When you have a dog or a cat living with you inside the house, they can spend a good amount of time scratching themselves. And not only that, they might lick parts of their body intensely and chew on certain spots. Having a dog around you that can’t stop scratching can be very noisy and the constant rattling and jolting can be very annoying. And because you want a healthy pet, you want to got to the root of the problem. In this post I am looking at some natural and non-toxic ways to fight external parasites.
Why is my dog or cat scratching?
Scratching in dogs and cats can have different reasons:
- Psychological reasons like boredom or anxiety. Especially young dogs need to be kept busy, give them a bone to chew on for distraction!
- Hormonal imbalances such as hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. If your pet’s body doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone it can cause skin irritations and bald spots.
- Allergic reactions to plants and pollen your pet comes in contact with. Or your pet might be allergic to the shampoo you are using to bathe him with. Food allergies caused by the ingredients in pet food can also be a reason why your dog or cat has itchy skin.
- Your dog or cat might have ringworm. This is a fungal infection that causes round lesions on the skin and is transmitted by fungal spores. Common symptoms are a ring-like red skin irritation with and crusty and scaly skin, this may or may not cause itching. Your veterinarian will prescribe topical and oral fungus medication. If you suspect ringworm, have your pet treated immediately since this fungus is very contagious to humans.
- Your dog or cat has external parasites like ticks, mites and fleas and this is the most common cause for your pet’s constant scratching.
How do fleas affect your pets?
I think that fleas are the main reason as to why a dog or cat may be constantly scratching. Fleas thrive outside in grass or sandy areas and inside the house in carpet. Fleas can lay about 40 – 50 eggs a day. Besides itchy skin, there are more signs that your dog might have fleas:
- Fleas can cause skin irritations with hair loss.
- Flea bites can cause allergic reactions in some animals and they develop a skin condition called allergic dermatitis. That means severe itching and scratching with red skin and scabs. Even after flea medication is given, some symptoms still persist.
- Flea infestation is even more harmful to puppies. Besides infected skin with hot spots, puppies may develop anemia, pale gums and weight loss.
Natural flea and tick prevention in your yard
It makes sense to fight fleas and ticks before they even get to pets and humans. If you do not want to spray the usual pesticides in your yard you can opt for more natural and proven ways to deter pest:
- There are certain plants you can grow that are supposed to keep fleas away, but be careful what you choose because they might be toxic to cats and dogs. Some safer plants to grow as natural flea repellents are mint, catnip, rosemary (the actual rosemary herb), chamomile, lemongrass, lavender, says Linda Cole in her blog on canidae.com.
- A chemical-free way of treating your yard is using nematodes. They are worm like microscopic parasites that live in soil and kill fleas and their larvae and other bugs like termites. Nematodes are available as a solution that can be sprayed in your yard and garden and it is safe for pets.
- Food grade diatomaceous earth (DE) is also effective in killing fleas and ticks. It’s a powder like natural substance made of microscopic particles. It can be sprinkled on your pet’s bedding or outside on your porch. It can also be sprinkled on your dog or cat, just be careful not to inhale the dust. It is a very dusty product so keep that in mind if your pet likes to sleep on your bed or sofa.
Conventional flea and tick repellents
The simplest way is to go through your pets fur with a flea comb and remove the fleas. This gets harder though when your dog or cat has very thick and long hair. I would recommend this method in combination with an additional treatment.
Popular are tick/flea collars and can be bought anywhere. They work for dogs and cats, but if you use them for your cat be sure to buy a break-away collar so she doesn’t get stuck anywhere. There are different types of flea collars used to kill fleas/ticks or to repel them. If you opt for a conventional flea collar, you should know that they are treated with toxic substances like insecticides to be effective (and this can be worrisome to some pet owners).
Often recommended, and instead of using a flea collar, is flea medication taken orally in form of tablets or pills. Some of them can only be bought through a veterinarian or need a prescription. There are quite a few types on the market, for example daily pills to kill fleas fast and long term pills (like monthly pills) to prevent flea eggs from hatching.
Dogs are more affected by ticks than are cats, but cats can get ticks as well. The majority of the tick/flea prevention pills (like the monthly pills) are made for dogs, so if you want to get one for your cat, look for medication that’s made for small dogs. When it comes to cats, it’s important to watch the dosage.
