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Natural Flea Prevention for Dogs

Thankfully, there are many options we can choose to banish fleas from our pets, homes, and lives. However, many products come with a hefty price: the chemicals they contain can threaten our dogs’ health and our own. For this reason, natural flea prevention is our method of choice here at ProDog. 





Alison Frost

Author: Alison Frost

Edited By: Anna Bain

Natural Flea Prevention for Dogs

If uttering the word “flea” makes your skin crawl, you’re not alone. These nasty little critters invade your home, make your pets and human family miserable, and seem impossible to eliminate. Leveraging years of expertise in holistic dog care, Alison Frost, ProDog’s canine nutritionist, offers insights and recommendations for naturally preventing and addressing flea issues.

Importance of natural flea prevention for dogs

Aside from the fact that fleas annoy humans, they also impact our dogs in several uncomfortable ways. Their instinct to hide in your dog’s fur and feast on them as they please is just the start; fleas can cause other problems for you and your dog, too. 

While you’d think that it would be uncomfortable enough for our dogs to feel their skin crawling whilst fleas are around, some dogs suffer even more than this. Flea allergy dermatitis is a common reaction that dogs can have to fleas [1], meaning they’re not only getting bitten, but their skin is reacting to the invasion by producing more histamines, thus creating an even more intense itch.

On top of that, fleas breed incredibly quickly, making infestations inevitable. This affects your dogs, human family, and entire household in a matter of days, making everyone exceedingly uncomfortable. Thankfully, natural flea prevention methods and natural remedies for fleas can help your canine and human family avoid unnecessary discomfort. 

Why I don’t recommend chemicals

Though chemical flea prevention and treatments are popular amongst dog owners for their effectiveness, I don’t recommend them as ongoing flea control for dogs. This is because their chemical content can be pretty toxic at a cellular level, potentially causing health issues for dogs down the road [2]. 

The very nature of chemical flea control methods is to destroy the fleas’ nervous systems, causing them to die. Though the dosage will obviously be lower for a dog than for a tiny flea, regular exposure to these agents is still a risk. Both oral and topical chemical flea preventatives are capable of causing liver, neurological, cellular, autoimmune, and microbiome issues. Sadly, once they’re in a dog’s bloodstream, there’s no turning back; they must be allowed to run their course.

Also, chemical flea control methods can enter the water supply, affecting fish and other marine life [3]. This is why I believe natural flea prevention and natural flea remedies are the best way to go: it’s better for dogs, humans, and our planet. 

The connection between overall dog health and flea prevention

You might be surprised to know that a dog’s health can make a difference in how vulnerable they are to fleas. Whilst fleas are opportunistic parasites and not picky about who they bite for the most part, a dog with a robust immune system is far less likely to succumb to flea infestations.

Strong immunity and optimal overall health are rooted in nutrition: dogs’ diets play a significant role in their health, which affects their ability to ward off the invasion of these little blood suckers. A natural, species-appropriate diet (BARF dog food) provides dogs with all they need for health, vitality, and immunity. This topic is discussed in more detail later in the article.

Learn more about raw food for dogs

What are fleas?

Fleas are parasitic insects, meaning they feed off other animals to survive. They’re brownish-black (or reddish-brown after feeding) and tiny, reaching lengths of about 2 mm. They feed on their host and multiply, infesting the surrounding environment, such as carpets, furniture, or bedding. 

Though they are incredibly tiny and can be difficult to spot with the naked eye, fleas can jump up to 200 times their body length, making it easy for them to attach to their host; be that a dog, cat, fox, human, etc.

Fleas need blood to survive, and female fleas cannot produce eggs without it. They’re greedy and can ingest up to 15 times their body weight in blood daily. Female fleas can live for up to two years, producing up to 1500 eggs. They prefer warmer temperatures and are more commonly active during the summer months. 



Fleas prevention on dogs

Understanding fleas and their impact on dogs

Flea life cycle and habits

The flea life cycle consists of four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. This cycle can be completed within 12-22 days in ideal temperatures, though it takes three to four weeks more commonly. Sadly, when you spot these nasty critters in your home, the next life cycle has likely begun: only 5% of fleas seen are adults. Eggs hatch quickly, and females lay 20-40 daily whilst living in dogs’ fur. These then fall undetected onto carpets, bedding, and the like until they’re ready to hatch, and the cycle continues. 

Adult fleas are attracted to body heat and movement and must eat within the first few days of their adult lives to survive. Their primary mission is to find a host as quickly as possible so that they can eat and go on to produce more eggs. They’ll begin eating within a few minutes of acquiring their host, producing “flea dirt” (or undigested blood) as they go. This product is a vital food source for flea larvae, providing them with the nutrients they need to progress to the next life cycle stage. 

