History/Backstory: I have been raw feeding and 100% Naturally Rearing all of my animals – yes, even foster animals and very sickly rescues, seniors, kittens and puppies – since 1989.
At the time, my animals and the dogs I grew up with during my childhood, had fleas. Spot-on treatments had not come on the market yet, but, being responsible and following the veterinarian’s advice, our animals ate only dog/cat food (“no tablescraps”), and got their routine annual re-vaccinations. And, especially as they aged and during the hot California summer months, they also suffered from fleas.
Yet nothing worked to control them! Despite our use of costly veterinary and OTC flea dips, baths, sprays, powders, and various flea collars – our animals continued to have fleas plus they itched, had missing fur/skin issues. Fleas were a problem for us in the 1970-80s, for sure!
Once I learned there was a different approach (1, 2, 3) to how to manage, support, and maintain my animals’ health (Natural Rearing), and witnessed how incredibly, reliably effective Natural Rearing is for keeping my cats, and then dogs, flea-free naturally, I was horrified when I started to hear about the new spot-on treatments coming into the marketplace and how everyone seemed so excited to get their animals on this new way of controlling parasites (never mind that the package insert/label warns against getting the pesticide on *our* skin!)
I knew, even though these new and exciting drugs seemed to “work”, what we were heading towards was seriously damaging the health of our companion animals. While making them sicker, we began to build/alter fleas into being stronger/more difficult to control and more dangerous parasites. Nature has her way – much like bacteria and their relationship with our use of antibiotics, fleas would soon adapt and become resistant to our new, ever stronger chemical/toxic methods of control.
Sadly, over 25 years later, I can see my early concerns seem to have been realized. These days, our animals are experiencing the consequences from our ever more damaging efforts to control pesky parasites. We have, sadly, made our animals weaker/sicker, and the fleas have adapted to become more resilient/stronger.
In my opinion and experience, dogs and cats suffer more than ever, in dramatically higher numbers, from allergies, and serious, chronic skin disorders. Humans, who love their animals dearly, struggle (and go broke!) trying a number of different topical and medicated approaches, while having to watch, helplessly, as their animals suffer.
Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to manage these disorders once the damage has been done to an individual’s immune system (and, we are learning now, also to their microbiome – which is directly related to immune health).
Thankfully, there is hope, but it does take work/effort, some patience, and lots of steely commitment/not giving up.
“Fleas being present on your pet can be an indicator of the 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 best flea prevention is to reduce your pet’s susceptibility to fleas by improving his/her health.” – Dr Jeanette (Jeannie) Thomason Fleas and Ticks – The Wholistic Truth A Naturopathic Approach to Fleas and Ticks
“So, What Can I Put On My Dog/Cat To Prevent Fleas?”
I get this question daily and the simple and straightforward answer is that topical remedies (natural or otherwise) are just never an effective, safe, long-term approach to flea control. This why I do not sell/make any topical flea control options. Of course, you can certainly try one of the more “natural” topical options – some of them seem safe enough to try – and I will list them at the end of this post.
However, please understand that fleas WILL NOT be effectively or safely controlled/managed with any sort of topical applications or natural remedies – the only truly safe and totally effective way to manage fleas is to follow my Natural Rearing Protocol for 100% Flea-Free Animals & Home! It starts with…
NUMBER ONE, most important consideration: Vaccines.
Reduce/eliminate vaccinations. Do not re-vaccinate already vaccinated animals. Never vaccinate with combination vaccines, vaccinate sick animals, or animals having surgery.
If you want to vaccinate your puppy – follow a very limited schedule of: one single parvo, one single distemper (titer test to confirm seroconversion 3 weeks after vaccinating) Then, wait until as long as possible – preferably until after 12 months of age – to vaccinate for rabies. Rabies is the only vaccine required by law.
NUMBER TWO, vitally important every day commitment: Nutrition.
To prevent fleas, the only thing the animal requires every day is optimal nutrition.
Feed a fresh home-cooked or wholesome, fresh, raw foods diet that has not been HPP-ed and does not have added vitamins/minerals — ideally, 100% real, actual, wholesome and whole foods from nutrient dense sources (truly grass-finished, GMO-free, truly pastured, fresh & local).
No kibble, no canned, no commercially processed, dehydrated/etc. foods or treats – aim for never ever.
For some people/families, it’s best to proceed as if these options just don’t even exist – to just completely take them “off the table”, never buy them, and get them out of your cupboards. Commercially processed foods and treats are seriously damaging to our animal’s innate vitality; they make your animal less healthy, more susceptible to illness & dis-ease (including fleas and other parasites), and they are simply not worth feeding or spending your money on.
