Natural Pest Control – Fleas and Ticks

Ah – summer. And along with the great weather and days at the beach and gardening and all the good stuff, we have –  these guys…

…and with them, inevitably, to one degree or another, comes this.


and this

No one is happy, least of all your dog.

To make my position clear at the start; I avoid pesticides at all cost. I seek always to “First Do No Harm”. However, I will also not leave an allergic, miserable animal suffering if natural therapies are not working. If a dog has a flea allergy and is miserable, I will use one round of a topical veterinary pesticide – yep, that’s right – and get him or her out of misery. Dogs with flea allergy can develop hot spots, can suffer miserably with even a couple of fleas, let alone an infestation. The products are unpleasant but effective and I have never had to use them 6 months running as the package insists. I’ve done one treatment – ONLY with a healthy dog, not pups, seniors or dogs with health conditions – and that buys us some breathing room. Each case has to be addressed individually; some people swear by DE (diatomaceous earth) – I won’t use it because I have an asthmatic cat and am very sensitive myself to any respiratory irritant. (More on the pros and cons of all these therapies, to follow). Some people swear by garlic, but I have never seen it work ALONE – most will say “along with a good diet and etc etc, garlic helped reduce fleas” – well, who can say it was the garlic? Studies have repeatedly shown no effect from garlic, and feeding it in sufficient quantity to alleviate a flea issue poses problems of it’s own.

Neither do I like brewer’s yeast (can cause bloating and gas) additional B1 (won’t hurt in moderate doses but again, not a single study has ever shown efficacy)  – all that said, I have found things that help, are gentler than Advantage, but they require diligence and application, or we’re back to scratching all night long.
To start; if there is an infestation you have to clean out the whole house – vaccuum, and treat with SOMETHING, and if DE works for you, it’s worth a try. If it’s a minor issue and your dog is not overly miserable, just scratching periodically, I’d wash him well with a good natural shampoo, and there are many kinds available now, or you can make your own; flea comb daily (you can get flea combs at any pet store) treat the area he sleeps in with herbal flea powder, and make a spray with apple cider vinegar and any number of herbs – I use (any combination of) yarrow, calendula, rose, lavender, sage, nettle, basil, thyme and St. John’s wort with *maybe* 2 drops of rose geranium oil to a liter – but I don’t like essential oils anywhere the dog can lick them off, so I often just macerate the dry herbs in vinegar for a couple of weeks and strain. If you spray it make sure you don’t get any in his eyes! I also use acv rinses after bathing and sometimes make a large herbal infusion to pour over him as a last rinse after bathing.

For me, good diet has to be the foundation of a healthy dog, so make sure you’re feeding one of the following;
1) a properly balanced home made raw diet
2) a properly balanced home made cooked diet
3) a premium kibble with fresh food enhancements( tripe, cooked veggies, sardines, yogurt)

Address any food intolerances/sensitivity your dog may have. Feed as wholesome a diet as possible but be aware( how can you forget, as I’m forever going on about this)  that fresh foods alone won’t necessarily provide a full balanced diet; carnivore nutrition is different from ours and your dog will not thrive on a home made diet that is low in calcium, iodine, D3, zinc etc (as many of these diets are). If you’re already feeding a premium food or home made diet, consider adding a probiotic, something along the lines of spirulina, a general herbal tonic,  a little apple cider vinegar as long as there is no history of either stones or crystals in the urine, and some fish oils (not cod liver oil, but any good quality fish body oil).

Some more on dietary supplementation here:

I consider most dogs with flea allergy to be “hot” and like to use fish oils, anti inflammatory and cooling herbs throughout the year and provide some immune system regulation as well. Many dogs who run hot and react like this also have sensitive bowels, are reactive or just generally hyper, and can be helped with TTouch and massage as well as diet, supplements and herbs.

If you have to resort to Frontline or Advantage just do it the once and use liver support right after it – I like milk thistle with burdock, and chlorella, and a lowered protein/higher fiber diet for about 3 weeks following a treatment. Homeopathic Thuja may help as well although this is not my own area of expertise.

