The weather is getting warmer, and you know what that means—more time outside with your dogs and cats! Unfortunately, you’ll have to be dealing with all the locals who also love to frolic in tall grasses and can’t WAIT to latch on to your pet. No, we don’t mean clingy toddlers at the park, but those other pesky local creatures: fleas and ticks.
This week, let’s go over some of the best natural and non-toxic solutions you can whip up at home with ingredients you might already have to protect your pet from harmful insects they might pick up during their next romp in the great Canadian outdoors.
Why Not Use Conventional Treatments?
Look, you might say, why should I put in my time and personal ingredients when I can just pick up an effective treatment at the vet or petstore? While that’s technically an option, and there are plenty of flea and tick products on the market, they’re often made with toxic chemicals that can cause more harm to your pet than they’re trying to prevent.
The majority of flea and tick products use harmful pesticides and/or neurotoxins to destroy the nervous systems of these irritating (and potentially dangerous) bugs. Let us be frank: these products work well—really well, actually, and that’s part of the problem.
The toxins in these products travel via the fat layer of the skin from hair to hair or through the bloodstream, so a simple flea collar or a few drops from a topical can spread chemicals across the whole body. So, every time your pet grooms themselves, every time you pet them or give them kisses, you’re both ingesting a bit of that neurotoxin, as well as spreading it around your home.
There are thousands of cases where dogs and cats—the majority of which were seemingly healthy and not predisposed to seizures or neurological issues—have had reactions to these chemicals that range from skin irritation, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and in some cases, death. Your two-legged household isn’t safe either: these chemicals are known to cause rashes, itching eyes, or breathing issues, particularly in the young or elderly.
A final blow to conventional flea and tick treatments is that these chemicals don’t even repel insects! The bugs have to actually crawl around your pet and/or bite before they receive the neurotoxin load—so it might kill the bug, but only after they are already on or have even bitten your pet.
So if harsh chemicals and their potentially devastating effects aren’t up your alley, then more natural, non-toxic prevention methods for your dogs and cats may be the route for you!
Non-toxic Flea and Tick Treatments for Your Yard
There are two places you can apply preventative treatments: directly on your dog or cat, or, if you have a grassy outdoor space of your own, you can treat the lawn itself.
Nematodes are microscopic, parasitic worms. They’re part of a huge family, each specialized to a specific prey; some target fungi, bacteria, or other types of nematodes, so it’s important to use those labelled as “beneficial”, as these will contain the species that target ticks and fleas. The best species for these particular pests are Steinernema feltiae and Heterorhabditis bacteriophora.
Beneficial nematodes work by releasing them into the soil in the cooler seasons, so Spring or Fall is the best time for them to eat the eggs and larvae of fleas and ticks in the cool and humid soil. If it’s too hot, sunny, or wet (as in after a heavy rainfall or after you’ve watered your lawn), the nematodes may die or be washed away before they can complete their task.
Nematodes are safe for pets, people, and plants (as long as you buy the right ones)
They don’t just repel fleas and ticks but destroy them before they can develop into their peskier form
Can kill insects other than fleas and ticks—some that might have even been helping with pest control
Limited time and circumstances in which to release them
May be time consuming to apply, depending on the area needed to be covered
Diatomaceous earth is a very fine powder made from a naturally-occurring rock that forms from the fossilized remains of one-cell organisms that contain silica. Since fleas and ticks breathe through spiracles—tiny holes in their exoskeleton that need to stay moist to function—the fine silica-based moisture-absorbing diatomaceous earth can cling to them like powder on a donut and dry out the bugs, essentially suffocating them.
However, the crystalline silica makes diatomaceous earth looks like shards of glass under a microscope, so breathing it in can cause shortness of breath and potential lung damage. You can avoid most of this issue by only using food-grade (instead of filter-grade) diatomaceous earth for areas where your dog or cat explores, as this type contains fewer harmful crystals. Keep them away while you are applying the product and until the dust has settled—literally. You’ll also want to protect yourself with a mask and gloves and wash off when you’re done; diatomaceous earth isn’t necessarily harmful on contact, but it can dry out your skin and potentially cause itchiness, flakiness, or rashes.
