Warmer weather means many pet owners will be spending extra time outside with their four-legged friends. But that extra time playing outdoors or walking in the woods can mean more exposure to fleas and ticks.
While there are numerous commercial products marketed to kill fleas and ticks, some pets may react poorly to these chemicals, suffering symptoms like skin irritation, vomiting, diarrhea and seizures. Cats and small dogs tend to be the most sensitive to chemicals, and many products safe for use on dogs are toxic to cats.
No pesticide is 100 percent safe — not even those that claim to be “natural.” However, opting for truly natural alternatives can help you avoid exposing your pets to chemical pesticides.
Here are 5 remedies to help keep your pet pest free this spring:
1) Natural oils
Essential oils can be diluted and used as sprays or in shampoos to help keep pests at bay. But be careful not to overdo it with these, as your pet’s sense of smell is much stronger than yours. Apply oils in a well-ventilated area, and never spray around your pet’s face. Also, don’t saturate the coat — a little goes a long way.
Lavender, peppermint, lemongrass and cedar oils work well, but they must be diluted in water or a carrier oil like olive or sweet almond oil before application.
You can also add a few drops of essential oil to your favorite pet shampoo. By applying a few drops of diluted oil to a bandana, you can make a stylish flea collar for your pet to wear. Make sure the smell is not overwhelming because this will be close to your pet’s nose.
Neem oil is another favorite insect repellent that is included in various popular formulations.
Rose geranium oil is safe enough to use full strength, but you will only need a drop behind each shoulder blade and one drop near the base of the tail. Cedar oil products are also available as yard sprays.
Coconut oil kills and repels fleas due to the ingredient lauric acid. This solution can be rubbed through your pet’s coat or given to them orally. Add 1 teaspoon per 20 pounds of body weight twice daily in the food or offer as a special treat. Coconut oil melts at 76 degrees, so rubbing it between your hands will make it into a liquid that you can rub through your pet's coat. A bonus: Coconut oil moisturizes skin and helps kill yeast, too.
2) Fresh crushed garlic
This kitchen staple can be added to your dog's diet for flea protection. Anywhere from half of a clove to 2 cloves daily would be considered safe, depending on the size of your dog. A good rule of thumb is to use no more than 1/2 clove per 20 pounds of body weight daily, with a maximum of 2 cloves for any size of dog.
If you have a pet that has a history of hemolytic anemia, it would be safest to avoid using garlic in any form. Do not give garlic to cats, as they are more sensitive to the toxic effects.
Here’s another ingredient likely already in your kitchen that can be used to protect your pet. Vinegar can be added to your cat or dog’s drinking water at the rate of 1 teaspoon per quart of water, or it can be diluted in water in a 1:1 mixture and sprayed on your pet’s coat.
4) Supplements from the outdoors
Beneficial nematodes that may already be in your yard can be used to kill flea larvae. Food grade diatomaceous earth can be sprinkled in the environment or on the pet. Be careful when using topically, as you don't want your pet to inhale the dust. Remember: Any squirrels, rabbits, and mice outside can be harbingers of fleas.
5) Flea combs
Don't forget this good, old-fashioned solution. Teeth in these combs lie close together and can effectively filter fleas, flea larvae, and flea eggs to help protect your pet. Comb your pet daily to check for any evidence of flea activity.
When all is said and done, the use of natural preventatives against fleas and ticks can go a long way in maintaining pets’— as well as the environment’s— wellbeing. When trying these solutions, pay attention to what works best for your pet to increase your chances for success.
Judy Morgan DVM, CVA, CVCP, CVFT
Author of "From Needles to Natural: Learning Holistic Pet Healing", "What's For Dinner Dexter? Cooking For Your Dog Using Chinese Medicine Theory", and the upcoming book "Canine Kitchen Capers: A Humorous Look at Preparing Food for Dogs (& Spouses)."