Every pet owner knows how annoying fleas can be. These minuscule insects can multiply in days and easily infest your pet from head to paws.
They will even jump off Fido or Kitty, turning to your family members for their next tasty meal. While flea bites are definitely itchy and can cause a rash in most cases, the bigger problem is ticks.
These tiny parasites can not only cause huge health problems for your furry companion, but they can put your own life in danger.
Ticks carry a number of nasty diseases, including Lyme disease, caused by a bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, in the tick’s saliva. (1) While one harmful bacteria is bad enough, new research shows there may now actually be a second bacteria called Borrelia mayonii that is far worse, causing even more intense Lyme symptoms like vomiting and neurological issues. (2)
There are many commercial treatments to keep these tiny blood suckers at bay such as flea and tick collars, topical solutions, powders or sprays, but they are also highly dangerous to your pet (and anyone else in your family).
These treatments work by poisoning the ticks or fleas using harsh chemicals like imidacloprid, fipronil, permethrin, methoprene, and pyriproxyfen. (3)
These highly toxic chemicals have been shown to cause multiple and significant health problems in pets including cancer, organ failure, nerve damage and endocrine disruption to name only a few.
And your pet is not the only one at risk according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). (4) Most of these products are registered as pesticides and as such, are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US.
Some of these, however, like the organophosphates and carbamates, are known poisons and have even been banned for household use, yet they are still used in pet collars and sprays.
In fact, in 2008 alone, the EPA received more than 44,000 complaints of “adverse reactions” from these products that ranged from rashes to seizures and even death. The EPA further admits these reports have increased by a staggering 53 percent and that they are looking into finding ways to make these products safer, but in the interim, they remain on the market. (5)
So what is the alternative? The fleas and ticks aren’t going anywhere so we have to look at safer more natural products that will get the job done. Luckily, nature can do just that!
Natural Remedies For Fleas and Ticks
Fleas and Ticks have been around for eons. While they do not live as long as some other animals, they can definitely do some real damage in their short lifetime.
For instance, a flea can live up to 18 months in ideal conditions. And during that time, a female can lay as many as 5000 or more eggs!
So, it’s easy to see how one pesky flea can quickly out number us in a matter of days. (6)
Before the advent of dangerous, toxic chemicals as a means to get rid of or deter these parasites, nature provided us with everything we needed to get the job done—safely.
Some of these tried and true remedies are so effective, in fact, they rival commercial treatments that pose significant dangers to both your pet and your family.
Here is one recipe that is both safe and effective and even better, it is easy to make and uses just three ingredients:
Herbal Flea and Tick Powder
- 1 cup of food grade diatomaceous earth
- 1/2 cup of yarrow powder
- 1/2 cup of Neem powder
Mix all of the ingredients in a container with a shaker top (a dollar store will have something suitable). Apply the powder directly to your pet’s dry fur and then brush it in to ensure it comes into contact with their skin. Always avoid your pet’s ears, nose and eyes as the powder can be an irritant to these areas.
If you pet already has fleas (or you suspect they do—it can be hard to see them on thick and long coated animals) apply the powder 3-4 times a week until the fleas are gone (your pet should stop scratching). Also make sure to apply powder to any place your pet frequents such as a bed or the carpet. Sprinkle a generous amount on the bed or carpeted area and leave for a few hours, then simply vacuum it up. As a preventative during tick and flea season, apply the powder to these areas at least once a month or more if you see any insects.
Insect Busting Ingredients
Diatomaceous Earth (DE)
Diatomaceous earth or DE, is a sedimentary mineral rock derived from the remains of diatoms, oceanic single cell algae. These diatoms are actually over 30 million years old! When this aquatic algae dies, it sinks to the ocean floor where it eventually cements. The result is an off-white powder similar to talc that contains the fossilized remains of these marine phytoplankton. (9) The “active ingredient” in this powder is silica grains that are harmful to insects but essentially innocuous to you and your pet. When DE comes in contact with the exoskeleton of the insect, the very sharp structure of the silica pierces the waxy coating of the bug’s shell, which allows the vital moisture within it to seep out, eventually dehydrating the insect until it dies. (10) DE is very effective, especially because insects cannot “build a tolerance to it” like they can with the over use of pesticides. DE works on a physical level, not a chemical one.
Yarrow is a known anti-inflammatory for skin issues as it can soothe irritated skin. Yarrow is also an effective anti-microbial with powerful pain relieving properties. (11) This herb is especially helpful for healing flea bites as they often evolve into secondary infections. Yarrow will not only protect your pet from any secondary infection, but it can also help to soothe irritated skin.
In Ayurvedic medicine, neem has been used as an effective herbal repellant for fleas, ticks, lice, mites, ants and mosquitoes and has even been shown to be effective against malaria. (12) (13) The active compound in neem is called Azadirachtin, which has been shown to disrupt the metamorphosis of insect larvae by interfering with their hormonal systems. (14) It has also been shown that compounds in neem thwart their ability to feed. In fact, Azadirachtin is so repulsive to insects that they will starve before eating anything with neem on it—even minute traces. Neem also contains a compound called salannin, which is equally as effective as an insect repellent. In some studies it was even proven more effective at repelling insects than DEET (15, 16) Further, neem has moisturizing properties, which are helpful for dry, itchy skin, especially since DE can be quite drying. Neem has also been shown to have powerful anti-bacterial properties that can help prevent any infection from flea and tick bites. (17)
Other Natural Flea and Tick Treatments
Lemon Eucalyptus Oil
Lemon eucalyptus is a potent natural repellent derived from the leaves of the lemon eucalyptus tree. Lemon eucalyptus essential oil contains 85 percent citronellal. The effectiveness of this oil is so powerful that it has been confirmed by the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) as the only plant-based repellent advocated for use in disease endemic areas. (18)
The major compounds in lemon grass oil are citral, geraniol, myrcene, citronellal and limonene. Citronella oil contains large amounts of citral, which gives lemon grass oil its lemony fragrance. A 2002 study shows that lemon grass oil is as effective as commercial mosquito repellents without the dangerous side effects of chemicals. (19)
Cinnamon oil is a key natural mosquito repellent. Studies show that 15 percent cinnamon oil to water ratio can kill mosquito larvae in 6 hours. Even a 5 percent solution is able to kill larvae in 24 hours. (20) Another study shows cinnamon oil is more effective than some commercial and even natural mosquito repellents. (20)
Many essential oils have been tested as natural insect repellents. While several are deemed effective, clove oil is shown to repel against mosquitos that carry malaria, filarial and yellow fever. Clove oil is also shown to repel the longest—2-4 hours, which is longer than any other natural repellent. (21)
Geraniol, is the active ingredient in geraniums. This fragrant oil has been shown to be effective for repelling a wide variety of insects, including “mosquitoes, house flies, stable flies, horn flies, cockroaches, fire ants, fleas, gnats, dog ticks, lone star ticks, and no-see-ums (tiny gnats).” (22, 23)
Warning for Cats
While essential oils are generally safe for dogs, you should be careful using these with cats. Cats have problems metabolizing the compounds in essential oils, which can lead to toxic build-up in their bodies. So, always check with your vet before using any essential oil on a cat. (24)