Make the commitment to purchasing all of your animals’ food/ingredients from your local grocery, butcher, farmer’s market, health food store, raw buyer’s group, or source directly from farms/ranchers or other high quality fresh food producers that you trust providing REAL wholesome, naturally raised foods.
But, trust me, if you can manage to commit to doing just these two major things, you WILL change the outcome and set the stage/foundation for your animal’s daily and long-term health. These changes will save you money on veterinary expenses, and, when combined with the full protocol below, it will save you money/energy spent on a number of ineffective and unhealthy treatments, and save your animals from suffering with a flea infestation, and many other common, but often avoidable, health issues that afflict so many modern companion animals.
Your Next Steps: Lifestyle
- Eliminate all topical or internal chemical flea/tick/heartworm medications. Wait? what? Yep! Every time you give your animals a dose of these toxic medications, their immune system takes a damaging hit. Ironically, these medications make your animal even MORE susceptible to illness/flea infestations — so when that flea control du jour stops working, your pet will have less strength/resistance and the next infestation will be far worse than even before!
- Daily/frequent exercise with exposure to nature; sunshine and direct contact with dirt/sand/natural soils is vitally important. Many animals I see that have a chronic itching issue are simply under-exercised. I think we underestimate how much exercise and exposure to nature our animals (and ourselves!) require for ideal and optimal health. I recommend two hours of hard off-leash play/hiking, swimming and/or serious romping with friends outdoors, every single day, just for the basic needs of most dogs. If you have a working breed or very high energy/driven dog, the requirement will be even higher. If you have a cat, consider installing a catio or enclosed outdoor area for daily exposure to the outdoors, and play with your cat daily. Exercise promotes healthy energy flow along our meridians and helps to maintain a balanced chi or vital force/life force. It allows for our bodies to detoxify properly, and promotes the proper, healthy functioning of all our internal organs – including the biggest organ, our skin! Expending energy through demanding physical work, vigorous play, and through expansive/unrestricted physical exertion/movement, releases stress and enables animals to relax peacefully when at rest. If our animals don’t get adequate daily exercise, they will often chronically itch and/or self-mutilate. Please, get your dog outside (not just in your backyard — but really OUT in nature!) and go for a long hike – it will be good for you both. I bet that your itchy dog will settle down at home each night, and experience a lot less itching! You can both sleep much more peacefully – and we know just how vitally important sleep is for cell repair and immunity!
- Reduce stress – make a point to have fun and play/do activities together as often as possible! Allow your animals to safely and freely explore their environment; if your dog is a social butterfly, enjoy play and social time with other animals/friends! don’t enjoy other dogs — there are a number of super fun sports and activities that you and our dog can get involved in together. Play with your cats before every meal! Go, see and do things together! Give lots of love and allow for plenty of uninterrupted rest/recovery, too. ❤ Reducing or minimizing stress and increasing joy/pleasure goes a long way to making them healthy: this builds a strong immune system with improved resistance to infections and parasites.
Add Flea-Fighting Foods:
Feed plenty of species appropriate foods that are rich in B-VITAMINS including truly pasture-raised raw liver, NZ green-lipped mussels, clams, wild salmon, organic avocado flesh, truly pasture-raised egg yolks (duck egg yolks are awesome for this), and raw spleen. These foods need to be a part of the daily diet all year, but you can rotate between the different foods available seasonally. Be sure to find clean sources – wild salmon needs to be either cooked or frozen for three weeks before serving raw. Egg yolks, spleen, and liver should be sourced from truly pasture-raised animals. If you source wild meats, it must be frozen for three weeks before serving raw for safety.
Add GARLIC to the diet during flea season (Spring/Summer). We recommend taking rotational breaks from the use of any herb, including garlic – so, you can feed it for three weeks on/one week off; or 5 out of 7 days/week or a similar rotation schedule. Fresh organic garlic cloves should be allowed to sit to rest (develops the medicinal properties) immediately after chopping/mincing for 10-minutes before adding to their food to increase effectiveness. Give between 1/4 clove (animals under 20-lbs) to 2 cloves/day (animals over 100-lbs). Note: If your animal has a history of hemolytic anemia, it would be safer to avoid garlic. We don’t recommend giving garlic capsules or supplement pills to dogs/cats, but you can sprinkle a little bit of the organic granules on their food instead of the fresh garlic, if necessary (in a pinch).