Common health risks and discomfort caused by fleas

Though fleas are parasites, they often come with other undesirable critters that can negatively impact your dog [4]. Tapeworms are one example of this: fleas eat tapeworm larvae, and dogs often ingest fleas accidentally while biting their itchy spots. Many dog owners find out about flea infestations upon becoming aware of tapeworms; fleas are the main source of transmission for tapeworms in dogs.

Another health issue caused by fleas is flea allergy dermatitis, mentioned briefly earlier. Many dogs are, in fact, allergic to fleas, with the presence of flea bites encouraging their immune systems to release excess amounts of histamine. This, in turn, causes their itching, scratching, and chewing to reach an entirely different level of discomfort. This can lead to hot spots and hair loss —a miserable experience for your dog. 

Young puppies with immature immune systems can be negatively impacted by the presence of fleas, too. A severe infestation (or even a moderate one in very small dogs) can cause puppies to develop anaemia through blood loss, causing lethargy and other symptoms. In severe cases, small puppies can die from these complications. 

The importance of proactive prevention

The saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” could not be more accurate regarding fleas. Preventing these tiny menaces from invading your home will save you from the frustration and discomfort you’ll experience whilst attempting to get them out! 

It’s far easier and less time-consuming to utilise natural flea prevention than tackling an infestation.

 

How to determine if your dog has fleas

Depending on your dog’s fur, determining if they have fleas may take a while. They’re so small and experts at hiding deep in your dog’s coat, but they can be left undetected for quite a while. Here are a few clues to watch for if you’re concerned your dog might have fleas:

Itching (more than usual)

All dogs love a good scratch, with some being more inclined than others. After all, they frequently roll in grass and dirt and often come home with various flora attached to their fur. However, if you notice your dog scratching more than usual or their discomfort appears intense, this might be a sign of fleas .

Biting/scratching certain places

Fleas love to hide on all parts of a dog, but certain places are even more alluring. Dark, warm spots like your dog’s armpits and groin are a magnet for fleas, as are areas like their back end and around the tail. If your dog’s itching has begun to focus on these places in particular, it may be because of fleas. 

Confirmed bite sites

If you’re suspicious of fleas and decide to examine your dog, you may see some actual bites. These will likely be red and look a bit like pimples and will most easily be found around the groin or in areas with less hair than the rest of the body.

Inspecting your dog

Parting your dog’s fur with a brush or comb will provide easier access to their skin, allowing you to investigate more effectively. Better yet, a flea comb will collect any loose flea dirt, which you can wipe on a wet paper towel to confirm it’s not ordinary dirt (flea dirt turns red when exposed to moisture).

Combing your dog with a flea comb dipped in a natural, dog-safe oil (such as olive or coconut) will help trap any fleas, which you can drown in a bowl of soapy water. Be prepared before you start, though, as they’ll likely start trying to escape! 

Regular baths with natural flea shampoo help to protect your dog and home against fleas.

What to do if you find fleas on your dog

Bathe your dog with natural flea shampoo

Natural flea shampoos are made with canine-safe, non-toxic ingredients that naturally repel and/or kill fleas. When bathing your dog, leave the lather on for at least five minutes, allowing the shampoo to have maximum effect. Pay special attention to the areas that fleas love the most, such as the armpits, groin area, the base of the tail, etc. After rinsing well, an apple cider vinegar rinse can provide additional protection for your dog. Dilute it to about 2:10 ACV and water, and rinse your dog with it before drying them off.

Clean the (whole) house

Cleaning the house when fleas are present is just as important as bathing your dog, as the fleas will still live, breed, and feed if left in the environment. Bedding, clothing, upholstered furniture, and carpets/rugs are perfect hiding places for fleas. Vacuuming and washing these fabrics/surfaces regularly helps to deter new flea life cycles from the beginning.

Extreme hoovering

I’ve already mentioned how important it is to vacuum, but additional steps after hoovering will help to prevent a re-infestation. Hoovering collects adult fleas, larvae, and eggs, so it’s essential to dispose of them to banish them from your home permanently. Emptying the vacuum bag/canister in an outside receptacle will help with this, as will spraying the inside of the container with a natural flea spray when possible.

Side note:

I don’t recommend using chemical flea control methods as a general rule, but it’s sometimes necessary for extreme infestations. Natural flea remedies are wonderful for preventing and perhaps eliminating a small infestation, but the chemical route is sometimes the only option.

In these cases, ProDog can help; our team of expert advisors can recommend natural supplements to help detox your dog following the use of chemicals and provide recommendations on which natural flea prevention methods to use once the infestation is eliminated.