Takeaway message; a “cooling” diet may help, and we will talk a lot more about using foods to heat or cool the body – but most definitely make sure your dog’s diet is optimal. Adding in Omega3 fatty acids in the form of fish body or krill oils can help. If you do use a pesticide, detox your dog – or put more accurately, feed and supplement to support the body’s ability to excrete the toxin.

GARLIC – #1 Natural remedy

Again – a lot of people will say, garlic is the solution – and I’d just add, you can try adding a LITTLE to your dogs’ food, but some considerations (and please know there have been many studies showing no effect, in controlled scenarios).

1) garlic can irritate the stomach, so use with food only, please
2) Smaller dogs , I would avoid it altogether (under 20 pounds)
3) The problem with garlic and onions is the initiation of something called Heinz body anemia; you do have to feed a fair quantity to cause this illness but it is life threatening:

Here’s a review of the standard treatments (natural) for flea treatments – I tend to agree with much of this, except the “perceived toxicity” of veterinary treatments – well, hhhmm, they ARE toxic! But so can be essential oils and garlic etc, and much less effective. I try never to use the Advantage, but if my dog is scratching himself raw (as was the case with my own dog two years ago) I get him some relief and then address the situation as non-toxically as possible.

My view on garlic is simple. It can upset the stomach fed raw – it *can* cause serious illness in vulnerable dogs, and it’s a potent blood thinner which may or may not be desirable for your canine friend. My sense of it is, the amount required to be repellant to FLEAS is too much for the average dog to tolerate. Whenever I’m considering a supplement or herb I assess the individual dog, and do a risk/benefit analysis – garlic for me doesn’t make sense. Most people who use garlic are also feeding very high quality diets and not over vaccinating etc, so the good immune system and ability to repel an infestation is not related to the garlic, but to the genetic makeup and overall health of the individual.

But to be clear; Frontline and Advantage are NOT INNOCUOUS and I don’t like to EVER use them – but I will, one dose, to get a miserably suffering dog out of that state. Allergic dogs only. All others can be handled – more or less – with diligent attention to the environment, diet, and regular bathing, rinsing and flea combing.


1) You have to keep cleaning the bedding, vaccuming floorboards, daily.  Rent a  steam cleaner if you can. Diatomaceous Earth works well for some folks and others don’t agree. I wouldn’t use it if you have asthma or any lung sensitivity. But many swear by it.

2) Health of the dog, as in strong immunity which starts with a wholesome and balanced diet, is key.

3) I don’t much  like garlic, brewer’s yeast or B1, because I don’t think they work. But of these, B1 is probably the most harmless. I like to give this as a complex, so if you’re going to try that, add a plain B50, not a stress formula,not a time-released. Just a Bcomp 50. If it works – let me know.

4) Wash and fleacomb your dog regularly. You can use herbal rinses, lemon water, or herb-infused apple cider vinegar, or plain acv.Make sure your dog doesn’t have raw open sore areas before you pour vinegar or lemon on her – in these cases, I use  rose, calendula and lavender with a little bit of aloe vera. I generally just take a Tablespoon or two of each,  place in a Mason jar or any container that holds about a liter of water, and pour boiling water overtop. Cover, let sit four hours, then rinse the dog. With safe, cooling and vulnerary herbs like these you can make it stronger, and do it often. Marshmallow leaves, sage leaves, a little yarrow and mugwort are all nice ideas too and won’t burn the skin.NOTE: please try even these mild herbs INDIVIDUALLY at first; experience has taught me to make an infusion of one at a time, and then swab a little on the tummy. I’ve rarely ever seen a reaction, but I HAVE seen a couple, and better you know that before you pour the offending herb all over your already itchy dog! 🙂

5) The same herbs that we use in the water-infusions can be powdered and mixed with arrowroot and clay to create a safe flea repellant powder. This can be sprinkled on bedding, or combed through the dog’s fur right after bathing and drying. Because he or she will probably lick the powder, make sure you use only gentle herbs you know your dog does not react to. Again, I use calendula, rose, lavender, sage and yarrow, often with a little bit of  mugwort. I am wary of Essential Oils, although most dogs are probably ok with very small amounts of the milder oils (think flowers, mostly!) I weigh the probably benefit against the possible cost – and usually, I leave them out. I NEVER use them near anyplace a cat will sleep – and in my house, that’s pretty much everywhere.