Kasie’s Flea-Free Chore List: Environment Essentials
Tasks To Do Daily (when you have fleas or adopt/foster an animal with a flea infestation) or To Do Every Other Day (for prevention & to maintain a flea-free home – forever):
MYTH: My dog visits to dog parks/beaches, etc. and will bring back fleas unless I put something on them to keep fleas away.
MYTH: Flea control starts with putting something on or giving a regular prevention drug to my animals so they won’t get fleas.
TRUTH: As explained above, flea control *really* starts with building a naturally healthy animal! It also includes focusing not on the animal, but on maintaining a flea-free home environment and outdoor areas. Less than 1% flea population can be found on your dog/cat. Over 99% of the developing or established flea population – the eggs, larvae, and pupae – are not even on your animals! Effective flea control absolutely requires maintaining/cleaning your animal’s home and outdoor spaces around the house.
If all your flea control efforts are aimed at treating only your animals, then you will never succeed. Indeed, it is impossible to completely control fleas by only focusing entirely on your animal. To be effective, you must deal with the environment as well.
Vacuum! Vacuum! Vacuum! The single most effective tool against fleas in the home and car is your vacuum! Vacuuming removes and kills 99% of the eggs, larvae, and pupae developing within the home. Vacuuming also stimulates pre-adult fleas to emerge sooner from their cocoons, thus hastening their contact with FleaBusters, Borax or Salt applied to the carpets; and allows for you to vacuum them up the next day/quickly removing them from the home. Vacuum with a high quality HEPA vacuum & vacuum thoroughly! Give special focus to areas where your pets walk, play, eat, rest or sleep. Don’t forget to vacuum along the edges of rooms, beneath/inside furniture, and all area/throw rugs. Yes, you even need to vacuum concrete/wood/tile floors. Be sure to get between the floorboards and crevasses. If your pet gets on the furniture, vacuum all cushions, chairs and beds. After vacuuming, seal the vacuum bag in a garbage bag and discard it in an outdoor trash container or place into your freezer. Option: steam cleaning furnishings and floors/beds/surfaces can also help to control fleas – high temperature steam treatments will kill the fleas without any toxic additives!
- Launder! Wash all bedding that pets’ sleep on in hot water/dry on hot temperature. This aspect is far easier to manage when dog/cat is crated/has their own bed rather than sleeping with you or roaming freely in the home. You will have to wash bedding every day for at least a few weeks, if the animal actually has fleas. I cover all their beds/bedding with towels or sheets, and then change these every single day, washing my loads of “pet bedding/rags” every as needed. NOTE: Never pick-up the bed/towel in haste! It is important to carefully roll or fold up the bed/towels before moving to the washer/hamper, otherwise you will be simply tossing flea eggs all about! The flea eggs are slippery and will roll into cracks & crevasses to hatch later. An adult female flea can lay up to fifty eggs per day, eggs are laid while the flea is on your animal/rodents or any pests in/around your building. Flea eggs drop right off from the animal into the environment. The vast majority of the eggs (90%) fall within 2 feet of the animal’s favorite resting areas, so meticulous, daily cleaning wherever your animal spends the most time is crucial to control.
- Flea comb your dog/cat to check for fleas & flea dirt regularly. To do this properly, situate your animal on a white towel (that you fold carefully and wash in hot water afterwards); flea comb especially around head/throat – chin, ears, neck, tummy, and around tail and hind quarters. Use a small bowl of hot soapy water (add Neem oil, if you wish) to carefully place all fur and debris taken off dog/cat. By using the flea comb, you can both remove fleas or check for fleas, and also check for black specks that become reddish color in water. If black specks stay black/solid, it is just dirt – but if it turns reddish in the water, this is flea dirt/poop, and provides clear evidence of active fleas on the animal’s body. If this is happening, the animal needs a bath; you also need to get more aggressive and committed to your cleaning routine!
OPTIONAL: 20 Mule Team Borax (found in the laundry aisle) is a great cleaning agent to prevent fleas in the home. Add about a quarter to a third of a cup to your mop water every time you mop your floors. Fill a spray bottle with hot water and a few tablespoons of Borax, let it dissolve and spray on your carpeting after vacuuming. Apply dry Borax powder to the carpets in your vehicle, or any other carpeted areas of the home, then use a broom to work the powder into the carpet. Allow it to sit for 24-hours, then vacuum excess powder up. 20 Mule Team Borax used in this way is not toxic to you or your pets.
or, in a pinch (haha!) — simply apply fine SALT in the same manner on carpets – dry. This works nearly as well as the Borax. Really! Just salt! Salt induces dogs & cats to vomit though, and so, if you do apply salt to your carpets, you will need to make sure your animals do not come in contact with these floors for 24 hours before you vacuum.
