Ugh, fleas. We hate them, our pets hate them—and the best way to avoid them is through prevention.
“Natural flea prevention entails two key elements—maintaining optimal pet health and environmental control,” says Jennifer Coates, DVM, who serves on the advisory board for the online magazine Pet Life Today. “Healthy animals have increased resistance to parasites, so ensure that your pets are on an optimal diet, are at a good body weight, and get enough exercise and mental stimulation.”
Home Sweet Home
Keeping cats indoors will greatly reduce the chances that you will have to deal with a flea infestation, Coates says, adding, “If your pets do go outdoors, keep your yard tidy and vegetation trimmed.”
If fleas aren’t in your yard, they’re less likely to find their way onto your dog, says Carol Osborne, DVM, of Chagrin Falls Pet Clinic in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. “When soil temperatures rise above 45 degrees for at least two to three weeks, use nematodes to minimize flea populations. (These tiny, wormlike parasites feed on fleas but can also control ants, termites and grubs.) Just add water and spray. Since nematodes are living organisms, use them ASAP.”
Osborne also says that you can feed your dog apple cider vinegar every day, a half-teaspoon per 25 pounds of body weight. “Test your dog’s urine with pH strips before adding ACV to their food or water,” she adds. “Dogs should have a pH between 5.5 and 6.5.”
To prevent fleas, Osborne suggests removing carpeting from your home or steam-cleaning carpets twice a year. Vaccum hardwood floors at least once a week and empty the bags or canisters. You can also sprinkle borax onto floors and carpets, leave on for one hour, then vacuum.
Every month during flea season, “spread diatomaceous earth (DE, food grade only) all over and vacuum after 48 hours,” Osborne adds. “It is a non-toxic powder that breaks apart flea eggs and dries them out.” Wear a mask and keep animals from breathing the dust until it settles; after that, it’s safe.
Debbie Garcia-Bengochea, who is co-founder of Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses in Gainesville, Florida, says she and her husband began using DE as a way of dealing with ants; the surprise was flea prevention.
“We started using food-grade DE on our dogs’ bedding and lightly on their coats now and then so they don’t get dry skin,” she says. “We’ve used it for three years and have not seen a flea in that time—a miracle for six big, fluffy, white Maremma sheepdogs.”
Dealing with Infestations
If you suspect your dog might have fleas, “put your pup on a white sheet or towel, brush or use a flea comb through the fur, especially in the hind end,” Osborne says. “In cats, fleas prefer the head and neck.”
Osborne suggests washing your pets’ bedding, toys and blankets on the hottest setting with two cups of white vinegar plus detergent. If the item can’t be washed, throw it out, as it may harbor larvae or eggs.
Clean your bedding and mattress, too—even if your pets don’t sleep in bed with you. “It’s possible fleas have hitched a ride on you and are now laying eggs in your bedding,” says Osborne; also treat carpets, floors and upholstery.
As for ridding your pets of fleas, Osborne suggests using a pet flea control rinse for both dogs and cats and a do-it-yourself flea collar: Dabbing a couple of drops of rosemary, peppermint and eucalyptus oils on your pet’s collar every few days continues deterring both fleas and ticks.
Osbourne adds that you should always check with your vet first before using essential oils; some, like wintergreen, pennyroyal, tea tree or clove, can be toxic for dogs.
Osborne offers some other natural flea deterrents that can be made easily at home:
• ACV Flea Remedy: Mix half raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar with half water, and spritz your dog’s coat. For cats, dip a flea comb in the solution and run through the fur.
• Lemon Dog Flea Repellent: Cut a lemon into quarters, cover with boiling water and let steep overnight. In the morning, spray the mixture on your pet. Avoid the eyes, and target the base of the tail, groin and under the legs. Do not use citrus essential oil.
• Pet Flea Control Rinse: Combine three cups of water plus five drops each of rosemary, peppermint and eucalyptus essential oils in a bucket and dip your dog. Don’t rinse off—the oils are nontoxic for both dogs and cats, and their scent helps repel fleas. Use this mixture as a flea spray between baths; spray lightly every couple of days.