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Nematodes for Natural Flea Control – Paw Print

December 24, 2022

Using nematodes for flea control: Fleas are the bane of pet owners!  Not only do they make our pets, as well as us, uncomfortable, but they are also just plain gross.  Did you know that fleas can carry diseases?  They can also cause secondary parasite infestation (tapeworms).  Fleas are bad enough under normal circumstances, but if you, or your pet, are allergic to their bite, like my papillon, Kitsune, is, the normally pesky pests become even more of a problem.  Flea allergy dermatitis can cause severe itching, skin sores/hot spots, and hair loss.

Flea Treatment

Flea treatment, especially in severe cases, usually consists of a three-pronged approach.  Not only must you remove the pests that are already on your pet, but the pet’s environment, both indoors and out, should be treated as well.  You don’t want to go through the hassle of removing fleas from your pet, only to have them go outside and catch them again!

Natural Flea Control Options?

I prefer using more natural means of pest control whenever possible.  It’s, at times, a delicate balance.  I like to try to reduce the number of chemicals/pesticides I use as much as possible.  But because of Kitsune’s flea allergies, I have to make sure that what I use actually works.  The longer it takes me to successfully eliminate fleas, the more my best buddy has to suffer.

A nematode. Photo via Vyzhdova V. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

What are Nematodes?

If you remember anything from your high school science class, you might remember looking at nematodes under a microscope!  Hookworms, pinworms, and whipworms are actually types of parasitic nematodes.  But not all nematodes are bad!  You probably already deduced this from the topic of today’s post, but some species of nematodes can be beneficial as a form of natural, chemical-free, insect control.

Using Nematodes as Flea Control

There are types of predatory nematodes that live in the soil and help to control insect populations.  Farmers/gardeners will sometimes use them to help fight against garden pests.  Basically, you can purchase beneficial nematodes and apply them to your yard.  The nematodes will be microscopic, so you can’t actually see them.  But once applied to soil they go to work killing insects, including preadult fleas.  Nematodes attack fleas while they are still in their larval stage, killing them before they ever get the chance to grow into biting adults.

As the nematodes make meals out of larval fleas and other pesky insects, they will reproduce.  Don’t worry, nematodes sold for insect control are harmless to humans and pets.  If they ever run out of insects to eat, they will die and fertilize the soil.  Other than snacking on larval fleas, predatory nematodes sold for insect control can also help fight against gnats, grubs, rootworms, and other types of insects.

Do Nematodes Harm Native Insects?

Not all nematodes are created equal.  In fact, there are types of nematodes that will damage plant roots.  No gardener would want those around if they could help it!  The type of nematodes that can help eliminate fleas are often sold as “beneficial” or “predatory” nematodes.  They feed on insects rather than plants.

If your environmentally minded, like I am, you may wonder whether or not predatory nematodes will harm beneficial, native insects.  There are actually different types of predatory nematodes, and the types of insects they prey upon will vary by species.  Knowing this, you can select the type of predatory nematode that would work best for the species of insects you are trying to eliminate.

A Safer Alterative

Also keep in mind that nematodes are already present in your soil.  To quote the UCR Department of Nematology, “Nematodes have been reported from every continent on earth and occur in deserts, swamps, the oceans, the tropics and Antarctica”.  Using targeted species of predatory nematodes to combat common pest insects, such as fleas, is safer for the environment, as well as people, pets, and beneficial insects, than using pesticides.

There is obviously no surefire way to 100% prevent your pet from coming into contact with fleas while outdoors, especially if you visit public parks or areas where other animals frequent.  However, nematodes can be an effective, chemical free, way to arm your own yard against fleas.

Comment below!  If you have any pets, what forms of flea control are you currently using?  Have you ever added nematodes to your flea fighting arsenal?

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