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Natural flea prevention methods

Grooming and hygiene practices

Regular grooming and hygiene practices can go a long way in your attempts at natural flea prevention. Brushing/combing your dog daily will allow you to spot if there’s anything unusual about their fur immediately, such as flea dirt, bites, or even visible fleas. You might even take it a step further and groom your dog with a flea comb once a week, which will catch any evidence and allow you to be sure your dog is flea-free. 

Another helpful way to prevent fleas naturally is to bathe your dog with a natural flea shampoo once a month, particularly during the warmer times of the year. This leaves them with a natural scent that fleas aren’t attracted to, giving them the best chance at avoiding infestation. Our Itchy Dog natural shampoo contains eucalyptus oil, a natural insect repellent. 

Natural flea repellents

Thankfully, there are plenty of options for repelling fleas naturally, both homemade and pre-prepared:

DIY flea repellent

Ingredients

  • 1 organic lemon, sliced into thin rounds
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 sprig garden sage
  • 1 quart filtered water
  • Optional: 1 sprig lavender

Method

  • Place lemon, rosemary and sage into a large glass or stainless steel bowl
  • Add hot, almost boiling, filtered water 
  • Cover and let steep overnight
  • Strain liquid into a glass bottle 
  • Refrigerate for 1-2 weeks

Spray this on your dog daily before going out, paying special attention to the groin, armpits, and base of tail.

Apple cider vinegar

ACV is also a fantastic natural flea deterrent and can be used internally and externally. As mentioned above, diluted 2:10 with water can be used as a rinse or spray for natural flea defence. See below for internal use. 

Coconut oil

Organic, cold-pressed coconut oil is another excellent option for natural flea prevention; rub it into your dog’s coat before heading out on their daily adventures. Be mindful, though, that many dogs love the taste! Also, more frequent baths may be to prevent oil transfer onto bedding/furniture. 

Conversely, purchasing a ready-made, natural flea repellent for your dog is also a great option. Healthful Pets have many natural flea prevention products for dogs, including topical treatments, supplements, and natural flea collars.

A word on essential oils

Whilst it’s a great idea to use essential oils for flea prevention, it’s important to use caution: not all essential oils are safe for dogs, and some can even be harmful. Neem, citronella, lemon balm, rosemary, cedar, and rose geranium oils are generally considered safe and are naturally offensive to fleas, but should be diluted in safe carrier oils, so if unsure better to purchase ready made natural oil repellents such as Dermadog Insect Defence Spray 

We don’t recommend using essential oils on puppies under 20 weeks, and it’s important to remember that less is more when utilising these natural flea repellents; dogs’ noses are far too sensitive to handle the human dosage and too much can make them feel unwell. 

The importance of diet for effective natural flea prevention

As mentioned earlier, a healthy dog will be less vulnerable to flea infestations. The parasitic nature of fleas makes them more likely to take advantage of weak or unhealthy hosts, so deterring them starts at the core of dogs’ health; their diet. 

Feeding your dog a raw, meat-based diet of high-quality proteins, healthy fats, bone, offal, and plant fibre allows them to maintain optimal health, strengthen their immunity, and boosts their defences against parasites, including fleas.

Learn how to get your dog started on a raw food diet in our beginner’s guide or try a ProDog Raw sample pack today.

Foods and supplements that naturally repel fleas

Probiotics

Probiotics restore the balance and lining of the gut, promoting beneficial bacteria and creating a healthy microbiome. This encourages overall health, which, as discussed previously, creates an environment less attractive to fleas. Our probiotics for dogs offer various options to suit every dog’s needs.

Garlic

Though garlic is mistakenly considered toxic for dogs, it’s actually beneficial when given correctly. Of course, excessive garlic consumption will make dogs ill, but small doses are, in fact, good for them, especially when it comes to natural flea prevention. Fresh, organic garlic is safer than supplements, and your dog can safely consume ¼ regular-sized clove per  5 kg of body weight. Give ⅛ clove to dogs under 5 kg. The maximum amount given should not exceed two cloves, even for giant breed dogs.

Apple cider vinegar

Aside from being an effective flea repellent externally, apple cider vinegar can also be given with food/water for natural flea prevention from the inside out. It also contains helpful nutrients such as essential acids, potassium, vitamins, and minerals, so your dog will experience improved gut health and other health benefits along with a flea-free coat. ACV can be fed daily in food or water at ½ teaspoon per 10kg of body weight. 