Different types of topical flea repellents are also available in abundance, from flea shampoos, soaps to sprays. Sprays are usually spot-on skin treatments which contain neurotoxins that kill fleas. These chemicals, if used in small doses, are considered as safe for pets, but be cautious with spot-on sprays, they can be harmful to people (and children!) when inhaled. Also, small dogs and cats don’t need large doses, and what is safe dogs might not be safe for cats.
Natural and non-toxic flea repellents
Like I mentioned before, conventional medications and topical products used to kill fleas and ticks contain harmful substances like DEET and other chemicals. You don’t only expose your pets, it’s also not safe if you have small children in the house (because small children like to put their hands on a pet that has been sprayed).
Not all natural methods work equally well and it’s recommended to combine several methods for them to be effective. There is a lot of literature on the use and effectiveness of essential oils on pets to deter fleas and ticks. Essential oils can be controversial, especially when it comes to cats. Cats don’t have the liver enzymes to break down the substances present in essential oils which makes them more harmful to cats than to dogs.
It’s a natural pesticide gained from the seeds of the neem tree which has gained in popularity. It is a potent anti fungal and antibacterial and used in a lot of cosmetics, hair products and pet shampoo. It has a garlic/sulfur smell and is therefore often combined with other essential oils. While neem oil is safe for dogs and humans, a lot of sources warn to use neem oil on cats. One of the reasons maybe that products containing neem oil also contain other essential oils harmful to cats.
Other essential oils
They can be used in form of sprays mixed with other ingredients like water and vinegar and applied on the animal (but be careful with cats when applying directly on skin) or the can be sprayed around the house. The fragrance of the oils is supposed to deter fleas and ticks. There are many types of natural sprays on the market, but the good thing about essential oils is that they can be mixed easily at home. Especially lavender oil, citronella or lemon oil are popular due to their fresh fragrance and are safe to use for dogs.
Collars dipped in essential oils are also available as flea and tick repellents and you can even make your own dog collar by dipping a scarf in lavender, rosemary or cedar oil.
There are conflicting opinions on the use of certain oils on cats but if you are trying to protect your cat from fleas and ticks, the safest essential oils to use are products that contain catnip oil (often diluted with a carrier oil), peppermint oil, rosemary and cedar wood.
All citrus oils like lemongrass (citronella), lemon and lavender oil can be toxic to cats, same with tea tree oil and several other essential oils (christinedemerchant.com).
Note: Opinions on lavender oil for cats are conflicting. I have read articles on aromatherapy for cats recomending lavender as a calming oil.
Brewer’s yeast for dogs and cats
This is another natural method to repel fleas, ticks and other biting insects. It is somewhat controversial and not scientifically proven but many sources claim it works. It might be the smell of the regular use of the yeast or the changes in the taste of the blood that keeps parasites away.
Brewer’s yeast, used in bread and in beer, is rich in vitamins and minerals and has many health benefits if taken as a supplement. It can improve your pet’s coat and keeps your dog’s or cat’s skin healthy and less itchy. I think it is worth giving brewer’s yeast a try to see if it keeps parasites away, the only drawback is it stimulates your pet’s appetite and he might gain weight.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is good for so many things and yes, it’s supposed to help prevent fleas on pets. It can be mixed with other essential oils like geranium oil or citronella oil and sprayed on dogs as flea repellent. Or, it can be added to your pet’s drinking water: 1 teaspoon of vinegar for one quart of water and for cats just half a teaspoon of vinegar. I am currently trying this to see how it works in the long run.
In my opinion
If your dog suffers from a bad infestation of fleas and his skin is irritated I would seek the advice of a veterinarian and treat him with conventional medication to kill the fleas quickly. But as follow-up treatment to keep fleas and ticks away I like the idea of using natural products to avoid exposing my pets to harsh substances.
When it comes to natural flea repellents keep in mind that they work best and more efficiently when combined. For example, use a collar dipped with essential oils but also use a natural flea repellent spray on your dog regularly.
I also want to mention that a healthy cat is able to control fleas much better than dogs. Cats groom themselves extensively and are able to get rid of fleas that way. This also means that if you use chemicals on cats these substances get easier into their system. On the other hand, when it comes to products with essential oils be aware that cats are much more sensitive and what works for dogs does not necessarily work for cats.