There are several drug companies promoting chemical flea treatments for dogs. They give some scary statistics about how quickly one flea can turn into thousands. These facts could be quite true in an environment where the conditions are ideal for fleas to thrive and multiply. The goal of these drug companies is to make you believe that natural flea prevention isn’t possible.
However, the truth is that there are ways to make the dog and the environment difficult, if not impossible for fleas to live in. There are many different natural flea control methods that are advocated by a wide variety of people and websites. Although some work better than others, I find that it is best to use varying natural flea protection methods under varying circumstances. I will discuss many of these methods, beginning with what I recommend for prevention. Then in a second post, we will discuss what to do if you should find fleas. This post will be coming soon. Check back.
Keep Your Dog Healthy
The most important way to prevent fleas naturally is to keep your dog healthy. See our other blog posts on our Puppy Care page for more information. Fleas are much more attracted to old dogs, to puppies, and to unhealthy dogs. There is nothing you can do about the age of your dog, but there is a lot you can do to keep your dog healthy and thereby less attractive to fleas.
A healthy diet is paramount. See our page on Dog Food where you will find multiple posts on dog food topics. Foregoing flea chemicals can actually have the positive effect of giving you a healthier dog. Fewer vaccines and late spaying or neutering will also keep your dog healthier. A flea will jump on an unhealthy dog before a healthy one.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Adding apple cider vinegar to your dog’s food is a second very important method of natural flea prevention. For an average-sized (65 pound) adult Golden Retriever, add two tablespoons daily to your dog’s food. Use a little more or less depending on your dog’s weight.
When I first decided to go all natural with regard to flea control, I went two years without a single flea and only used apple cider vinegar. I got the first flea when I ran out of the vinegar and forgot to get more for over a week. I am convinced that ACV is a big deterrent to fleas.
I prevent fleas by spraying diluted cedar oil on the dogs’ coats before I take them out for long periods of time in the woods or to fields that might have fleas. Mixing pure cedar essential oil with water is the cheapest way to do it, but it can also be bought pre-mixed. Oil does not mix well with water so getting and keeping a home mixed spray at the right concentration can be a little hard. You must shake it often or it will separate. I recommend using the brand Paws and Claws. Paws and Claws will not only repel fleas, but if used liberally, will kill them. However, the homemade water/cedar oil mixture only serves as a repellant.
Cedar oil does have a smell (similar to the smell inside a cedar chest). Therefore your dog will need to be rinsed off before coming back in the house if you don’t like the smell. Using cedar oil is not something that I do regularly. I don’t think it is necessary unless you will be outside for an extended period of time in an area that might be infested by fleas. Apple cider vinegar alone is most likely enough of a deterrent to keep fleas away for a dog in most in-home environments.
Most years, I have been fortunate enough to keep fleas away by only using apple cider vinegar.
I do, however, keep a close watch out for fleas so that I can take a more aggressive approach to get rid of them quickly at the first sign of even a single flea on any one of my dogs. If I think there might be even a small chance of fleas, I will take additional steps. Flea prevention is important. Equally important is flea detection.
The best way to detect fleas early is by frequent flea combing. Using a flea comb is simple once you get the hang of it. However, if done incorrectly, you will miss the fleas or they will jump off your comb and back onto the dog.
Here is how to effectively use a flea comb. Before starting, fill a 2 gallon bucket about ¼ full with soapy water to kill the fleas in.
What Type Flea Comb Do You Use?
You will need a flea comb obviously. I prefer to use the type comb with a double row of tines if I believe there to be no fleas or only one or two. With this type comb, I am able to go quickly over the dog in a way that will either catch the fleas or get them moving away from the skin so that I can see them. I recommend using a different type comb which I will explain in a future post about killing fleas. Once you have your supplies set up, you are ready to begin.
How to Use a Flea Comb
Using a flea comb is easy, but you must hold it at the correct angle and the dog’s fur must be almost tangle free before you start.
Comb First With a Butter Comb
If this is your first time to use a flea comb on your dog in a while, I suggest that you use a Chris Christenson Stainless Steel Fine/Course Buttercomb or some other type of comb to get the coat completely tangle-free. This helps the flea comb with its tight tines to glide easily through the hair. A brush will get most of the tangles out, but a comb will separate the hairs better. Make sure you go over the dog’s entire body with the butter comb including the entire tail. Once all the tangles are out, you should be able to easily comb through your dog’s coat with your flea comb without pulling.
How to Hold the Flea Comb
After the dog’s hairs are pretty well separated, you are ready to begin. Hold the flea comb at about a 60-degree angle from the dog’s body having the tips of the tines going ahead of the handle as you comb. Be careful not to hold the comb too flat against your dog or the comb could scratch your dog’s skin.
Comb From Head to Tail
Start combing at the top of your dog’s head and then move down his back and under his neck down his chest. Then have your dog lie down on his side so that you can do his side, belly, legs, and tail. Have him turn over so that you can do the other side.
