Natural Therapies for Fleas

By Shawn Messonnier, DVM

As warmer weather surrounds us, controlling the external parasites that pets seem to acquire each summer becomes a concern for most pet owners. While we have made great improvements over the last few years in the safety and efficacy of the products available to us as we wage our war on fleas, there are many owners who prefer a non-chemical approach. Fortunately, there are some very nice and effective flea-control options for pet owners that can be recommended for "conventional" as well as those more holistic-minded pet owners.

Ideally, flea problems are best prevented rather than treated. Since the advent of products like Program®, Advantage®, and Frontline®, we can now offer year-round or season-round prevention rather than wait until severe flea infestation occurs. Preventing problems allows us to use much fewer chemicals in our approach than waiting to treat problems that require more chemicals used for greater lengths of time. The nice thing about these newer chemicals is that they work much better than past treatments with toxic dips, powders, sprays, and collars. By their modes of action and application they are safer for pets, owners, and the environment.

Still, these products are chemicals; since we don't want to needlessly treat pets with potentially harmful and unnecessary chemicals, when possible more natural preventive measures are recommended. As holistic veterinarian Dr. Susan Wynn points out, "The "war on fleas" must be approached with the idea that the fight is ongoing; fleas will come back unless you adopt a maintenance system, all season long." When possible, this "maintenance system" should ensure preventing the problem through natural means and keeping our pets as healthy as possible. Many doctors feel that healthy pets are less likely to be afflicted with heavy parasite burdens and when infested, have far less damage than infested unhealthy pets. Here then, are some ideas to help you fight fleas as naturally as possible.

Treating the Pet

While we have good, natural, less toxic therapies for treating the environment, we don't have what I consider to be the ideal, "on-the-pet" natural therapy. While some feel that small amounts of natural yeast and garlic can be helpful (and are often recommended to supplement the diet,) these nutritional measures don't always prevent fleas as much as we wish.

Topical dips, shampoos, sprays, and powders using products like natural pyrethrum, diatomaceous earth, herbal repellants, and d-limonene can be quiet effective, and when properly prepared are essentially non-toxic, unlike our carbamate and organophosphate dip of past years.

Regular combing with a flea comb is quite effective for mild infestations. Avon's Skin-So-Soft®, while not a flea-killing product, can be an effective yet temporary flea repellent. The major complaint from many pet owners is that these natural therapies need frequent application, sometimes every 24-72 hours. Many owners prefer a compromise to make flea control more convenient. They will use natural therapies in the environment and the safer chemicals like lufenuron (Program®), fipronil (FrontLine®), and imidocloprid (Advantage®) on an as-needed seasonal basis to allow less owner-intensive application, with spot use of the natural on-the-pet products for a more "quick kill."

Treating the Environment

Treating the house requires products like diatomaceous earth or borax- type products like Flea Busters® or Flea Stoppers®. Sprays using pyrethrum and methoprene would be secondary choices for the holistic-minded client.

For treating the yard, all owners, those who favor conventional care as well as the more holistic minded, can benefit from the wise application of beneficial nematodes. This treatment is the ONLY one that also kills the resistant cocoon stage and is safe for plants, people, and pets. Additionally, diatomaceous earth can be applied for a longer kill benefit.

Flea control is a medical problem requiring the involvement of the doctor, personalizing a program to each individual situation. By working with your doctor to tailor a program to your wishes and your pet's medical needs, you can help your pet make it through another flea season. When possible, the more natural approach makes flea control safer for the pet, the owner, and the environment.


About the author:

Dr. Shawn Messonnier is the holistic columnist for Dog Fancy and Cat Fancy magazine. He is a consultant to Ark Naturals and is the veterinarian for . To learn more about the holistic treatment of cancer and other diseases and nutritional supplementation for your pet, or to obtain a Pet Care Naturally Resource Guide, visit his new website at . To consult with him about your pet's problem, you can reach him at 972-867-8800.