Flea and Tick Prevention: Safe, Natural Options for Our Pets & the Environment

by | Apr 20, 2021 | Animal Wisdom, Safety

Tis this season! Most of us eagerly look forward to spring and summer for all the outdoor access and adventure opportunities available for ourselves and our pets.

But the warmer months also bring the heavier loads of pesky insects like fleas and ticks. Now is the time to be thinking about good flea and tick prevention options to protect our canine companions from these parasites.

Conventional Flea and Tick Prevention?

Many of us have significant concerns about using conventional flea and tick prevention products, which include toxic pesticides in the form of oral and topical monthly medications. Indeed, many recent reports are citing the adverse effects seen with many of the newer flea and tick medications. Large numbers of dogs are having neurological reactions, tremors, seizures, gastrointestinal illness, and even behavioral changes such as aggression or anxiety. 

In fact, most of the newer types of flea and tick products contain chemicals that act as neurotoxins which exhibit parasite killing activity through effects on the insect’s nervous system.  Pharmaceutical companies originally claimed these products were safe for dogs as the active toxic ingredients were said to be specifically selective to arthropods (insects). There is clear evidence now that neurotoxicity effects can occur in pets too, with additional concerns regarding the cumulative effects from continual or frequent use, and the potential long-term impacts on pet health. 

In addition to our highest priority concern for our pets, we now have additional concerns for the welfare of our environment too. New studies report many of the specific chemical pesticides in the “spot-on” topical flea and tick products are being found in dangerously high levels in waterways, rivers, and sewer run-offs. The growing popularity of using topical pesticides on dogs is now contributing to toxicity in our environment too.

Looking to Nature for a Solution

Of course, we want to support our pets’ best health and wellbeing, which includes natural, non-toxic options for flea and tick prevention. Truly, the best protection starts with a healthy, species-appropriate fresh food or raw food diet that is low in carbohydrate content. 

Simply said, a healthy dog will attract less fleas than a dog who has a weakened immune system or chronic disease. Processed foods with high carbohydrate content promote more inflammation, disease, and immune deficiency. 

Foods to Fight Fleas and Ticks

A few simple foods can be added into your dog’s diet to provide extra immune support and more resilience to parasites. These include foods like fresh garlic and raw honey. 

  1. Fresh garlic has natural anti-parasite and immune support properties and is quite safe for dogs when given in small, appropriate quantities. You can give a daily volume of ¼ tsp of freshly chopped garlic per 15 lbs. of body weight to your dog during flea and tick season, or year-round. (It is important to note that garlic in a powder or capsule supplement product will not have the same effects as freshly chopped garlic). 
  2. Raw honey is another immune system booster, that is safe (and yummy) for dogs in appropriate amounts of about ½ tsp per 15 lbs. body weight per day.  Benefits are even greater with locally produced honey, as it can provide immune supportive nutrients to combat potential allergens in your specific environment. 

Beyond Diet

Beyond diet, we can proactively support our pets’ immune systems with different types of nutritional, herbal and homeopathic supplements. 

Routine or seasonal detoxification can go a long way to support the body’s resilience and overall health. Safe and gentle detox options include homeopathic remedies and long-known effective herbs like milk thistle and dandelion. 

Phytoplankton is also an excellent choice, due to its impressive profile of nutrients which support overall health and immune system function, as well as specific detoxification benefits too.

Natural Options for Flea and Tick Prevention

In addition to food and supplements, we can choose natural options for flea and tick repellents to use on our pets or in their environment.

It is important to remember that natural products will act as a repellent to minimize the numbers of fleas and ticks that are attracted to your pet, but not a complete prevention like pharmaceutical products that kill the parasites. Fleas are generally easier to repel or kill, whereas ticks are more resilient and typically require stronger agents to repel or kill. 

When it comes to ticks, nothing can take the place of diligent tick checks on your dog after time spent outside. Using a fine-tooth flea comb can also be an effective way to find ticks or fleas, and a tick removal tool can come in very handy too.  Keep in mind that fleas live more in the environment than on the pet, so if you are finding them on your dog, you will want to address your home environment as well.

[RELATED] Not sure how to remove a tick? Here are step-by-step instructions!

1. Diatomaceous Earth (DE)

DE provides a safe and natural option that can be used inside your home, directly on pets and outdoors in the yard. DE is a silky fine powder that acts as a desiccant or drying agent to effectively kill fleas and their larvae.

Use a quality food grade DE (not industrial grade) which can be sprinkled on your pet’s bedding, as well as carpets, furniture, and anywhere else your pet spends a lot of time. Leave the DE dust down for about 24 hours and then vacuum. You can also apply DE directly into your pet hair coat and skin, but completely avoid their face, eyes, nose and mouth. It may be ideal to bathe your pet about 24 hours later too, because DE can potentially dry out their skin as well.

2. Nematodes

Beneficial Nematodes (Steinernema Carpocapsae) is a great option to use for natural parasite control in your yard or outdoor space. Nematodes are typically used to protect gardens and plants from ants and caterpillars, but also provide effective prevention for fleas and ticks, as they feed on these insect’s larvae stages while they are still in the soil. Check your local garden centers to get these nematodes.  

3. Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar has many health benefits and can also be used to deter fleas. Mixed with water in equal parts (50/50) solution, ACV can be misted or applied onto your dog before heading outdoors. 

4. Neem Oil

Neem oil provides another safe and effective option to address parasites.  Neem is a tree that is native to India and is highly valued for its wide range of medicinal properties that are offered in the bark, the flowers and the oil extracted from its seeds. 

In addition to numerous other health benefits, Neem oil possesses natural insecticidal properties and is not only used in organic agriculture to protect crops from insects but is safe to use for pets and people too.  

5. Essential Oils

There are numerous essential oils (EOs) that have flea and tick repellent qualities.  Use only quality therapeutic grade oils or trusted products with pet-safe formulas in the form of sprays or newer flea & tick wipes. Commonly used EO’s for pest control include cedar, peppermint, lemongrass, lavender, catnip, eucalyptus and geranium.  

DIY Flea and Tick Prevention Spray

One option (offered by Dr. Karen Becker) for a home-made flea & tick repellent spray for DOGS includes: 

  • 8 oz clean water 
  • 4 oz organic raw apple cider vinegar 
  • 10 drops Neem oil
  • 10 drops Catnip oil 
  • 5 drops of one of the following choices of EOs: lemon, lemongrass, eucalyptus or geranium

Add all the ingredients to a large spray bottle and shake well. Spray your pup before heading out, paying special attention to the legs, belly, and neck.

Dr. Katie Kangas

Dr. Katie Kangas owns and operates Integrative Veterinary Care, a private practice in San Diego, California, offering holistic and integrative health care options for pets. Dr. Kangas achieved her CVA certification at the Chi institute in 2008, followed by additional training in Advanced Acupuncture, Food Therapy, Herbal; Medicine and Veterinary Orthopedic Manipulation (VOM). Her areas of special interest include nutrition, functional medicine, dental health, and pain management. Dr. Kangas has authored several articles published in veterinary journals and pet magazine, and shares her passion for pet wellness education by lecturing and presenting locally, nationally, and internationally. Additionally, Dr. Kangas has a background in shelter medicine, with more than 15 years of contribution to the homeless pets in her community. She spent many years working with the San Diego County Department of Animal Services and also served as the medical director of the San Diego Humane Society & SPCA from 2002-2007.

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