To learn more about foods that are safe for your dog to eat check our our A-Z food guide

 Expertly formulated supplements

There are a variety of specialist blend herbal supplements for dogs on the market that are safe, healthy, and do a fantastic job of keeping your canine pal parasite free.

We’ve created our own unique natural formula. ProDog Repel helps to deter the most common parasites, ticks, fleas, worms and mites. Made by canine nutritionists and approved by vets, this innovative dietary addition utilises precisely selected herbs and superfoods. It can be added to any type of dog food, giving a simple and convenient way to protect your dog without the use of harsh chemicals.

Natural tick, flea and worm prevention

Best natural flea control methods for the environment

Natural treatment options for infestations

Indoors

For inside the home, keeping fabrics washed and/or vacuumed, as detailed above, helps keep fleas at bay. Also, once your dog is no longer attractive to the fleas, thanks to the natural flea remedies listed earlier, you’ll likely find less of them as their host of choice is no longer available. Though fleas will bite humans, we don’t provide the right environment for them to survive for long periods. Therefore we’re of less interest to them than our dogs are.

Some products can help even further, such as sticky flea traps, utilising essential oils in the home (being mindful of their safety around dogs and other pets), and spraying natural flea repellent in hard-to-reach areas such as cracks and crevices. Diatomaceous earth is helpful for carpets and rugs, but be sure to keep dogs and other pets away until they are thoroughly hoovered up. If you suffer from respiratory issues, other methods would be advised. 

Outdoors

Fleas can invade your home from the outdoors and through hitching a ride on your dog, so outdoor natural flea prevention is a helpful tactic. Releasing nematodes into your garden will eliminate flea larvae; they eat fleas at the larval stage and prevent the life cycle from progressing. Also, natural flea-repellent sprays can be helpful outdoors and inside the home; be careful to check that the ingredients aren’t harmful to your plants.

When to seek professional help for stubborn infestations

Though all of the above methods are helpful, there may be a time when you decide professional help is in order. There is no shame in this; flea infestations can happen to anyone. The association between fleas and a dirty home environment is false, and you’re not to blame. 

If you’re visibly noticing fleas jumping around your home, your ankles are being bitten, and all of your efforts are seemingly in vain, call for professional help. These services exist for a good reason: to eliminate flea infestations from homes and pets! 

Our expert advisors can recommend helpful detox options if you need to utilise professional help and/or chemical treatments in your home or on your dog.



Additional tips and considerations

Safety is key

As with any new remedy, following instructions to the last detail is essential. Overuse can sometimes lead to adverse side effects, and underuse will likely be ineffective. 

Also, it’s essential to be mindful of allergic reactions; dogs can be allergic to seemingly innocent ingredients, doing them more harm than good. If your dog reacts negatively to natural flea remedies, stop using them immediately and allow them to recover before trying a different method. Always contact your vet if you’re concerned.

Age matters

Puppies and senior dogs can be more sensitive to certain substances due to developing immune systems or pre-existing health conditions. Ensure that the ingredients in your chosen flea remedies are safe for them before use. 

Partner with your vet for extra support

Holistic vets often offer natural parasite remedies and can provide additional support when needed. If your current vet is not a holistic practitioner, talk with them and determine your options. You can also find our list of suggested holistic vets here.

Natural flea prevention for dogs

Fleas are no fun, but they don’t have to invade your dog’s life, or your own, for that matter. The days of chemical treatments being the only viable option for flea prevention are long gone, and thankfully we can now treat our pets safely and naturally. Using these natural methods consistently and proactively will be your best course of action to ensure your dog and home are not overrun by fleas anytime soon.

I know how much you love your dogs and that you want nothing but the best for them. That’s why I recommend natural flea prevention whenever possible; to allow your dog the long, healthy life they deserve. 

References

  1. Cadiergues, M.C. 2009. Flea control in flea allergic dogs and cats. European Journal of Companion Animal Practice;, 19(3):261-267. ISSN: 1018-2357
  2. Akande, M., Abraham, S., Ogunnubi, J. May 2022. Benefits and Risks of Pesticide Usage in Pets. Pesticides — Updates on Toxicity, Efficacy, and Risk Assessment. Doi: 10.5772/intechopen.104630 
  3. Perkins, R., Whitehead, M., Civil, W., Goulson, D. Feb 2021. Potential role of veterinary flea products in widespread pesticide contamination of English rivers. Science of the Total Environment;, 755(1):143560. Doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.143560 
  4. Linardi, P. Nov 2016. Fleas and Diseases. Arthropod Borne Diseases;, Springer, Cham. Doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-13884-8_33

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Image credit: CDC on Unsplash

Image credit: Yaroslav Shuraev from Pexe

Image credit: Oritslama from Pixabay



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