats nor fleas, but i do have dogs. Therefore, this is completely a non-bias comment. I hope this suggestion resolves something.

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