6) Search your dog thoroughly after any outing where he might have picked up a tick. Then remove it. Remove it properly:

Now, as I am behind schedule and wanted to get this up for everyone before Christmas, I’m going to wrap up with a few Links – not what I normally like to do, but I’ve dug up some good ones for you.

The first one is from a DVM, she explains the flea cycle very well, so that’s important. She’s also a proponent of DE, garlic, brewer’s yeast and B1. 🙂 All of which I have not seen great results with – but no reason you can’t try!

Cedarcide: when I asked on my discussion (Facebook) group about what people are using, this product came up over and over. I decided to take a look, and I think it;s worth considering.

Nematode: Jury’s  out on this one, but I thought I’d include it for your consideration:

In summary; I still consider Dr. Pitcairn’s article to be one of the most balanced, with regard to natural flea control. And, he likes garlic and brewer’s yeast. 🙂 Maybe I’m out numbered, but I remain cautious. I’ll give the last word to the good Doctor.

And I wish you a  happy, flea-and-tick free, summer!


13 thoughts on “Natural Pest Control – Fleas and Ticks

  1. Used to put some Skin so soft in the bath for my room mate’s chesapeake. You could see the fleas abandoning ship

  2. Have you ever used Neem spray? I do not have a flea problem, even with 10 Wolfhounds, but I have had some biting bugs in late summer that the Neem spray seems to help with if applied to the belly every other day.

  3. Tara – I can only say, with regard to the cats – YOU come try to bathe them, lol! we have thirteen at the moment and we try not to bathe, it’s so traumatic to all concerned, but occasionally, yes we have had to. The four rescues I took in last month have all had one flea treatment – they were infested, and we have them confined and on good diet, but yes sometimes I have to treat the rescue cats. As with Danny – minimal (he’s had two topical treatments in five years, when he was scratching himself raw and just cried during his bath). The cats – they never get really bad, but rescues can be in rough shape.

    Ellen – thank you, I knew i was forgetting something last night. I haven’t used it, but I think it’s an excellent thing to try…especially as you say, with prevention. As with any herb, start small, make sure the dog is not sensitive to it, and them apply before walks in the woods etc. Neem is touted as a wonder herb (I think they’re ALL wonderful) so I’ve been a critic – but of the hype, not the plant. Well worth trying. 🙂

  4. Pedro, Skin So Soft was THE “holistic” alternative when i started working in this field and I cannot recall, but it fell from favour due to an ingredient. If I get a minute today I’ll look it up for you. It does help, though, Ive used it myself. Right now I’m working on a lotion for human use; both my partner and myself are outside a lot and this is blackfly/mosquito country. He’s been using rosepetal and yarrow vinegar on exposed areas and he says it helps. I get fever from black fly bites, so avoidance is my goal right now. I’ll probably post about my lotion experiments in my “other” blog – you know, the one for/about humans…:)

    Echo and Caroline – thank you so much! ❤

  5. Hmm it appears like your blog ate my first comment (it
    was extremely long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I wrote and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I too am an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new to everything. Do you have any suggestions for first-time blog writers? I’d really appreciate it.

  6. …love this site, cute photos.. Thanks for the great info. A natural organic shampoo with added eucalyptus oil is magic-kills fleas on the spot if you leave shampoo in for few mins. Work up to a good lather first, but the lather and oil drowns them.Also spraying eucalyptus oil direct is magic, but my 5 doggies dont like it. My little daisy, sulks and wont talk to me for ages! Will try your clay powder for fleas. I made clay toothpaste with bi carb, ground cloves and ground mhrr gum, and loved it , And oh, few drops of mint oil. Any thing clay is sooo nice, thanks so much 🙂

  7. Great info on safe and natural remedies for pest control. There are also a few companies in the pest control business that also provide pet safe treatments when the job is more out of control for home remedies.

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