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I LOVE this time of year because I can enjoy the outdoors with my furry family members, but there is always that worry in the back of my head, "Don't forget about the fleas!" Fleas can be a real issue for pets and pet parents alike. Not only can they transmit diseases to you or your pets, but they can also cause a variety of skin conditions, and even reduce a pet's ability to recover from other health issues. When spring and summer roll around, I increase my family's bug defenses using natural methods proven to help with pest control. That includes this easy to make herbal flea powder, home & garden pest spray, flea & tick spray for cats, and flea & tick spray for dogs!
Health is the most common reason for fleas
For the most part, a healthy animal will not find itself with a flea infestation. Veterinarians are often quoted saying the healthiest animals are less likely to be "flea magnets," and health starts first and foremost, with diet. William Pollak, DVM says:
The best flea control is a vital animal that radiates health and fitness, an animal consuming fresh, wholesome food and living a good, natural balance with its environment. The presence of fleas is an indication that you need to create greater life energy in your pet."
Joseph Demers, a DVM who practices in Florida says:
I have found that cats and dogs who are healthy just don't attract the fleas, or if they do, it is minimal. The same holds true with the wild animals who are brought in The weak ones are full of fleas, ticks, and parasites. The stronger ones are much less affected. The way to develop a strong, healthy animal is first and foremost good nutrition."
Natural flea control for pets
Flea control can be very difficult once an infestation has started to take over, but if you work diligently and frequently you can eradicate the flea population within your home and yard. There are many natural options that are very effective at flea, tick, and pest control, some of them are:
- Flea Comb - A good flea comb is a top priority when grooming pets infested with fleas. They are best used after a wash with soap or dry shampoo/flea powder.
- Raw Apple Cider Vinegar - The smell of vinegar alone, is enough to repel a mosquito, but apple cider vinegar is more than just a repellent. It is a natural conditioner to the skin and hair. It is also great for adding shine and luster to the coat. A really great way to utilize ACV to repel bugs is steeping herbs such as rosemary, lavender, neem leaf, in it for two weeks, shaking the jar daily. Strain herbs from the ACV and use in my DIY Flea & Tick Spray for Cats or my DIY Flea & Tick Spray for Dogs.
- Soap - One of the most important steps in flea prevention If you need to bathe your pets, use real soap rather than synthetic detergents to wash them with. Real soap, like castile soap, is made with oils and fats and when it gets on a bug it disrupts the insect’s cell membranes, causing them to die from dehydration. Don’t forget to dilute if using castile soap, it’s highly concentrated and shouldn't be used straight up. If you have a cat, I suggest using the baby mild/unscented version that way you can be sure it contains no essential oils that might interact with your cat.
- Essential Oils (FOR DOGS ONLY) – There are many essential oils that help repel and kill all sorts of bugs and are safe to use in dog sprays and powders! Some of the essential oils you can safely use diluted on dogs for flea and tick prevention are lavender, lemon, citronella, bergamot, cedarwood, lemon eucalyptus, lemongrass, peppermint, geranium, sweet orange, and rosemary.
- Herbs – There are quite a few options that you can utilize herbally for your pets. You can make a great flea dip with a strongly steeped herbal tea rinse! Simply pick your bug repelling herbs, steep them until the water is cool and either pour or spray all over your pet, saturating their coat. Let air dry without rinsing!
- Regular Vacuuming - Regular vacuuming helps to pick up fleas and eggs from your carpets, floors, and furniture. It is important to flea control to empty the vacuum cleaner immediately after vacuuming and remove it from your home to prevent re-infestation. For an extra flea killing oomph (that also helps to repel them too) combine 1-2 Tbsps. of finely ground bug repelling herbs to 2 cups baking soda and sprinkle all over your carpet before vacuuming. Let sit 15-30 minutes before vacuuming. Not only does it leave a lovely scent to your home, but it also helps to kill and repel those pesky fleas! This is also great to do all over pet bedding and furniture that your pets frequently lie on.
- Maintaining Your Yard - Flea problems outdoors can be managed by maintaining your lawn and shrubbery and keeping it short wherever your pet frequents. You can also make soap sprays to spray in heavily infested areas of your yard.
- Wash Bedding Weekly - Though you can wash some bedding in the washing machine, others are more difficult to do so frequently. I like to sprinkle the bedding with baking soda at the same time that I am sprinkling my carpet, let sit 15-30 minutes, then vacuum up.
