Natural Flea Control

How to beat cat and dog pet pests using natural flea control, including flea-ridding alternatives, cleaning home and pets of fleas, and nontoxic ingestible pet remedies.
By Diane Downs
July/August 1987
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Cat or dog, a bath is in order, followed by a rinse water cooled to lukewarm—and you could add a few drops of a safe herbal flea repellent oil to that rinse.
PHOTO: FOTOLIA/MICHAEL PETTIGREW


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Get the jump on these pet pests, safely.  

Natural Flea Control Methods for Pets

For all our modern accomplishments, we are still searching for natural flea control methods, a safe, effective means to control fleas. Unfortunately, many flea products on the market contain ingredients such as carbaryl (Sevin), a nerve-paralyzing chemical that is endowed with a host of other side effects. DDVP (dimethyl dichlorovinyl phosphate), which is found in plastic flea collars, numbs an insect's nervous system and sometimes has the same effect on a susceptible pet. Or there is that increasingly familiar synergist, piperonyl butoxide, recently used extensively as a booster in most all the new pyrethrum products. It has been associated with liver disorders. On the other hand, if fleas get out of control, your pet—particularly if it is very young, old or unwell—can die of flea-induced anemia.

Flea Control Alternatives

When an adult flea lays an egg, this whitish speck drops into a carpet, a crack in a wood floor, the upholstery or a dusty corner. After a period of time (which varies according to species), the egg develops into a larva which feeds on tiny amounts of dust, debris or other organic matter. Outdoors, this larva takes up residence in the yard, usually in a shady spot, where it feeds on vegetable or animal matter. The hairy, legless larva then spins a cocoon and eventually emerges as a hungry adult, ready to jump on the nearest warm body for a meal of blood.

Because the egg, larva and cocoon stages are of various lengths in various flea species (the general range from egg to adult is 28 to 42 days), your initial attack should consist of a conscientious three- to five-week program. In this way, you'll gradually get ahead of the massive number of fleas and eggs now sharing your pet and probably your home. If your pets stay outdoors, you can probably follow only the instructions concerning the yard, the animals and their living quarters.

The first step in natural flea control—and one you will repeat often initially—is to vacuum your house thoroughly. Not just the carpets, but under throw rugs, all floors, corners, upholstery, pillows, sofa cushions, under couches, mattresses—the works! (And don't forget the basement.) Then either immediately burn the vacuum bag or seal it securely inside a plastic bag and dispose of it. Remember, all that dust inside the bag makes a fast-food feast for larvae. After patting yourself on the back for already cleaning up hundreds, maybe thousands, of fleas, eggs and larvae, wash all throw rugs, pets' bedding and your bedding in water as hot as the fabric allows.

At this point you've made encouraging progress, but unless the next steps are taken, you'll soon lose ground. To kill the tiny pests the vacuuming missed, sprinkle garden-grade diatomaceous earth in rugs, under sofa cushions, under mattresses and in your animal's bedding. After three to four days, repeat the vacuum-and-wash cycle (again destroying the vacuum bag) and reapply diatomaceous earth.

While all this activity is taking place, your canine or feline friend needs some immediate attention too. Cat or dog, a bath is in order, followed by a rinse water cooled to lukewarm—and you could add a few drops of a safe herbal flea repellent oil to that rinse. When your pet is dry, a thorough brushing, combing or even vacuuming (if the process is not too terrifying to Puff or Fido) is in order. (Pick up a special flea comb from a pet store. It not only removes fleas, but helps monitor the extent of your flea problem.)

Combating Fleas Outside the House

To permanently eradicate outdoor fleas requires both immediate and long-term activities. First, sprinkle garden-grade diatomaceous earth over the lawn, under bushes and in shady areas. The effectiveness of this natural product (made from the shells of tiny sea creatures called diatoms) comes from its ability to scratch the fleas' exoskeletons and cause the insects to dehydrate and die. Reapply seven to 10 days later.

Other Weapons in the Flea War

Over the years, MOTHER'S readers have offered their own nontoxic means of flea control. Here are some popular remedies.