Tasks To Do Weekly/Every Other Week:
- Bathe your dogs with a mild shampoo – with Neem is best. Any and all soap kills fleas – you DO NOT need a flea control product for bathing. You do NOT need to use anything stronger, or a shampoo that targets fleas specifically, to kill the fleas on your animal, but you do need to bathe them using the proper technique. The technique is absolutely KEY!
- Wet down dog with warm water; immediately apply a heavy ring of shampoo at neck and at the base of tail first.
- Then, soap up every inch of their body/skin and allow shampoo to sit on the dog for a **full 10 minutes** before rinsing them off.
- Optional rinse: to help condition the skin/remove any shampoo residue and reduce itching, pour or sponge a dilute raw organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar rinse after the bath and allow to air dry (make a warm water solution of 50% ACV or use 1 cup ACV to 1 quart of water)
- If your pet travels or spends time in the car: get your car washed, and make sure to vacuum the interior – especially the areas where your pets ride/hang-out.
Tasks To Do Monthly/Seasonally:
Apply ABRICO Triple-threat nematodes to all outside spaces with garden sprayer every 2 weeks when your pet has fleas; apply every 9 weeks during flea season, or every three months, to prevent fleas when you do not have them. Make sure to focus on all areas of your space where feral cats, raccoons, deer, rodents or other mammals might travel through your outdoor areas/fence lines, etc.; and all areas where your dog walks, eliminates, eats or spends time.
Call FleaBusters to treat your home with their non-toxic sodium based powders – when they apply it, this is guaranteed for 1-year. While they do sell their products for you to do it yourself, the application technique is important for effectiveness. When people attempt to do this themselves, I have found it is not at all effective or worth the time/effort. DO NOT wait on to call FleaBusters for service. Yes, it is expensive. But it works. If you have fleas, don’t waste time and money on other ineffective treatments. It is best to call them to do the work for you – especially when you have fleas in the environment or have had flea infested animals visit or spend time in your home. They can also apply nematodes to your outside spaces, but they will need to be reapplied every 8-9 weeks. This can be done by you and be just as effective, and the Arbico start of my co Triple-Threat nematodes are your best choice for outdoor flea control/prevention.
As mentioned in the start of this post, there are a few topicals you can try. But you MUST realize that topical treatments will NEVER be an effective way to keep fleas at bay or eliminate them entirely. The ONLY way to stay completely and totally flea free for years/the lifetime of your animal, without harming your animals, is through the methods I have outlined above.
Right now, there are two cedar oil based products on the market that are similar/basically the same thing: Cedarcide and Wondercide. The company claims that they are safe for cats, but I am not convinced that they are, so please only use this on dogs. But for healthy adult dogs, I think they are relatively safe and worth giving a try!
So far, those I know that have used these options were all very excited at first. Unfortunately, after a few months, they usually stop working…and the fleas + itching returns.
My favorite topical treatment for fleas/ticks/flies and mosquitoes is a simple home-prepared remedy of either Lemon Tea/Infusion or Neem Oil (for dogs/cats) combined with Rose Geranium Essential Oil (for DOGS ONLY, never use essential oils on your kitties!) mixed in water it of Dr. Bronner’s unscented soap (as a with a band used as a spray.
Make a tea infusion of thinly sliced lemons (3 lemons to a quart of boiling water) – let steep overnight, strain and store in the fridge. Pour or spray this ‘lemon tea’ on the dog or cat, 2x/day. Renowned herbalist Juliette de Bairacli-Levy provided the original recipe and application suggestions for this infusion in her incredible book, The Complete Herbal Handbook for the Dog and Cat.
Recommended ratio for making Neem spray solution: mix 1 teaspoon pure neem oil in a quart of warm water and 1/4 tsp. liquid soap (non-antibacterial, mild soap e.g. – Dr. Bronners or Bio-Kleen Dish Soap). For dogs ONLY: add 20 drops of Rose Geranium Essential Oil. Shake well to mix properly, and shake before each application. Quantity of neem oil can be increased proportionately for making spray in larger quantities.
Neem oil can also be added to shampoo for controlling itchy scalp/dandruff; and to kill many parasites including ticks and fleas. Areas where your pets’ usually rest or sleep can also be treated with neem oil spray.