While many of us love the warmer weather that spring and summer bring, those of us who own pets know that pests like fleas also enjoy these seasons’ milder temperatures. Aside from being highly annoying to your pet, flea infestations can also cause more serious health issues, such as excessive itching (some animals are more sensitive to flea bites than others), hair loss, secondary skin infections, and anemia.
Unfortunately, many commercial flea preventatives and treatments contain highly toxic chemicals. Though these collars, shampoos, pills, and sprays are certainly effective at killing fleas, they are highly unsafe for pets and their owners. Many of the chemicals in these treatments are also highly irritating to dogs and cats so they will lick and bite at them, which increases the amount of toxins that they take in. Herbalist, Juliette de Baïracli Levy, even states, “The modern flea collars, because they work on a chemical principle and carry health-precaution warnings, I suspect are more hazardous to health than the presence of fleas.”
There are, however, many natural options for preventing flea infestations. Essential oils can be used safely on animals to help prevent various pest problems. However, it is important to remember that animals are much more sensitive to scents than humans are. A little bit of essential oil will go a long way, so you don’t need to use very much. Dilute essential oils when using them directly on an animal’s skin and do not apply on the mucous membranes, near the eyes, to the genital area, or in the inner ear. Be cautious about using essential oils on cats, as they aren’t able to metabolize them in the same way humans and larger animals do. Always do your research or consult a holistic professional before using essential oils on pregnant animals.
To use essential oils to help prevent external pests on dogs, you can add a drop or two (depending on the size of your dog) of lemongrass or citronella essential oil to Dr. Bronner’s eucalyptus liquid castile soap and then bath them with this mixture every so often throughout the warmer months. This will deter fleas for a short time.
Making your own natural flea collar is a another way to utilize essential oils to help prevent pests problems. This natural alternative to commercial flea preventatives is effective and safe for both dogs and cats. The below tutorial is adapted from The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy by Valerie Wormwood.
Natural Flea Collar
- A collar made from soft, absorbent material (An inexpensive cloth collar will work perfectly)
- 1/2 tsp cheap vodka
- 1 drop of cedarwood essential oil
- 1 drop of lavender essential oil
- 1 drop of citronella essential oil
- 1 drop of thyme essential oil
- A heaping 12 tsp of garlic powder or 4″0″ size garlic capsules
Blend all ingredients together in a small bowl or measuring cup. If you are using garlic capsules, break them open and add the contents before combining. Pour mixture over the collar until it is fully absorbed. Let the collar dry then put it on your pet’s neck. It should be effective for 1 month.
Diatomaceous earth (DE) is another natural option for keeping fleas and other pests from infesting your pets. DE is a very fine powder made up of the crushed skeletons of the fossilized skeletons of diatoms (single-celled marine and freshwater organisms whose cell walls are made up of silica). These extremely tiny particles kill insects by lacerating their exoskeletons and then drying them up.
There are two main types of diatomaceous earth: food grade and industrial grade. Always use food grade DE. Industrial grade DE has been treated with heat and chemicals. It is not safe for use on humans or animals. Food grade diatomaceous earth is safe for internal and external use, but is dusty and can cause lung problems if large amounts are inhaled, so be aware of this when using it.
To use DE for pest control, simply sprinkle onto your pet’s fur. It can also be used on pets’ bedding, in their living quarters, and on carpet to aid in eliminating these pests from your home. Some people feed DE to their pets to help eliminate internal parasites. This is not something I have personally tried as I have had good results with herbal de-wormers.
There are many effective natural external treatments for preventing pest problems on your pets, however, one of the most important parts of treating and preventing flea infestations is to make sure that your pet is receiving a nutritious diet. A malnourished pet with a weak immune system will be more susceptible to parasite related problems (and other health issues in general). In addition to proper nutrition, herbs can be used to support your pet’s overall skin health and boost their immune system.
Echinacea (Echinacea spp.) is a particularly useful herb for boosting your pets’ immune function to help them fight off infections and pest infestations. Dr. Randy Kidd, D.V.M., Ph.D., advises to use this herb in an on/off way. He recommends using it once daily for three weeks, then taking a week off or using it once daily for 5 days, then taking 2 days off. Repeat either regimen as needed.
Herbs can also be used to help improve your pet’s overall skin health and thus, make them less susceptible to flea infestations and other related problems. The liver is a key organ for clearing out internal toxins that can lead to skin issues, so many of the herbs that are beneficial to the liver will also ultimately promote the health of the skin. The following are a few herbs that are particularly helpful for your pet’s skin.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glara)
This plant is a nutritive, soothing plant that aids the function of all body systems and helps it more readily adapt to and cope with stress. It aids the adrenal glands, and promotes natural cortisone production, thus helping to reduce inflammation and allergic reactions. Because of this licorice is indicated for a variety of skin issues. It also has a pleasant taste, that even many finicky felines will enjoy and can help to mask the taste of more bitter herbs.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Nettle is a wonderful herb that is rich in minerals, vitamins, and protein. It is good source of calcium and iron and is nourishing to the whole body. It also is a blood stimulator and has often been used to help clear up skin ailments.
Burdock (Arctium lappa)
This plant promotes the elimination of wastes from the body, helping to improve the health of the skin, as well as many other body systems. Juliette de Baïracli Levy calls burdock roots “one of the finest blood cleansers known to the herbalist.” She recommends using this herb internally and externally to treat a variety of health issues, including skin irritations, dry, scaly skin, and external pests, such as ringworm and scabies.
Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus)
Yellow dock is a blood cleansing herb that is commonly used for the treatment of chronic skin problems. It is beneficial to the liver and helps to eliminate toxins that may contribute to skin issues. It combines well with herbs like licorice to remedy dry, itchy skin.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
This common weed is a favorite of many herbalists as it is very nutritious and medicinal. It is wonderful blood cleanser that is very beneficial to the liver. It is also helpful for healing and soothing inflamed, eruptive skin conditions. Check out my blog post on this wonderful little plant to learn more about its benefits and uses.
As you can see, there are many safe and effective options for keeping fleas from infesting your pets this summer. Avoiding the chemicals in commercial flea treatments will not only keep your pet healthier, it is also much safer for you and your family. And it’s nice to know that you can keep pesky pests away from your pets without the use of toxic chemicals.
Have a favorite natural flea preventative that I didn’t mention? Leave a comment and let me know!
The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy by Valerie Wormwood.
The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable by Juliette de Baïracli Levy.
Dr. Kidd’s Guide to Herbal Cat Care by Randy Kidd, D.V.M.
“Natural Flea Control.” Christine Makowski, D.V.M. Mother Earth News. May/June 1985.
“Diatomaceous Earth (DE).” Molly Nolte. Fias Co Farm.