Feed your dog or cat one clove of garlic a day. In addition to discouraging fleas, it will prevent some types of worms. Don't, however, give garlic to pregnant pets, because it sometimes causes spontaneous abortion.

Brewer's yeast (also called nutritional yeast) is available at most health food stores. Give large dogs one tablespoon once a day mixed into, or sprinkled on top of, their food. Try one teaspoon for cats and small dogs. Some animals love it. Others take a while to develop a taste for the yeast, but most end up begging for it.

A touch of vinegar in your pet's water is touted as a control for both fleas and mange. With all of the above, however, it's best to start such dietary programs long before the flea season hits.

You can also try a saltwater dip to discourage fleas. If you live near the sea, your dog might learn to love swimming in the ocean. Some especially energetic dog owners go so far as to provide small saltwater pools for their dogs to romp in.

Finally, our readers recommended putting a light six inches over a bowl of water containing a little dishwashing detergent. The heat attracts the fleas, which fall in the water and drown.

Since fleas are such persistent and prolific creatures, we recommend you combine all these natural remedies in your war against them.

—Sara Packer;


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Post a comment below.

 

ROBERT KRAYER
10/12/2012 12:27:34 AM
Plus, garlic doesn't work for flea control

ROBERT KRAYER
10/12/2012 12:25:57 AM
MellndaK, you're absolutely right!. Ask a vet.

ROBERT KRAYER
10/12/2012 12:25:06 AM
My vet says not to give garlic to the dog. I don't give garlic to the dog.

Lloyd McDaniel
10/11/2012 2:58:11 PM
Symptoms of synthetic pyrethrin toxicity are far more frequent and serious. In 2007, Britain's Veterinary Poisons Information Service reported that nearly 97 percent of 286 cats exposed to a spot flea treatment with the synthetic pyrethrin Permethrin developed symptoms of toxicity. These included twitching, tremors and convulsions. The convulsions occurred for an average of 38.9 hours following exposure and the tremors an average of 32 hours. Most of the cats recovered within 72 hours but some needed an entire week, and more than 10 percent of them died (see Resource 1). Read more: Pyrethrin Toxicity in Cats | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/about_6169797_pyrethrin-toxicity-cats.html#ixzz290DpcuXU

Lloyd McDaniel
10/11/2012 2:57:40 PM
NEVER ___EVER___USE ANYTHING MADE FOR A DOG ON A CAT! It can lead to heartbreak, I know. In 2007, Britain's Veterinary Poisons Information Service reported that nearly 97 percent of 286 cats exposed to a spot flea treatment with the synthetic pyrethrin Permethrin developed symptoms of toxicity. These included twitching, tremors and convulsions. The convulsions occurred for an average of 38.9 hours following exposure and the tremors an average of 32 hours. Most of the cats recovered within 72 hours but some needed an entire week, and more than 10 percent of them died (see Resource 1). Read more: Pyrethrin Toxicity in Cats | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/about_6169797_pyrethrin-toxicity-cats.html#ixzz290DpcuXU

Georgene Adam
9/1/2012 1:48:21 PM
In fact, in the olds days, my mother feed a garlic clove daily to our beagle - toxic? I think not he lived to 21 !

Tony Ashmore
8/21/2012 2:18:18 PM
You should Check out www.fleafreeanimals.com . They have food supplements and shampoos that work. Garlic is not highly toxic for dogs. The actual research shows that garlic is not highly toxic. Make sure you are researching medical journals not just the internet. It seems there is a concern over garlic and its safety for dogs. Garlic has thiosulphate in it, the same ingredient that makes the onion toxic to dogs but the amounts of thiosulphate in garlic is so small it would take several pounds of garlic to be toxic. That being said, large amounts of Thiosulphate can cause Hemolytic Anemia if administered in large doses. Don’t be alarmed, again it would take large doses to cause this. This comes out of the medical research from the West Virginia University Davis Division of Animal and Nutritional Science, basically the best veterinarian in the country. So people who feed garlic to their dogs should be worry free.

PetPrep RadioShow
8/10/2012 7:00:51 PM
that is true-

S
7/21/2012 1:45:56 PM
alot of things are toxic, vitamin b12 can kill humans yet you eat it everyday, so ill risk giving my cats a teaspoon in 2 meals a day over then covered in little bugs which can cause much worst things

ex employee
7/8/2012 3:38:00 PM
Its only bad in high doses. YOU LOOK IT UP!

