It's that itchy, scratchy season for pets when fleas rear their ugly, annoying microscopic heads. Of course there are lots of chemical treatments and collars that can wipe out the annoying pests, but you may worry that if those chemicals aren't safe for you or your children to touch, do you really want them on your furry friends? One option is to try oral drugs that kill biting insects.
But if you'd like to avoid medication, there are more natural flea remedies you can try instead. If you choose to use these, many vets suggest that you administer them along with more traditional preventatives.
Fleas, mosquitoes and ticks carry life-threatening diseases like heartworm, Lyme disease and tapeworms. Blood testing every three to six months is recommended for pets who aren't on traditional monthly medicated flea, mosquito and tick prevention, Dr. Katie Grzyb, medical director at One Love Animal Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, tells PetMD. "Tests will monitor for heartworm and tick-borne disease," she says. "The earlier the diagnosis, the easier and less expensive the treatment in most cases."
Talk to your vet to see what he or she recommends. Here are some natural suggestions.
Nematodes are microscopic, worm-like parasites. There are many different kinds and some can be beneficial because they feed on pests, such as fleas. You can buy nematodes at garden stores. Just mix them with water and spray them around your yard, reports SF Gate. Nematodes need moisture on a regular basis, so you should water your lawn every couple of days to make sure the beneficial parasites survive.
Will they work? It may depend on the soil in your yard. According to the University of Florida Extension, not enough studies have been conducted on nematode effectiveness as a method of flea control when applied to lawns. In addition, soil composition seems to affect how well they work.
Apple cider vinegar
Health food proponents have long touted the benefits of apple cider vinegar. Fans say it also has flea prevention benefits for pets — when applied topically and given orally.
DogsNaturally suggests mixing up a solution of half raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar and half water and spritzing your pet's coat. The same should work for cats, but you may find that your feline friend is less tolerant of being sprayed. In that case, Kitty Cat Chronicles recommends repeatedly dipping a flea comb in the vinegar and water solution and combing your kitty's fur.
To get the pests from the inside out, try adding 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to your pet's drinking water. You may find that your pet is too picky to drink the doctored concoction, but the vinegar-laced mix may also help repel fleas. You may want to check with your vet before you spike Fluffy's H2O, and keep an eye out for any unusual reactions.
"You have to apply common sense," Sue Ann Lesser, D.V.M., told Whole Dog Journal. "Most dogs are notoriously over-alkaline, and cider vinegar will help them. If a dog's system is overly acidic, you’ll see clinical signs, such as obvious symptoms of illness. I know quite a few dogs that take cider vinegar … and I don't know of any that have had bad results."
It sounds basic, but it's true. "Healthy pets get fewer fleas, and good nutrition makes for healthy pets," says syndicated columnist Dr. Michael Fox, D.V.M.
One supplement that seems to have the additional benefit of warding off fleas is brewer's yeast. Anecdotal evidence finds that the popular nutritional supplement helps deter the pesky pest from dogs and cats.
Fox suggests 1/2 teaspoon of brewer's yeast at mealtime for a cat or small dog, and 1 teaspoon per 30 pounds of body weight for larger dogs.
Rosemary flea dip
Chemical flea dips can be very caustic. But Care2 suggests a mild version featuring fresh rosemary. Start by steeping two cups of fresh rosemary in boiling water for 30 minutes. Strain the liquid, throw away the remaining leaves, and add up to a gallon of warm water (depending on the size of your pup). Wait until the brew cools, but is still warm enough to be comfortable. Pour it over your dog until he's soaked and let it dry naturally.
Lemon spray repellent
For another flea-repellent spray, try a fresh lemon. Another natural remedy from Care2 advises cutting a lemon into quarters, covering with boiling water, and letting it steep overnight. In the morning, spray the mixture on your pet. Be careful of his eyes, but try to target the spray behind his ears, around the base of his tail, and under his legs.
If your pet won't tolerate spray, PetMD suggests rubbing the juice from a freshly squeezed lemon or orange on your dog or cat's fur. Make sure you use fresh citrus and not citrus essential oil, which can be dangerous to your pet.
This all-natural insect repellent comes from a tree native to India, Sri Lanka and Burma. It's often used to repel biting insects such as fleas and mosquitoes, but there's little proof that it wards off ticks, according to PetMD. Add a few drops to pet shampoo, dilute it with dishwashing liquid for a do-it-yourself flea spray or simply apply the oil directly to your dog's coat. For a cat, you need to take extra precautions because some cats are more sensitive than others. If you see any adverse reactions like excessive salivation, stop using it.
"Neem oil is not listed as a toxic plant product for cats or dogs as per the ASPCA Poison Control Center or Pet Poison Helpline, yet I always recommend cautious use with all dogs and cats under the guidelines of the pet’s primary veterinarian," Dr. Patrick Mahaney, veterinarian and owner of Los Angeles-based California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness, told PetMD.