Natural Flea Remedies

Is natural flea prevention an alternative for pets? Are there safe, non-toxic home remedies you can use to prevent or kill fleas?

I’ve listed some below and given my views on the safety and efficacy of each.

Do Pets Really Need Flea Treatment?

Why use flea controls at all?

My auntie’s dog Rufus was one of many dogs who become allergic to flea bite. We call this flea allergy dermatitis.

He was unlucky to live in the time before safe & effective flea treatments were available. If you’re my age or older you should be able to remember these dogs: we said they had ‘mange’ or ‘eczema’.

The point is, they were incurable. Rufus was diligently treated with the best available shampoos, ointments, flea deterrents, but he still needed high doses of steroids to keep him comfortable.

In the end, the steroids were probably what caused his early death. Diabetes is easily treatable these days, but back then it was difficult. Rufus would also have had to stop the steroids to have any chance of surviving.

Do Natural Flea Remedies Work?

Allergic dogs and cats like Rufus need you to keep fleas away 100% of the time. For these pets, sadly, the answer is no. Animals with skin problems need flea control like a shield.

Coconut oil
Coconut oil

For the others, natural flea remedies may reduce numbers adequately to make your pet comfortable.

The urban environment is so contaminated with flea eggs that keeping dogs and cats constantly flea free has only truly been possible since the mid-1990s.

Are Natural Flea Remedies Safe?

There are two important differences between pets and people that always need to be considered:

  1. Anything applied to an animal’s coat may be licked or groomed off. Even safe herbal products can become toxic with continuous low-level exposure.
  2. All pets are far more sensitive to odours than humans. Products that use a repellent odour may be very unpleasant to animals.

tea tee oilI can promise from first-hand experience that the modern flea remedies made by big pharmaceutical companies are very safe if used correctly. However, I respect the reluctance of some to use any chemical treatment. This page is to help you choose the best of the natural or herbal flea killers or repellents.

Please don’t use cheaper supermarket flea products: here’s why.

Natural Flea Controls

Neem oil
By Jaipuria (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Note: these products are not registered or tested in pets and are used at the pet owner’s risk. Before using you should consult the manufacturer’s or supplier’s safety instructions and follow the advice of experienced users.

Coconut Oil

Method: The oil is massaged, sprayed or combed through the coat on a weekly basis. Probably works by asphyxiating the fleas so the pet needs to be visibly oily.
Toxicity: Low. However please don’t feed coconut oil due to the risk of pancreatitis. VERY messy in long-haired or double-coated breeds.

Neem Oil

Method: Same as coconut oil although less is needed as neem is itself an insecticide.
Toxicity: High if taken internally: never use in cats and take great care with other species that they do not lick it off. Also, see the comment at the end.

Garlic

garlic cloves
Method: Garlic is fed to pets, typically at around one clove per day and is reputed to have flea repellent effects.
Toxicity: Stay away: garlic is just too risky. Garlic, whether cooked or raw, contains as much toxin as onion. Advocates say the acute toxic dose is much higher than one clove but no one knows the chronic (long-term) safe levels.

Tea Tree Oil & Essential Oils

Method: A few drops are applied to bath water or a collar or bandana. Essential oils used include rosemary, rose & geranium.
Toxicity: Minimal if used this way but you have to wonder about the efficacy. Here’s what I’ve written about Tea Tree Oil when used in larger quantities.

Cedar Oil

Method: The specially made oil (Dr Ben’s Paws and Claws Cedar Oil) is rubbed or sprayed through the coat as per the label.
Toxicity: Probably low but I personally would not use any oils on cats.

Diatomaceous Earth

diatomaceous earth
Diatomaceous earth (food grade)

Method: Food grade powder is dusted through the pet’s coat and bedding and works by desiccating the fleas.
Toxicity: DE is highly irritant to the respiratory tract and can cause an asbestosis- or asthma-like condition. We don’t recommend DE cat litter either. DE may be useful to dust areas where flea pupae and larvae are found but not where your pet sleeps.