MelindaK
6/28/2012 9:00:34 PM
Garlic is highly toxic for dogs and cats. Why would you recommend something so toxic. It is just as bad for them as some of the flea control meds out there. LOOK IT UP PEOPLE.

Tena Luttrell
6/12/2012 8:51:24 AM
My friend had a flea problem years go and her 4 year old daughter was the only one getting bit so her doctor told her to give her daughter vitamine B you can get it at any store, it worked no more bites or itching.

Natasha Anderson
5/4/2012 11:42:53 AM
Using poisons should always be a last resort in killing fleas. There are so many natural methods that you can try first. For fleas in your garden, you can also use cedar wood chips in the damp areas as this is where fleas love to hide. I have more information here about getting rid of fleas and I feel that it will be a great addition to the information you presented as well as useful to your readers. Incase you missed the anchor, the full url is: http://www.thebugsquad.com/fleas/how-to-get-rid-of-fleas ... Let me know what you think.

d petroff
3/24/2012 12:55:18 AM
I live in So Fla, hot and humid. My 3 kitties have had 2 doses each of revolution in the last 2 weeks, and are still chewing and scratching. Please help! My house is all tile, no fleas are visible. I dont know what to do for them. I dont want to over medicate.

Julie Fellenz
1/24/2012 12:29:59 AM
I successfully used dried pennyroyal and rue to keep fleas away. I sprinkled it under couches, chairs, beds, in closets and in the back hall and front foyer. When I swept and vacuumed it up (about every other week), the smell was delightful. I even stuffed my dog's bedding with it. I had tried citronella oil indoors, in one of those lamp oil rings, and had to throw it out after less than 15 minutes and air out the house. Never had flea bites myself and my dog wasn't bother by them either. I also used cloth dog collars which I lightly moistened with lavender oil or patchouli.

DAN&HEATHER HARDAWAY
12/1/2011 2:10:20 AM
once i found a nematoad (that you spray on the lawn mixed with water) that kills the juvenile flea. i bought it at the co-op in okc, ok about 15 years ago. it seemed to work. but thats all i remember about it. sorry

Crystal Russell
11/17/2011 2:12:35 AM
I am not sure where you are going with the comments you have made...are you just speaking what you truely believe...?

Sue Hagan
11/8/2011 2:12:46 AM
When we had a flea problem, many yrs. ago. We did use spray bombs, we removed all of our kittys, (why would you not)? We had to stay out of our house for (8) hours, than go back and everything had to be washed in very hot water. Our cats and child didn't go back inside until all that was done! It was a nightmare, yet none of our cats or child became ill!

Sue Hagan
11/8/2011 2:07:40 AM
I had flea bites on my legs many yrs. ago nothing worked, and the itch was terrible! Than I happen to come across a sample of "Fruit of the Earth" Aloe Vera gel, it cleared up ! I was amazed! Will it work on animals, I don't know.

Tricia Doane
9/26/2011 2:15:21 AM
I am so glad that a couple of you commented on the dangers of feeding garlic to your dog (ar cat, as, according to the ASPCA they are even more sensitive to the toxicity of garlic than dogs)!!! My vet advised me many years ago to NEVER feed garlic to my dogs, for ANY reason. Not for fleas, not in their food, nothing. There also appears to be a problem with brewers yeast: "The greatest controversy surrounding the use of brewers yeast in dogs is that most forms available on the market include garlic in their recipes" (taken from www.nextdaypets.com/directory/dogs/articles/brewers-yeast). Personally, I don't give my dogs brewers yeast, either. The ASPCA website has a great article on ten human foods that we should not feed our animals, like chocolate and alcohol. Here's a link: http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/people-foods.aspx. (looks like you'll have to copy & paste into your browser) And Dewey_3; I'm very sorry for the loss of your chihuahua

ROBERT LACOE
9/23/2011 2:28:00 PM
We had very good luck with Twenty Mule Team borax. We spread it all over the rugs, furniture, and dogs. It was allowed to stay on the rugs and furniture for several days before being vaced up.We put it under the cushions on the sofa and chairs. We had tried everything including commercial pest control Cos. It was a new house that a contractor had not close a patio door and allower raccoons to get in and infest the whole house.

