Natural Flea Control

Have you ever wondered why some dogs and cats have severe flea problems, while others are hardly bothered by the little pests? Fleas can be viewed as an indicator of an animal's general health. Parasites in general, and fleas in particular, are most attracted to the weak, unhealthy, or very young animal whose immune system is not functioning well. The long-term solution to a flea problem is to reduce your pet's susceptibility to fleas by improving his/her health.

     More immediate measures are also usually necessary to get rid of the fleas that are on your pet and in his/her environment right now. So we can break down the following recommendations into (1) treating your pet, and (2) getting rid of the fleas.

1. Treating Your Pet

The first line of defense against fleas is to keep your pet as healthy as possible. Fleas are most attracted to weak or unhealthy animals, so the healthier your pet is, the less attractive s/he will be to the fleas. There are a number of major factors involved here.


One of the biggest factors here is good nutrition. I strongly recommend a homemade diet of fresh, wholesome foods, which must be nutritionally complete and balanced. This is not as difficult or time-consuming as you might imagine. Please refer to the section above on natural diet. Good nutrition will not only reduce your pet's susceptibility to fleas, but has many other benefits as well.
If you cannot make a homemade diet for your pet, please see my recommendations on supplementing commercial pet foods. Beware of 'natural' dog and cat foods that contain no preservatives, but use the same poor quality ingredients as most commercial pet foods. Remember: the better the diet, the healthier and happier your pet will be.


Regular exercise is also very important to maintain muscle tone, good circulation, and proper elimination of metabolic wastes.


Sometimes the susceptibility to fleas and other parasites is so deeply ingrained that even the best nutritional program will not correct the problem. In these cases I recommend homeopathic treatment to address deeper imbalances that are often the underlying cause of the problem. If your pet continues to have fleas despite good nutrition and the other measures described here, then homeopathy may provide a solution. Incidentally, your pet doesn't have to be on a homemade diet to be treated homeopathically. It makes sense, though, to first address the more obvious and basic causes of a problem, such as poor diet, before going on to more involved and deeper-acting treatments.

2. Killing the Fleas

These are more immediate short-term measures for removing the fleas from your pet and his/her environment without toxic chemicals. Grooming and bathing are the two best ways of getting rid of fleas on your pet, and it is often necessary to treat the household as well. However, these are not a long-term solution to the problem, which is why you need to be working on your pet's general health at the same time.


Most animals can be combed with a flea comb to remove fleas. A flea comb is very fine-toothed comb, the teeth being closer together than the width of a flea. They are available at pet shops and feed stores, and I highly recommend their use as a part of any flea control program.

Depending on the severity of the flea problem, you should comb your pet at least once weekly or as much as twice daily. Concentrate on the areas where fleas congregate, usually around the neck in cats, and on the lower back and belly in dogs. Drop the fleas in a bowl of soapy water to drown them.

In addition to combing, regular brushing is beneficial to the skin and coat. Longhaired animals in particular should be brushed frequently.


Bathing your pet (yes, even cats!) is most appropriate for heavier infestations, and will remove most or all of the fleas on your pet. Never use insecticides on your pet. Flea powders, sprays, collars, shampoos, and dips are toxic, and are harmful to your pet. So are the newer products that are given by pill or applied to a spot on the skin. Despite the manufacturers' claims of safety, I have seen many problems, some quite serious, with these products.

Some of the more common insecticides to watch out for are methylcarbamate, carbaryl, sevin, rotenone, pyrethrins, and piperonyl butoxide. Flea products containing d-Limonene or citrus oils are considerably safer than those listed above, but still have the potential for significant toxicity. There are many good quality herbal pet shampoos available that incorporate the essential oils of eucalyptus, citronella, pennyroyal, or other flea repellant oils. Follow label direction. (Do not use these if your pet is being treated homeopathically, as they can antidote remedies.) Alternatively, you can use any good quality non-medicated pet shampoo, leaving a thick lather on your pet for 10-15 minutes to drown the fleas. Be careful not to let small puppies or kittens become chilled or overheated, and don't bathe more than once weekly.

Powders, Sprays, and Collars

Since combing and bathing have no residual effect, it may be helpful in some cases to apply a flea-killing or flea-repellent substance to your pet, especially when first starting the program.

There are a variety of commercial powders and sprays available that do not contain insecticides. Most incorporate essential oils, which repel fleas, and/or diatomaceous earth, which plugs up the pores through which the fleas breathe. These products are fine, as long as they do not contain insecticides. However, they do have some practical drawbacks. Powders leave the coat gritty. Essential oils evaporate quickly, so they must be reapplied frequently to be effective.

Herbal flea collars are somewhat helpful, more so for cats than for dogs. There are a number of good quality herbal collars on the market.

Powders and sprays are the least desirable of these methods, and if you find that you need to use them frequently, you should (1) treat the household more aggressively, and/or (2) improve your pet's diet, or treat homeopathically. Nutrition and homeopathy will more effectively address the underlying cause of the problem.

Household Control

Fleas quickly establish a population of eggs, larvae, and adults in a household, and adult fleas spend most of the time off of the pet. If you find lots of fleas on your pet shortly after bathing or combing, then the fleas in the household must be dealt with.

Frequent thorough vacuuming is necessary to remove flea eggs and larvae. The vacuum cleaner bag can be a reservoir of flea eggs and larvae, so either (1) put a mothball in the bag or (2) remove it after vacuuming, seal it in a plastic bag, and put it in the freezer overnight.

In severe cases, it may be reasonably safe to apply an insecticidal product to kill the existing flea population in the house. Most of the flea bombs and sprays that are available by prescription only (from a veterinarian) are quite toxic, and I do not recommend their use. A commercial product like Black Flag or Raid aerosol is a better choice. Get the animals (and yourself) out of the house until the spray has completely settled out of the air and dried. Use the normal precautions to prevent contamination of water bowls, food dishes, etc.

Another possibility would be to use powdered pyrethrum (African daisy) flowers for dusting rugs, floors, etc. These are relatively safe and moderately effective for this purpose, but must be repeated fairly often. Vacuum thoroughly, sprinkle the powder liberally on the rugs, and gently work it in with a broom. Concentrate on areas where your pet spends a lot of time. Wait at least 3 days before vacuuming, and repeat the process. I do not recommend direct application of these products on your pet.



Simply killing the fleas will not be effective in the long run in eliminating your pet's flea problem. There will always be more fleas to replace those you kill. If, however, you are preparing a high quality homemade diet, and you still need to apply the flea-killing measures frequently, there is probably a more serious underlying problem with your pet that requires homeopathic treatment.


Printed from Jeffrey Levy DVM PCH,
- © 2003, Jeffrey Levy, All Rights Reserved -