Only works while dry—must be reapplied after rain
Takes about 3 days to take effect
It can be a bit messy to apply
Need to keep your pet (and any other creature with lungs!) away while you’re applying it
Natural Flea and Tick Treatments for Your Pet
If a dedicated outside space for your dog or cat isn’t in the cards for you, or if you tend to explore on trails and fields where fleas and ticks are more abundant, then give your pet some protection they can take with them on their adventures!
You can use cedar, lemongrass, citronella, or lavender oils to make your own natural flea and tick treatment! Cedar was used by ancient Egyptians for embalming to keep insects away, so one could say it’s been peer-reviewed for millennia. The strong citrus scents of lemongrass and citronella are effective against an assortment of biting bugs, and lavender oil is also known as a reliable repellant.
Remember, these oils will not eliminate fleas and ticks but may deter them from latching on to your pet. The only hazard with oils is their potency and purity: you need to dilute 15–20 drops of pure or high-grade essential oil in a spray bottle with water or the same amount of essential oil into a carrier oil, such as coconut, olive, or argan oil. From there you can either spray your dog with the water bottle (avoiding their face), work small amounts through their coat, or apply it to their collar bandana. If you’re using the collar or bandana method, apply the oils sparingly, as the scent may be too strong when it’s that close to their face!
Easy to make a large batch
Easy to apply
Cedar oil can also be sprayed on your lawn to deter insects from the general area.
MUST be diluted, as full-strength essential oils can be hazardous to pets
May protect your pet from the majority of bites but isn’t fool-proof
You or your pet may not appreciate the scent
Should not be applied to a cat’s coat, as they may ingest the oils when grooming
High-Grade Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is a great, non-toxic treatment to remove fleas and ticks from your pet. If you’ve already noticed some creepy crawlies in their coat, give them a luxurious coconut oil treatment: just warm up some oil in your hands and massage it into their coat, working your way all over their body (including between their toes!) and down to their skin. Leave it in for at least 8 hours.
The thick oil will coat the fleas or ticks in their fur and clog their spiracles so they suffocate. After the 8 hours, wash out the coconut oil with a pet shampoo and comb out the dead insects!
A convenient household ingredient
Moisturizes your pet’s skin and coat
Non-toxic—you can even add it to their meals!
Can be messy to apply
Needs to stay in for at least 8 hours before being washed out
Works best to remove bugs that are already present but won’t work as well as a deterrent
Despite common assumptions, garlic only becomes toxic to dogs and cats in large quantities, and just a little can have huge benefits! With regular, controlled doses of natural garlic (NOT garlic oil, garlic extract or garlic salt), it gets digested and introduced into your dog’s bloodstream. Over time, the chemical components of garlic can build up in their skin and hair, and bugs—hating the taste—will jump right off! Other garlic benefits include doses of beneficial vitamins such as Vitamin A, C, and B complex, as well as an assortment of minerals. Additionally, an active component called allicin (contained in crushed garlic) has been shown to have antiviral and antibacterial properties, as well as benefits for the heart and immune system.
As for dosing, the general rule of thumb is ½ a clove of garlic per 20 lb of your dog’s weight (obviously less for cats), maxing out at 2 cloves a day for large and giant breed dogs.
Feeding your pet garlic comes with some safety caveats: some breeds of dogs have a higher predisposition to garlic toxicity, particularly Japanese breeds like the Shiba Inu and Akita, or dogs with anemia. Avoid incorporating garlic in these dogs’ meals, or do so only under strict veterinary guidance.
If you’re not sure if your dog is susceptible to garlic, start slow. Effects may take a few days to pop up; look for excessive salivation, lethargy, pale gums, vomiting, diarrhea, and weakness. If you see any of these effects, stop feeding garlic immediately and take your dog to the vet.
Inexpensive and readily available
Easy to administer
Pets love the taste
Imparts multiple nutritional and health benefits in addition to being a parasite repellant
Some dogs may have sensitivities to garlic and react poorly
Takes continuous dosing over weeks to work effectively
To Fence It All In
While conventional treatments for fleas and ticks might seem more convenient, the hazards they pose outweigh the value of their effectiveness. On the other hand, while natural flea and tick treatments might sometimes be more cumbersome to apply and the best results often come from using multiple methods, the benefits are more apparent. Not only can you actually remove fleas and ticks from your property at the source, but you don’t need to expose your pet and the rest of your household to chemicals that pose serious threats to everyone’s health and well-being.