Three Steps to Natural Flea Control

brushing dog with fleas

By Alice Abler

Summertime can mean lots of outdoor fun for you and your pets. But summer can also mean flea season, which can lead to an unhealthy infestation that may result in hot spots, skin infections, hair loss, anemia, and even tapeworms for dogs and cats. Such a threat can tempt pet owners to use chemical insecticides (flea shampoos, flea collars, foggers, pharmaceutical spot-on treatments, and sprays) that may be harmful to both animals and humans. Luckily, there are safe, non-toxic strategies that can help prevent such an infestation, and there are natural ways to help eliminate existing pests on your pets, in your home, and in your yard.

1. Your pets

Healthy animals with nutritious diets are less likely to host large numbers of fleas, and when the occasional flea does bite, pets with strong immune systems are less likely to have adverse reactions. But even the healthiest of pets will attract some fleas. Checking for fleas that your pet may have picked up outside - especially after a walk - can go a long way toward keeping infestations at bay. Although removing jumping fleas by hand can be tricky, Tamara Hebbler, DVM, a holistic veterinarian with experience in natural flea control, has a clever solution for paralyzing those parasites: Take a fine-toothed comb to your pet’s fur. When you spot a flea, dab it with an alcohol-saturated cotton swab to paralyze it, then drop the flea into a dish of alcohol. Dr. Hebbler cautions, however, that it’s best to avoid using excessive amounts of alcohol on your pet. Learn more from Dr. Hebbler at

She also assures that a good shampoo should kill most fleas - if you leave the shampoo on your pet for about 20 minutes. You’ll want to be sure your pet stays sufficiently warm while waiting to be rinsed off. Even the best shampoos will not keep fleas away, but there are several commercial non-toxic flea repellent preparations available that use pet-safe essential oils. A common, natural product that many find helpful to kill fleas on pets is food-grade diatomaceous earth (fossilized marine algae). Simply dust your pet with the powder weekly, making sure to avoid the eye and nose area. You may want to cover your pet’s head with a damp cloth during application.

2. Your home

Puppy with fleasWithin the home, the same diatomaceous earth (again, food-grade) and boric acid (a naturally occurring substance with low toxicity for mammals) are both effective treatments. Although they are natural and relatively safe, these white powdery substances work by dehydration, and are respiratory irritants.  It’s best to wear a dust mask when working with these products. Apply the powder to carpets, upholstered furniture, pet bedding, closets, and mattresses. Consider treating your vehicles as well. The next day, vacuum the visible powder. Enough fine powder should remain to keep working after you vacuum. However, if the treated area becomes damp (from shampooing carpets, steam-cleaning, or mopping), reapply the powder after the area is completely dry.

Fleas love carpets and crevices, and vacuuming their favorite hiding places every few days goes a long way toward keeping a home flea-free. As soon as you are finished vacuuming, be sure to properly dispose the contents of the vacuum cleaner outside the house so the fleas don’t reemerge!  Some pet owners apply flea-repellent essential oil treatments around the house, but if you have cats living in the home, you may wish to start with a mild solution and watch your cat for lethargy or confusion. 

Dr. Hebbler warns that some cats have sensitivities to strong essential oils. Some repellent oils are a component of cedar and eucalyptus trees, and adding their shavings or greenery to a pet’s bedding can help with natural flea control - with the added benefit of freshening the aromas of your furry friends!

3. Your yard

Just as cedar or eucalyptus can help inside your home, using eucalyptus or cedar mulch outside is one way to make your yard less attractive to fleas. Treating your lawn with beneficial nematodes that feast on flea larvae can also make a difference. Since fleas don’t typically stay in direct sunlight, you only need to treat the shaded areas of your yard. Keeping your pet, your home, and your yard free from flea infestations does not have to involve using harmful chemicals. Natural flea control may take more time and effort than dousing your pet with pesticides, but following these guidelines will ensure a safer, more healthful environment for you and your pets.

Dr. Hebbler shares more tips and recommendations in an article by Jennifer Handy, PhD, titled “Strategies for Natural Flea Control,” found in the Summer 2012 issue of the Price-Pottenger Journal of Health and Healing, Volume 36, Number 2. 

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