These articles are provided for your information. Articles are not intended to replace or supercede information provided by your veterinarian. For more information on holistic and alternative pet health care providers, see our links section.
Natural Flea Control for Your Healthy Pet
Dr. Gaia J. Mather, Naturopathic Physician
We have a popular phrase here at Healthy Pets Northwest: “A healthy pet
is a happy pet.” As animal lovers and pet owners we see this especially
during flea season. The pet that is in optimal health is better able to
defend itself against parasitic infestation, which also includes external
pests such as fleas and ticks. Each summer, as the temperature rises the
warm weather encourages the growth of flea eggs and larvae. The average
life-cycle of the adult flea is approximately 3 to 4 months, and each female
flea can lay up to 30 eggs per day. Within one month, a group of 10 female
fleas can produce over 267,000 offspring. Depending upon temperature and
humidity, the average maturation cycle from egg to adult varies from 2 to 20
weeks, and in the summertime, when heat the humidity reach a peak, the cycle
completes itself about every other week. It’s easy to see how quickly a flea
infestation can occur in the summer.
Many people want to avoid the strong chemical pesticides that have
recently been used to keep fleas under control: the flea sprays, powders,
dips, bombs and collars. We support our customers in maintaining the health
of their animals, their personal habitats and the environment by helping them
to find alternative ways to keep fleas under control. It is possible to
decrease the numbers of fleas by adopting a multi-level strategy which
includes diet, some topical treatments and consistent care of the animal’s
Of course, the first step in natural flea control is a healthy diet; one
that includes a good balance of nutrients which are free of chemical
additives, colorings, artificial flavors and preservatives. A high quality
diet is the first step in assuring a strong immune system for your pet. To a
healthy natural diet you may want to add some brewer’s or nutritional yeast
flakes and fresh or powdered garlic. To this, some also add kelp and
bone meal which combined gives the animal a subtle odor which is repellent to
fleas. As a bonus it gives a natural boost to their overall immunity. There
are convenient garlic and yeast tablets available to give your pet as well.
Of primary importance in flea control is getting to the eggs before they
hatch. This is done by regular cleaning of the environment which the pet
inhabits. During the summer months vacuum weekly and if flea numbers are out
of control vacuum daily. Remember to toss out the vacuum bag when done,
because inside the bag is a warm, moist, food-filled environment perfect for
nurturing newly hatched flea larvae. Concentrate your cleaning efforts on
the areas where your pet sleeps. Use an attachment on the vacuum to get into
cracks and crevices where fleas eggs may roll and hatch. Roll up the pet bed
(to keep eggs from falling off) and launder it weekly in hot water, using a
hot dryer afterward.
Using a mineral salt on the carpet, such sodium borate, will dry up fleas
and their larvae for up to one year, if applied properly. There are sodium
borate products available or you can call FleaBusters at 1(800)6NO-FLEA.
Using a flea comb regularly serves several purposes. First, it helps to
strengthen the bond between you and your pet by engaging in “grooming”
activity. Diane Stein, in her book Natural Healing for Dogs and Cats,
recommends giving a regular “diagnostic massage” to your pet. While your pet
will love the extra time and hands-on attention, you may be the first to
notice a problem such as an injury or a lump. Flea combing will also give
you a very clear idea of the numbers of fleas on your companion. Place a
towel over the work area to catch flea eggs and debris. Focus on the areas
around the head, neck, back and hindquarters. Dip the flea comb into hot
soapy water to drown the fleas once they’re captured.
Bathing your pet regularly will keep flea numbers down as well. Many
natural flea soaps use essential oils which help to repel the fleas after the
bath. Aside from the common essential oils (citronella, eucalyptus, etc.),
some newer products are using neem, an herb from India that has been used to
combat pests for centuries. Neem not only kills fleas, ticks and other pesky
insects, it can actually condition the skin and coat as well. After the bath
you can apply a natural spray containing neem and essential oils to continue
the repellent effect. There are also natural flea collars containing
essentials oils that act similarly.
Flea powders containing pyrethrums (derived from Chrysanthemum flowers)
will discourage fleas as well. Dr. Richard Pitcairn in his book Natural
Health for Dogs and Cats, suggests a flea powder that you can make yourself.
Combine powdered eucalyptus, rosemary, fennel, yellow dock, wormwood and rue
and mix well. Place in a shaker top jar (like the kind you use for Parmesan
cheese), then apply it sparingly at the base of the coat. Brush the hair
backward and concentrate on the neck, back and belly. Put your pet outside
afterward to let the fleas jump off.
Another haven for fleas in the summer can be your yard. Like sodium
borate, diatomaceous earth (DE) will act to dry out the fleas and their
larvae. You can sprinkle DE indoors or outdoors along cracks and in
crevices. Be cautious using DE as it is a fine powder which can irritate the
nose and lungs if inhaled. Use a mask when applying and keep your pets from
inhaling it as well. If used in the yard it can also be hazardous to
beneficial inhabitants as well, such as earthworms.
A natural product that is not harmful to humans, pets or earthworms is
the beneficial nematode. They will attack flea larvae as well many other
larvae which are pests in the garden. The soil must be sufficiently warm and
moist for the nematodes to survive. You can contact your local nursery for
more information. And please don’t kill the ants, they are another form of
natural pest control, including fleas.
If you have tried regular and consistent flea control and find yourself
still battling the problem, or you have a pet with a special condition such
as flea allergy dermatitis (in which even one bite can cause uncontrollable
itching), then you may wish to contact your veterinarian for information on
topical flea control medications.
At Healthy Pets Northwest, we are committed to keeping your companion pet
and the environment healthy. We encourage limiting all uses of pesticides in
your home and on your pets. With early prevention, consistent care and
attention many problems can be avoided with great savings to your pocketbook
and the environment. We hope the information here will help you and your pet
to have a happy, healthy summer.
As always we welcome your feedback and comments.
Southwest Multnomah Village
3612 SW Troy St.
Portland, OR 97219 971-222-2686
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Portland, OR 97206 503-889-0789
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Portland, OR 97214 503-236-8036