Flea Combs

Method: Daily all over combing of your pet should reduce numbers, paying particular attention to the rump and head.
Toxicity: None. Hard to do thoroughly enough. May work better combined with coconut oil.

Baths

Method: Bathing with soap free shampoo or even just immersion (at least twice weekly) has been known to remove fleas since ancient times.
Toxicity: None. Just like combing, it won’t stop reinfestation so may need to be done very frequently.

Environmental Control

Method: High-Efficiency vacuum cleaning twice a week on areas where your pet lives, plus hot water washing of bedding. Should reduce environmental contamination with eggs, larvae and pupae.
Toxicity: None as long as you don’t use environmental insecticides.

Plus a few less conventional options…

Apple Cider Vinegar

Method: Applied as a diluted spray to the coat.
Toxicity: Low as long as kept out of eyes. I doubt it will reach effective levels without causing discomfort.

Citrus

Method: I hear of people using diluted lemon juice in a spray bottle.
Toxicity: Never use citrus oils or any processed citrus products; these can be quite toxic. I also believe citrus odours are unpleasant to cats and dogs.

Nutritional Supplements

Some believe that a strong immune system is better able to manage flea numbers and be less prone to allergy. We certainly see variations in susceptibility to fleas but there doesn’t seem to be a recognisable link to diet.

Do you want to know about any others or have an opinion on these treatments? If so please leave a comment.

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These blogs are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. We do not accept payments or incentives in return for stories. Like or follow our page or subscribe via email to read the latest.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

Andrew

5 Replies to “Natural Flea Remedies”

  1. Upon moving to Texas from Washington state our 4 dogs became infested with fleas (never an issue in WA). One of which turns out is extremely allergic. We have treated the house and yard repeatedly but every time they go outside they get covered. One of our dogs cannot use the “chemical” treatments you buy otc or from the vet as they give her seizures. So we needed a way to go natural. After trying ( and failing) all of the most common solutions found on the internet we tried coconut oil. It works fabulously. We use only pure coconut oil (refined works just fine without odor). After bathing allow your pet to dry completely. Simple rub between your hands and massage into the skin. Apply weekly OUTSIDE as fleas will immediately vacate. Safe for cats and dogs. The amount they might ingest through licking is minimal. The lauric acid in the coconut oil repels and KILLS fleas. You do not need to make your pets coat oily, just massage into the skin (they will love the attention). For longer hair a dropper can help with applying to the skin just warm the oil above 76 and it will liquify.

  2. Where on earth did you hear that neem oil is banned in the UK? It is not. I have just bought a bottle of it to make up my usual flea shampoo for dogs. It must be diluted and NEVER used on cats (use leaf instead). It is a wonderful natural insecticide also effective on human headlice and has never been banned here.

  3. As you well know, today I presented, with my boy, a double coated white kid whom I had used the external coco-nut oil methodology to relieve this unknown scratching matter – which it did to some minor degree. (Sorry about leaving this oil all over your surgery floor also)

    Previously, I had been given various possible diagnosis, treatments, yet, no real long-term prognosis or solutions.
    The prior approaches appeared so harsh and I was not fully confident of the strategies outlined.

    I had read various journals and other online articles on the possible various diagnosis I was given, yet, some were very subjective opinions or others were not as he really presented with the scratching problem (special and harsh chemical washes, neem oil, apple cider vinegar, garlic…all of the most natural approaches ….BUT)

    After a thorough consultation today the main cause was identified, a discussion on ‘flea bites’ including his immune system not yet being mature enough to deal with these nasty parasites and treatment.

    In addition, I had also discussed my purchased of pure essential oils (Lavender and Peppermint) to make a flea spray deterrent for all my 3 dog beds.

    This is just the first step of the elimination process before further tests, if any, are warranted.

    All three dogs have now been treated, even though the older two had only just started to scratch here and there.

    So coincidental you wrote a post on ‘Natural flea prevention’ and we present for your senior Vet opinion.

    Thanks Andrew
    Will keep you posted

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