How to Prevent and Treat Fleas Naturally

21st June 2023 10 min read

Guest Blog: Anna Webb

Canine Nutrition and Behaviour Expert Anna Webb offers excellent prevention and treatment tips for those pesky fleas. Read on for expert advice.

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The Pesky Problem of Spot on Flea Treatments...

Make no mistake, an atopic reaction to what can be just one flea bite can be very serious and hard to fix if ‘flea allergy dermatitis’ takes hold.

One of the issues I have with monthly spot-on treatments is they don’t actually stop a flea from biting! Granted one flea will only bite once, but what if multiple fleas bite at once? Also, it’s important to remember that Spot-on’s are insecticides like Fipronil and Imidacloprid, which are used in over 138 products in the UK, both known carcinogens to humans.

Scientists from the Imperial College in London revealed that one spot on of Imidacloprid for a Labrador can kill 25 million bees. They also announced shocking figures on how regular flea treatments and wormers are invading our British rivers and dramatically killing our aquatic ecosystems and wildlife.

The evidence from reviewing over 160 scientific papers, Imperial College concurred it’s time to cut back on monthly treatments! They are inadvertently entering our waterways, from hand washing, washing clothes, pet’s bedding, bathing and swimming after a spot-on application.

Discovering levels of both Fipronil 99% and Imidacloprid 66%, both were banned from the farming sector in 2018, so the consistent rise in these chemicals seeping into nature can only be from our pets.

In a recent statement The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA 2022) is urging for tighter controls of the usage of insecticides in pets. Reporting side effects, the dosage - relative to size and weight, the labelling and the frequency of such treatments. Plus, suggesting reducing the products’ accessibility as ‘over the counter’.

In fact, in Scandinavia, Vets have to diagnose fleas or worms before supplying a prescription insecticide. Perhaps the UK should adopt this model, yet the market in the UK is worth a staggering £178 million.

Naturopathic Solutions

I prefer a natural ‘flea prevention’ strategy, which includes understanding the flea lifecycle and who this flea really is!

Hippocrates wrote about fleas in 600 BC., explaining that the cat flea ‘Ctenocephalides Felix, has adapted to be almost impossible to kill, thriving on any warm-blooded host.

The cat flea makes up 90% of the world’s flea population and is the only flea species that will thrive on any host: cat, dog, human or horse. It’s a misnomer that dogs catch fleas from hedgehogs. These fleas will only survive on a hedgehog.

Being aware that only 1% of the fleas in your environment will be adults, 99% are either eggs, larvae, or cocoons waiting to burst into life. Breeding in your environment: the garden, in decking, in the sofa, under the sofa, in the carpet, in your clothes, and some will be thriving on your dog.

In my top tips (below) I highlight why diet and raw-fed dogs appear to get bitten less than those fed on an ultra-processed option. With regular grooming and bathing using essential oil-infused sprays, shampoos, and natural flea powders, fleas can be repelled.

By working to keep your indoor and outdoor environments flea free with lots of regular high-powered hoovering can be your biggest asset in battling the flea.

The preventative way takes more time and effort, but it’s worth it not only for your dog’s health, your own health, the health of the planet and your bank balance too.

FIVE TOP TIPS | Naturopathic Flea Prevention

Consider the Flea Life-Cycle:

It’s been estimated that at any given time, only about 1 percent of the population of fleas is in the adult stage. About 14 percent are in the pupal stage, 35 percent are in the larval stage, and 50 percent are in the egg stage.

The average life span of a flea is about six weeks, but under certain conditions, they can live as long as a year. While in the adult stage, the flea lives on our dog’s skin and even lays its eggs there. However, the eggs laid by the females (up to 200-600 eggs in her lifetime) fall off and hatch in the environment, not on your dog!!!!

The larvae are worm-like, and burrow down into any available dark, protected areas, including cracks in flooring, or underneath furniture cushions; outdoors, they migrate to areas underneath leaf piles, or decking. After a week or two of feeding, the larva spins a cocoon where it can maintain a pupal state, sometimes up- ward of 140 days. While in the cocoon state, the flea pupa is protected from insecticides and other external threats.