C. Thomson
10/1/2009 10:49:52 PM
This past year, I tore out my lawn to replace with raised beds and walk on bark. I have a flea infestation, either from all the dirt or it came with the bark. It started in July, temps were over 100 and has continued unabated. I have tried everything in way of natural flea killers. My dog can't walk around the block without getting new ones. The only thing that seems to work is a natural product from EcoPure Naturals, called Flea and Tick spray. It contains only oils from thyme, oregano, rosemary, cloves, etc. Very strong but it does seem to kill the fleas. It is about 8 bucks for 4 oz and you have to saturate the hair. My dog comes to me when she itches to get sprayed now because she knows it will make the itch stop. Says not for people so I am still being eaten alive. Any remedies would be appreciated. Dog is inside and outside dog, hence fleas in house too.

Kim_39
7/25/2009 10:07:55 PM
Ok now that I've read the other comments, and accidentally posted one of my own twice, I'm wondering if this article shouldn't be revised or removed due to inaccuracies. At least four different suggestions for flea control are at most potentially fatal, and at least simply false...like fleas that drown in soapy water.

Kim_39
7/25/2009 10:05:16 PM
I'm sorry, but fleas simply don't drown. They don't even drown in bleach. I left 7 of them in a glass of non-chlorine bleach for over an hour and they were still swimming around. Not trying to be mean, but its 11pm on a Saturday and I'm here on the net in utter frustration reading about garlic juice and drowning fleas, in a desperate attempt to control the health of my animals, and I'm just not buying it.

Anna_14
3/8/2009 10:47:09 PM
This article lists pennyroyal as extremely toxic for dogs and other animals and says specifically that pennyroyal should not be used to prevent fleas on animals for that reason. http://bitsandbrew.com/warning1.htm I don't know anything about the website's credibility, but the citation for the toxicity seems legitimate.

Erica_2
12/14/2008 1:35:29 PM
this site is rather helpful :)

Anderson_1
2/9/2008 12:40:33 PM
Garlic given to cats can be fatally toxic and should really be avoided. Small amounts to dogs is ok, but these animals do not have the proper digestive juices to handle garlic and we recommend none to cats at all and small amounts only to dogs. We have studies on Sheep on our website - garlic is tremendously effective on expelling worms from sheep/goats and only 1/6th of an o0unce of garlic juice every 3 weeks during the pasture season (9 months long) is enough. Sincerely, Wm. Anderson, Garlic Research Labs, Inc. website: www.GarlicBarrier.com

Maggie_4
2/7/2008 8:52:53 PM
Our "Mother Earth" Natural food store sells a new product called simply "Orange Guard". It is totally from citrus and can be sprayed (or other ..see instructions) on bedding and around the house or outdoors. They do not recommend it ON pets as it has not been tested for this yet. It is known to kill fire ant hills which is amazing in the South, as they are so difficult to eradicate. Do check their web site...just Google Orange Guard. It can also be used to spray flying insects such as mosquitos. We never used ANY commercial sprays because of the over-all danger to all creatures as birds and lizards, so this has come as a welcome.

Beth_17
9/4/2007 1:00:52 PM
I've read both your articles on natural flea control and they offer a number of great ideas. However, I think you should be cautious recommending diatomaceous earth as completely safe. While it is completely natural it is a know to cause lung cancer when airbourne. One only has to do a web search to find many MSDS sheets for it and info at the CDC on this fact. As I have small children who play on the floor I won't be using it.

Ronda_4
8/5/2007 8:47:42 AM
I have found that sprinkling 20 Mule Team Borax works like diatomaceous earth. I went through the 'traditional' chemical flea eradication with my cat and nothing worked until someone told me to use the Borax. It worked and now my dad is using it for their earwig infestation. It's working for him as well. We sprinkle it around outside several times a year as well as sprinkling it in the house. This is the first time I've heard about the Pennyroyal. I'll have to find some and plant it. Thanks for the good information. Ronda








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