Pet-safe bug repelling herbs
There are a lot of great herbs that can help repel fleas, but this is a list of the herbs that are safe for BOTH cats and dogs. These herbs can be grown in your yard, sprinkled on your carpet, or used in the flea powder recipe below!
- basil leaf
- chamomile flowers
- coriander seed
- lemon balm
- lavender buds
- lemon verbena
- neem leaf
- peppermint leaf
- rosemary leaf
- thyme leaf
What is diatomaceous earth?
Have you ever heard of diatomaceous earth (a.k.a. DE)? If not, you are in for a treat! The word “diatomaceous” comes from the root word “diatom”, which is a single-celled organism. Diatomaceous earth is a chalk-like powder that is made up entirely of these diatoms that have fossilized over thousands of years. While DE contains no toxins of any kind and is safe to use on humans and pets, it is deadly to insects. On the microscopic level, it is coarse and porous, making it highly absorbent. It sticks to insects and wicks valuable moisture away from their exoskeletons, fatally dehydrating them. This can take time, anywhere from several hours to several days, depending on the conditions and the type of bugs being treated. The great thing about this non-toxic powder is that you can sprinkle it around your home, in your garden, or even on your pets. Be sure you purchase food grade DE and not pool grade DE because the pool grade DE can cause respiratory issues.
A note on cats and essential oils
It is extremely important to understand that cats and dogs bodies do not function the same. Dogs are much like humans in the way that they metabolize toxins through their liver and kidneys, and subsequently their urine. Cats, on the other hand, do not metabolize toxins in the same way. Unlike dogs and humans, a cat's liver doesn't make a specific enzyme that helps us break down certain chemicals including the constituents that make up many essential oils. Because of this, certain chemical constituents build up in the cat's liver until toxicity is reached, causing them to go into liver failure or worse. There is still not enough research out there on which essential oils are safe for use on cats, so to be extra cautious I do not include essential oils in my DIY pet care products for my cats. It's OK to diffuse essential oils in your home even if you have cats, as long as you make it easy for them to leave the room while diffusing, or diffuse in a room that the cats aren't currently in. They can safely return to the room after diffusion.
DIY Flea & Tick Powder
for Cats and Dogs
- 1/2 cup diatomaceous earth, FOOD GRADE
- 2 Tbsp. lavender buds, finely ground
- 3 Tbsp. neem leaf, finely ground
- 3 Tbsp. yarrow, finely ground
- 10 drops sweet orange essential oil (for DOGS only)
- 5 drops Virginia cedarwood essential oil (for DOGS only)
- 5 drops lavender essential oil (for DOGS only)
- Wearing a mask to prevent breathing in the dust, gently whisk together diatomaceous earth and finely ground herbs in a bowl.
- If adding essential oils (for DOGS only), wearing gloves add essential oil drops to the powder mix and gently break up all of the clumps, using your gloved hands.
- Store in a jar with a shaker lid. This mix will last up to a year or longer as long as no water gets into the jar.
TO USE ON YOUR PETS
Sprinkle the herbal flea & tick powder directly onto your pet's coat, starting at the ears and working your way down to the tail. Avoid getting the powder into your pet's eyes, nose, and mouth. Pat the powder into your pet's coat, and follow with a brush or comb. Reapply the flea and tick powder every other week, or after bathing your pet. You can apply this powder as often as needed. If there are any visible ticks on your pet's body, be sure to dust them thoroughly.
This herbal flea and tick powder can be used on cats, dogs, and horses 10 weeks of age or older. Avoid using this powder on your pet's face or in their eyes, nose, and mouth.
TO USE AROUND YOUR HOME
To apply this herbal flea and tick powder to your carpet, sprinkle a light coating over the area and work it into the carpet with a broom until it does not show. Try to get it as deep into the carpet fibers as possible. Wait three days before vacuuming the powder up to be sure it effectively targets any eggs hatching in that time. Repeat this process until you are rid of the infestation in your home. You can repeat this process monthly to keep your home flea-free. To apply this powder to your hardwood floors, furniture, and pet bedding, sprinkle a light coating over the surface and work into cracks and crevices. Gently pat away any excess powder after application.
TO USE IN YOUR GARDEN
Sprinkle this herbal flea and tick powder in any outdoor areas where your pet spends time. Reapply every 2-3 weeks or after heavy rainfall in target areas if the flea infestation is severe or you live in an area with a long flea season.