Stimuli that initiate the emergence from the cocoon can include heat, vibration (a vacuum cleaner is a great trick tool!), moisture, physical pressure, and carbon dioxide – essentially anything that indicates a warm-blooded host is available.

Diet:

Fleas will jump on your dog for a tasty snack. As sugar junkies, they love the blood from a kibble-fed dog as it's packed with sugars from starch-heavy ingredients like barley, rice, or sweet potato. Conversely, raw-fed dogs tend to be bitten less. This could be down to no added sugary ingredients, and the fact it’s not sterile. Simply packed with healthy species-appropriate nutrients that boost your dog’s health – you are what you eat! This also includes valuable bacteria that fuel the microbiome. As the home of 90% of your dog’s immune system, the microbiome houses trillions of good and bad bacteria. A strong immune system can offset allergic reactions to insect bites, and healthy dogs tend to be bitten less than poorly dogs. Adding herbal supplements like Fenugreek and garlic in the right amount can also repel fleas.

Grooming:

Simply using an old-fashioned flea comb daily in peak flea season allows you to know if any fleas are on your dog. Comb around the dog’s tail, stomach, and face, where they tend to collect in greater quantities. Look for fleas, as well as flea eggs (tiny white specks) and flea feaces (slightly larger black specks). Drop anything you find into a glass of water; it will drown the eggs and fleas. Flea feces is comprised largely of your dog’s blood, and will turn the water reddish brown, confirming the presence of fleas even if no adults are found.

Regular weekly bathing or rinses helps remove flea dirt. Plus adult fleas will jump off, but they cannot drown due to cleverly adapted nose flaps!

Help your dog repel bugs with essential oil infused natural shampoos and sprays. You can prepare your own using Lavendar, Lemon grass, or Cederwood essential oils in distilled water. Natural grooming products like Sniffe & Likkit’s range features its signatory ‘Woodland Wunderfur’ aromatherapeutic formula. Offering a combination of health benefitting oils, including Cedarwood, which is known to repel fleas. My favourite is the Sniffe & Likkit ‘No Rinse Charming’ dry shampoo that’s made from Fuller’s Earth or Diatomaceous Earth, being infused with its bug repelling formula for an effective natural ‘flea powder’.

Environment - indoors and outdoors:

I use a lot of organic human-grade Diatomaceous Earth! It’s very cost-effective and chemically inert dust, which is a safe alternative insecticide for your garden. I also use it for behind the sofa under the bed, cracks in floorboards. It’s a very fine powder that’s calcium dust ground from single-cell, ocean organisms. Always wear a mask as the powder is very fine, but sprinkle it on your lawns, walkways and planting beds (anywhere your dog frequents).

This application works as an abrasive and desiccant, physically drying out and destroying the adult fleas’ breathing organs as well as drying out and killing flea larvae. This process is inexpensive, and the flea cannot develop resistance to Diatomaceous Earth.

Plant herbs that repel bugs like Rosemary, Mint, Catnip, and Lemongrass, even turn them into water-based sprays for your furniture and your dog.

Wash your floors regularly, use steam cleans, and hoover every day with a powerful hoover with a narrow nozzle attachment for poking into cracks and crevices. Seal and remove the hoover bag every time! The heat and the moisture of the steam hatch the flea eggs, allowing you to hoover them up.

I also recommend a silicone-based flea spray, called FLEE, which works by suffocating eggs. Spray and leave for two days then hoover.

Test Before You Treat:

For wormers, which similarly are seeping into our soil and distorted eco-diversity, I opt to test before I treat, which is easy with Worm Count For Dogs.com. All you need to do is collect the first-morning poop from your dog over three consecutive days. You send off the three samples in an easy-to-use kit that’s pre-paid back to the laboratory where the stool samples are tested for all worms, including Lungworms. You’re emailed the results within 48 hours, if there are no worms present then there’s no need to give a wormer!

Further Reading

23rd May 2024

Guest Blog: Anna Webb

It’s interesting that there are many flea ‘species’, including dog fleas, hedgehog fleas, human fleas, but 90% of the world’s flea population is the very well adapted ‘cat flea’ otherwise known as 'Ctenocephalides Felix’.

Read more