My dog has a relentless case of fleas this summer. I've tried some natural remedies and they haven't worked as well as medications like Advantage and Frontline, but I really, really want to avoid using chemicals. Is there a safe, effective, and long-lasting way to get rid of fleas? —Amanda
It’s fantastic that you’re thinking about how to treat your dog for fleas without chemicals, which are found in many conventional flea medications. Fortunately, there are many natural alternatives on the market, too. Since I’m averse to using potentially toxic chemicals on my patients, I’ve tried pretty much all of them and have found success with the following treatments:
- Magnetized discs or tags like BugZone: These hang from your pet’s collar along with other tags, and work through a magnetic strip embedded inside that creates a specific energetic frequency barrier to repel fleas. (Depending on the brand, each tag lasts approximately three to six months).
- Products made with yarrow, diatomaceous earth, and neem: Yarrow repels insects, diatomaceous earth dehydrates them, and neem acts as an active insecticide and antimicrobial agent. All three tend to come in dust form—sprinkle it along your pet’s spine down to the tail and and work it into the skin. Because inhalation can be irritating to both human and pet lungs, use a mask when applying and don’t dust heavily around your pet’s head. I recommend applying once a week; in heavy infestations, you can go up to once a day.
- Cedar oil: Cedar oil repels bugs, and many flea products rely on it as an active ingredient—I recommend Wondercide’s flea control sprays, which have been tested and proven safe for both cats and dogs. Spray onto your pet’s legs, feet, and neck twice weekly; for more severe cases, do daily applications.
- Garlic (for dogs only): I like dehydrated garlic—another effective flea repellent—but you can use fresh, too. Either way, just add it to your dog’s food—no more than one to two cloves for large dogs and ¼ to ½ clove for small breeds. (Note: Skip garlic for kitties, as it may cause digestive issues.)
If these natural treatments fall short, it’s usually due to one of the following reasons.
The product isn’t being applied appropriately. Fleas jump on often when dogs are out running around in the grass or dirt, so the areas in contact with the ground need to be well-covered. Apply topical treatments heavily to the legs, feet, and face—not just to the body.
It’s high season for fleas. During spring and summer, fleas are much more common and spread more easily. You may need to apply products more regularly, increase the dosage, or use multiple natural remedies simultaneously depending on the season.
Fleas have infiltrated your pet’s living space. Only 5 percent of fleas are actually on your pet at any given time; the remaining 95 percent are in the environment. It’s important to treat the yard, patio, gardens, and any outdoor spaces surrounding your home, which is where fleas initially emerge. (This is an important preventative step, too.) I recommend nematodes, microscopic roundworms that kill insects, but are safe for you and your pets. Add them to a watering can with water, let soak for a few minutes, then sprinkle the solution all over the yard—and repeat the treatment every spring and autumn.
You can also sprinkle food-grade diatomaceous earth, naturally occurring sedimentary mineral rock in ground form, over dirt patches and grass to help desiccate and kill the flea larvae.
Both nematodes and diatomaceous earth are easy to find at pet shops or home and garden stores.
Your pet’s immune system may be compromised. When an animal is immunosuppressed—a condition that can stem from poor diet or autoimmune diseases—they can become more susceptible to fleas. If you think nutrition or a health condition may be hampering your efforts to control fleas, visit a holistic vet for a diagnosis and further flea control advice.
Karen Rettig is a licensed veterinarian specializing in holistic medicine, and a member of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association. Learn more about her practice, Alternatives for Animals, here and follow them on Facebook.
Photo credit: Alicia Cho