To combat these pests, it’s important to approach the battle from multiple sides. Pet parents should not only treat their pets, but also their homes and yards. This will help ensure that the fleas don’t escape your pet’s coat and spread to other areas, where they’ll live until an unsuspecting victim trots along again.
As with all things concerning your dog’s health, consult with your veterinarian before starting any of the following treatments. And please note that the following alternatives are meant to be used only for dogs — some of them may be toxic to other animals, such as cats.
Good Grooming Prevents Fleas
Richard Pitcairn, DVM, author of “Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats,” offers a multitude of suggestions for naturally repelling fleas and ticks. Particularly important to building defenses for your pet, he suggests, is good grooming.
Because dry skin attracts fleas, Pitcairn advises pet parents to frequently brush and comb their pets’ coats.
“Frequent brushing and combing stimulates hair and skin health, bringing normal secretions from oil glands onto the skin and discouraging fleas,” says Dr. Pitcairn.
Wash the Fleas Away
Along with brushing, pet parents should pay particular attention to how they bathe their pets, says Pitcairn. While this is important for keeping fleas and ticks away, frequent baths can strip dogs of their natural oils. Therefore, you should limit your dog’s baths to once a month or every two months, depending on your pet’s tendencies to build up dirt.
Soap and water are a perfectly good way to drown fleas, but Pitcairn also suggests purchasing natural flea-repellent shampoos.
“Or you can make your own insect-repellent shampoo by adding a few drops of essential oil of pennyroyal or eucalyptus to a bottle of natural shampoo or castile soap,” he writes. “But do not apply these oils directly to the skin. They are too irritating.”
GrandmasHomeRemedies.com recommends an essential oil bath for badly infested dogs.
“Draw the bath using a few drops of tea tree or lavender essential oils,” the website suggests. “An alternative is an herbal flea dip made from fresh rosemary leaf.”
When using any essential oil, always be sure that it is 100-percent therapeutic grade essential oil, with a label that does not warn against applying it to the skin, or inhaling or ingesting it. Consult with the staff at your local health food store as to how you will use the oils, so they can lead you in the right direction.
Pitcairn recommends following this type of bath with a plain water rinse, and then a vinegar-and-water rinse that contains one tablespoon of white wine vinegar for every pint of warm water.
“It removes soap residue and helps prevent dandruff,” Pitcairn writes. “Pour on the solution, rubbing throughout the fur. Then rinse again with plain water.”
Pitcairn also suggests using a rosemary tea conditioner to help promote a glossy coat and repel fleas. The conditioner calls for one teaspoon of either dried or fresh rosemary and one pint of boiling water.
“Combine and steep the ingredients for 10 minutes, covered. Strain and cool the combination to body temperature. Pour it over your pet after the final rinse,” Pitcairn writes. “Rub the mixture in and towel dry without further rinsing … Use several towels to blot off excess water. Then let your pet do what comes naturally, shaking and licking off more of the water. Make sure she has a warm place to dry off.”
Herbs Can Provide Everyday Protection
For everyday protection against fleas, Nadine M. Rosin, author of “The Healing Art of Pet Parenthood,” suggests the following combination of herbs that can be applied to your dog’s coat (note that some herbs and oils are toxic to cats):
- Combine the following herbs in a shaker can: powdered eucalyptus; rosemary; fennel; yellow dock; wormwood; and rue (all are available online and at most health food stores). Rub the mixture into your dog’s fur. (Note: Some herbs are toxic to cats).
- In the palms of your hands, combine the oils of citronella, eucalyptus, cedar, citrus and lavender. Rub onto your dog’s ears, belly, etc.
GrandmasHomeRemedies.com also suggests using either a citrus or aromatherapy repellent:
- Citrus Repellent: You can make an effective flea repellent from a lemon by cutting it into quarters, immersing it in boiling water and then steeping it overnight. Spray this all over your dog — especially behind the ears and around the head, and also at the base of the tail and the “armpits.” Pitcairn suggests the same repellent, but calls it a “lemon skin tonic” that can also be used as a skin toner and treatment for mange.
- Aromatherapy Repellent: This is made by adding lavender and cedarwood essential oils to pure almond carrier oil as the base. Shake it well and spread it over your dog’s skin to keep the fleas away.
You can also make an naturally effective flea collar by rubbing an essential oil of eucalyptus, tea tree, citronella, lavender or geranium on webbing, a rope collar or a bandana, and placing it around your dog’s neck.
Battle Fleas from the Inside Out
Both Pitcairn and GrandmasHomeRemedies.com suggest adding a small amount of garlic (too much can harm your dog) or brewer’s yeast to your dog’s food to repel fleas.
“Garlic when fed to your dog works wonders. This is because its smell is excreted through the skin, making it ‘inhospitable’ for the fleas,” notes GrandmasHomeRemedies.com.
“Another good alternative is natural apple cider vinegar that makes the skin more acidic and unpleasant to fleas and ticks.”
Pitcairn writes that it is common for animals in poor health to attract the most fleas. To keep your dog healthy, feed him a good diet and keep his immune system at an optimal level with the proper vitamins and supplements.
Protect Your Home from Fleas
Fighting off fleas usually starts out with treating the affected animal, but shouldn’t stop there. Fleas can “escape” your dog and find hospice in other parts of your home, where they hang out until they get the next opportunity to jump onto your beloved pooch.
The following natural ways to ward off fleas is a compilation of suggestions from Pitcairn, Rosin and GrandmasHomeRemedies.com:
- Spread cedar chips in and around your pet’s bedding, and along your fence and other outdoor areas
- Wash your dog’s bedding regularly in hot, soapy water and add eucalyptus essential oil to the final rinse
- Vacuum your home thoroughly and sprinkle a fine layer of ordinary table salt over the upholstery and carpets
- Steam clean the carpets if possible
Protect Your Yard from Fleas, Too
Pitcairn advises pet parents to keep up maintenance on their lawns by mowing and watering the grass regularly. As he explains, shorter grass lets sunlight hit the soil and heat it, which in turn kills flea larvae. Watering the grass will drown fleas.
Pitcairn also insists that you shouldn’t discourage ants in your yard. These little guys love to feast on flea eggs and larvae. They can become your best ally in this process.
“Rake up any dead leaves and other debris first,” advises Pitcairn. “The heat that builds up under the plastic does an excellent job of killing fleas and larvae.”
Pitcairn also suggests using agricultural lime on grassy or moist areas. This will help dry up the fleas. Always remove leaves and debris before doing so though.
You can also spread the herbal flea repellents described above around your yard.
What If These Natural Methods for Preventing Fleas Don’t Work?
If none of these methods seem to work for your pet and the flea infestation persists, be sure to consult with your veterinarian.
At this point, it may be safer to use flea medications to help stop the infestation and prevent the potential spread of disease. To make it a more comfortable experience for you and your pet, bring your dog to the veterinarian for the first treatment. Have the veterinarian explain the process of applying the medication. Applying the treatment at the vet’s office might put your mind at ease in case any adverse reaction occurs.
Find A Vet HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.