The 3-Step Plan to Natural Flea Control For Your Dog

Photo by Linda Ly

Flea control for your dog seems like a necessary evil. While the active ingredients in the most popular flea collars and flea topicals are deemed safe for some (but not all) animals, they're known carcinogens to humans and highly toxic to cats, fish, bees, and beneficial insects.

These synthetic pesticides include permethrins, carbamates, and organophosphate insecticides, chemicals that work by disrupting the nervous system in insects and causing muscle spasms, paralysis and death. The neurotoxins typically don't affect dogs and humans because their bodies are able to break down the poisons at a faster rate than fleas. However if you have a dog that's sensitive to these chemicals, a household with cats (especially those that share close quarters with a dog), or young children who love to hug, stroke, and sleep with your dog, a more natural approach to flea control is worth considering.

Holistic flea control won't make your home 100% flea-free, though the more you stay vigilant, the more effective these natural measures become to the point where it is possible to eliminate fleas entirely. While holistic flea control tends to be more labor-intensive and time-consuming than, say, squirting a dose of pesticides on your dog's neck, the benefits of having a healthy home far outweigh the convenience of chemicals.

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This 3-step plan should be repeated once a month, or more often as needed.

#1 Clean flea-ridden areas of your home. Though it may seem like every flea in the house is living on your dog, fleas are mostly found in the environment. They lay eggs inside your home and live in cracks and corners, on your bedding, in your carpet, and in cool, humid areas. At the first sign of fleas, you'll want to start at the root of the problem: housekeeping.

Fleas are repelled by the strong scents of lavender, lemon, lemongrass, eucalyptus, peppermint, and cedar. Find a scent you like as a therapeutic-grade essential oil, add 10 to 20 drops to a box of baking soda, and shake to mix. Before you vacuum, sprinkle the essential oil-infused baking soda all over your carpet, brush it into the fibers with a broom, and let it sit for a few hours. The scent will not only make the environment inhospitable for fleas, but the baking soda will dry out any flea eggs nesting in the fibers. Baking soda also happens to be a natural, non-toxic deodorizer that absorbs stale odors from carpets.

Vacuum your home thoroughly, including under the rugs, behind the couch, and around your pet bedding. Anywhere your dog has been, you should vacuum. Once your vacuum bag is full, seal it in a sturdy trash bag and discard it immediately after cleaning, preferably outside in a trash bin (you don't want any of those buggers to escape and reenter your house!).

Wash all bedding (yours and your dog's, including any pillows and blankets they like to lie on) in hot water, and dry under high heat to kill any remaining adult fleas, larvae, and eggs.

For areas that your dog loves to frequent, like your bedroom, stash a few sachets (filled with dried lavender, dried mint, or cedar chips) in the corners of your bed frame and behind your headboard to further repel fleas. Every couple of months, give the sachets a gentle squeeze to release more oils into the air, or replace them with a fresh batch of dried herbs.

#2 Treat your dog with natural flea repellents. Give your dog a thorough bath, starting with the neck and working your way down. Use any gentle shampoo, such as oatmeal, but avoid medicated flea shampoos as they would defeat the purpose.

Once your dog is fully rinsed, give him a rosemary flea dip. To do so, steep a large handful of fresh rosemary leaves in a small pot of boiling water for about 30 minutes. Mix the rosemary "tea" with a bucket of warm water, then pour over your dog until his fur is completely saturated. Allow him to air dry; his fur should smell faintly of rosemary, which is a natural flea repellent.

Once a week, dab a few drops of essential oil (see #1 above) onto your pet's collar or harness. You can also apply the essential oil directly onto your dog's fur at the base of his tail and on top of his neck. Small breeds may only need a drop or two, while larger breeds may need up to five drops applied in each area. (Exercise caution when using essential oils around cats, as they are more sensitive to citrus-based oils.)

#3 Supplement your dog's diet. Sprinkle a bit of brewer's yeast into your dog's food each day, following the recommended dosage on the container. Animal-grade brewer's yeast can be found online or at local feed stores, though human-grade brewer's yeast is more widely available (and usually more expensive). Fleas dislike the taste of yeast, so they will stay away from dogs that smell of yeast. Besides being a natural flea repellent, brewer's yeast is also high in B-complex vitamins so they'll give your dogs a good nutritional boost to boot.

Apple cider vinegar works along the same lines to make your dog's skin unappetizing to fleas. You can try adding a teaspoon to his water bowl, but if he refuses to drink it, add it to his food instead. Raw, organic, unfiltered and unpasteurized apple cider vinegar (the kind with the mother in it, found in health food markets) is a natural probiotic, so give to your dog daily for the best benefits.

About the Author

Linda Ly runs the award-winning blog Garden Betty, which chronicles her adventures in the dirt and on the road. Her first book, The CSA Cookbook, will be out March 2015.
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