Natural and Dietary Solutions for Dogs to Reduce Flea & Tick Problems

Vet Recommended: Tips on the best ways to prevent fleas and ticks on dogs
By Katie Kangas DVM, CVA, CVCP, July 2021, Updated August 2021
fleas in house

Summer typically brings lots of fun and outdoor adventures, which most of us look forward to, but with it comes a higher abundance of pesky insects and parasites that may impact the wellbeing of our pets.  

We try to avoid using toxins in/on our pets (and in our own environments), but in some cases, we may need to choose our battles based on how difficult the flea/tick problem is to tackle. Fortunately, in many geographical regions, the use of pharmaceutical flea and tick products can be avoided through much of the year and minimized to only a few times of use during the summer season.

There are significant concerns regarding the number of adverse events being seen with the newer flea & tick medications (prescription pills). There are growing reports of dogs having neurological reactions, tremors, seizures, behavioral changes, liver damage, and GI illness.  Indeed, these prescription flea meds contain chemical pesticide ingredients that act as neurotoxins to kill the parasites (via effects on the insect’s nervous system). Initially, the products were proposed to be quite safe for dogs as the active toxic ingredients were thought to be selective to arthropods (insects). But it is now obvious that these neurotoxins can affect our pets too. In fact, many of the pharmaceutical companies had to adjust their label warnings to include mention of the adverse effects.

Some of the topical spot-on products don’t include these same types of pesticides but obviously still contain chemicals that can be toxic. Furthermore, new studies report that chemical pesticides from topical flea & tick products are being measured at concerning levels in our waterways, rivers, and sewer run-offs. Thus, we see that the growing popularity of using “spot-on” pesticides for our pets is now contributing to environmental toxicity too.

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So, how can we avoid using chemicals and keep our pets free of fleas & ticks? 

Looking to Nature for a Solution

To best support our pets’ health and wellbeing, let’s look at natural, non-toxic options for flea and tick prevention. Truly, the best protection starts with a healthy, species-appropriate fresh food or raw food diet that is low in carbohydrate content. Simply said, a healthy dog will attract fewer fleas than a dog who has a weakened immune system or chronic disease.

Foods to Fight Fleas & Ticks

A few simple foods can be added into your dog’s diet to provide extra immune support and more resilience to parasites. These include foods like fresh garlic and raw honey.  

  • Fresh garlic  has natural anti-parasite and immune support properties and is quite safe for dogs when given in small, appropriate quantities. Giving ¼ tsp of freshly chopped garlic per 15 lbs. of dog body weight is a great daily routine during flea & tick season (or year-round). Note: garlic in a powder or capsule supplement will not have the same effects as fresh chopped garlic.  
  • Raw honey  is a wonderful (and yummy) immune system booster. Add about ½ tsp per 15 lbs. dog body weight per day. Benefits are greater with locally produced honey to provide immune-supportive properties which combat allergens in your specific region. 

Supplementing Diet for Protection Against Parasites

Beyond diet, we can proactively support our pets’ immune systems with specific natural supplements. 

  • Liposomal Bovine Colostrum is an excellent immune-supportive food supplement. This is the first milking from a bovine (cow) source, all mammalians produce colostrum upon birth for their newborns, that provides antibodies and immune factors, growth, and repair peptides for improved health in the gut, immune system, and other body systems too. I recommend Super Pet Nutrition , which is better absorbed and therefore has increased efficacy.
  • Milk Thistle and Dandelion for a routine or seasonal detoxification can go a long way to support your pet’s resilience and overall health. These are safe and gentle detox options for liver and kidney protection.
  • Daily Defense  (I recommend Glacier Peak Holistic to my patients) is an excellent choice for seasonal or year-round use. This supplement can be added to the food once daily and contains nutrients that support immune system function, resilience to parasites, and specific detoxification benefits too.

Natural Options for Flea & Tick Prevention

Natural options for flea & tick repellents to use directly on pets or in their environment are also an effective preventive measure. Natural products require more frequent application and use to come close to the efficacy of chemical products and prescription medications. Fleas are generally easier to repel or kill compared to ticks which are more resilient and typically require stronger agents. When it comes to ticks, nothing can take the place of diligent tick checks on your dog after time spent outside. Using a fine-tooth flea comb can also be an effective way to find ticks or fleas, and a tick removal tool can come in very handy too. Keep in mind that fleas live more in the environment than on the pet, so if you are finding them on your pet, you will want to address your home environment as well.

Diatomaceous Earth (DE)

Diatomaceous Earth provides a safe and natural option which can be used inside your home, directly on pets, and also outdoors in the yard. DE is a silky fine powder that acts as a desiccant or drying agent to effectively kill fleas and their larvae. Use a quality food grade DE (not industrial grade) which can be sprinkled on your pet’s bedding, as well as carpets, furniture, and anywhere else your pet spends a lot of time. Leave the DE dust down for about 24 hours and then vacuum. You can also apply DE directly into your pet’s hair, coat, and skin, but completely avoid their face, eyes, nose and mouth. It may be ideal to bathe your pet about 24 hours later too, because DE can potentially dry out their skin as well.

Nematodes

Beneficial Nematodes (Steinernema Carpocapsae) is a great option for natural parasite control in your yard or outdoor space. Nematodes are used to protect gardens and plants from ants and caterpillars but also provide effective prevention for fleas & ticks, as they feed on these insect’s larvae stages while they are still in the soil. Check your local garden centers to get these nematodes.  

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar has many health benefits and can also be used to deter fleas. Mixed with water in equal parts (50/50) solution, ACV can be misted or applied onto your dog before heading outdoors. 

Neem Oil

Neem is a tree native to India and is highly valued for its wide range of medicinal properties offered by the bark, flowers, and oil extracted from its seeds. One of the many health benefits of Neem oil is its natural insecticidal properties. Neem is used in organic agriculture to protect crops from insects and is very safe and effective to use for pets and people too.

Essential Oils

Essential oils and animals can be greatly misunderstood. Traditional veterinarians may not be aware of the proper use of essential oils for pets. If you're considering using essential oils on your pets consult with a holistic veterinarian who has been educated and trained on the subject and can safely instruct you on the use of essential oils for your pet. Many essential oils have flea and tick repellent qualities. Some essential oils are toxic to pets, so it is important to use only quality therapeutic grade oils in trusted products with pet-safe formulas which can be found in the form of sprays or newer flea & tick wipes. Toxicity is dependent on the quality of the oil and the volume used. Use products only as recommended.

Common essential oils used for pest control include cedar, peppermint, lemongrass, lavender, catnip, eucalyptus and geranium. I recommend Wondercide for indoor and outdoor flea protection. 

Important: Do not allow your pet to ingest essential oils. Eucalyptus should never be given orally.

Photo: Shutterstock / Jirakan Jiherb

Dr. Katie Kangas owns and operates Integrative Veterinary Care, a private practice in San Diego, California, offering holistic and integrative health care options for pets. Dr. Kangas achieved her CVA certification at the Chi Institute in 2008, followed by additional training in Advanced Acupuncture, Food Therapy, Herbal Medicine and Veterinary Orthopedic Manipulation (VOM).