Make Sure Caught Fleas are Killed
When checking for fleas, you need to be very quick after every stroke to either get the comb back in your dog’s fur for another stroke or get the comb over the water in your bucket. If you don’t and you’ve caught a flea, it will jump out of your comb and get right back on your dog. When you put your comb back in the dog’s fur and apply pressure again, it serves to hold any trapped fleas there until you take the comb out.
The time between each stroke must be short for flea combing to be effective. If there aren’t any or many fleas, I will give about 3 or 4 strokes before emptying the comb and checking for fleas in the suds. To get any fleas out of the comb, hold the comb down in the bucket, above the water (not in it). Pull out anything that might be caught in the comb.
Usually all that is there is hair. However, if there is a flea it will come out with the hairs in the comb. You should be able to see the black flea moving around on top of the white suds in the water. Use the handle end of the comb to push any fleas down into the water so that they will drown. Also push any hair under the water.
If You Find One Flea, There are Probably More
Fleas are usually nonexistent if you’ve done three things. 1. You’ve not caught any fleas while flea combing. 2. You feel comfortable that you have been combing the correct way. 3. You have quickly moved your comb from the dog to the water. This ensures that you haven’t caught any fleas that have jumped right back on the dog.
If you’ve caught even one flea, there are probably more. It’s time to start aggressive flea killing. There are several natural methods of killing fleas. If I find a flea, I use them all. See our page entitled Kill Fleas Naturally (soon to be posted) for how to kill them if you should find them.
Chemical Flea Products
I believe that the makers of chemical flea products are making flea problems sound worse than they are. Killing fleas without chemicals can be difficult once your dog has been infested. However, natural flea prevention is simple and it works.
All of my dogs live in my house. Our dogs also have access to large areas of land that cannot reasonably be treated for fleas. Also, I often take them out in the woods for walks.
The only time I have ever had more than one or two fleas was when my husband and I had to leave town for almost two weeks. My flea prevention schedule (especially the use of apple cider vinegar) was not followed during this time. Some of the dogs had fleas when I got home.
Still, even then, the problem was taken care of immediately when I sprayed our home and our dogs with cedar oil. The smell was a bit of a nuisance. However, within a few days I could no longer smell it because I got used to it. For those with sensitive noses or for newcomers to my home, the smell lingered slightly for about 3 weeks. Nonetheless, for the health of my dogs, it was worth the temporary nuisance. For those with only one or two dogs, I would guess that you could go many years without fleas just by using ACV, regular flea combing, and a good healthy diet. Catching fleas early is key to being able to kill them using natural methods. Consistency is key for not getting them at all.
If you do get fleas, see our soon coming page on Killing Fleas Naturally or you can quickly kill them with chemicals. Killing fleas with chemicals only when you need to is certainly better for your dog than keeping chemicals circulating in their body year round! Fleas are quickly killed, even when your dog (and your house) have not been treated in years.
Oral Chemicals Do Not Prevent Fleas; They Kill Them
One other final point to consider when thinking about flea control is that oral chemical flea preventatives such as Comfortis and Bravecto do work. However, they do not prevent or even repel fleas like the natural methods that I suggest. These chemical products are flea killers, not preventives.
Topical medicines such as Front Line work in a different way. Fleas do not necessarily need to bite the dog for topical meds to work. However, topical medicines are not as effective as oral medicines.
For oral medicines to work, fleas must first get on your dog, then bite your dog, and finally ingest the poison that is floating around in your dog’s body. Before fleas actually bite your dog and die, the fleas could hitch a ride on your dog into your home or the dog could bite at the flea and catch and eat it. Some dogs are very good at catching fleas.
Once a dog eats a flea, you could have another problem….tapeworms. Tapeworm eggs live inside of fleas. Once your dog eats a flea that is infected with tapeworms, the tapeworm will grow and mature in your dog.
Two Ways to Get Rid of Fleas
There are two ways to keep your dog from having fleas. The first way is by keeping your dog healthy, by adding supplements that make him unattractive to fleas, by using natural repellants, by regular grooming and checking for fleas, and by keeping your environment free of fleas.
The other more commonly used method is to turn your dog himself into a flea killing machine. Circulate a chemical within his body. Turn him loose where there are fleas so that he can collect them and kill them himself with the chemical that is in him. This is the easy way, but is it what is best for your dog?
Consider Using Chemicals ONLY When You Find a Flea
Natural flea control is no doubt more difficult than giving a pill IF you should find a flea. At the very least, consider going natural until you find a flea. Then give one pill to wipe out any current fleas and their eggs. The dog himself will attract and pick up any fleas that might have gotten in your home. Then the flea will die once he tries to feed on your dog. Fleas WANT to be on your dog, not lying around in your carpet.
With good grooming practices, finding fleas will be a rare occurrence. You’ll be doing your dog a favor by giving him flea poison once every few years instead of following flea medicine manufacture’s advice. They want to keep the poison circulating in your dog’s body year round.
One final alternative for those with busy lifestyles and for those in tic infested areas is using a Seresto collar. They can be worn when needed and then taken off while in the house.
Again, year-round flea poison is not necessary in order to have a flea-free dog and home.
Oh, and by the way, you’ll save that monthly flea “prevention” cost! Natural flea prevention is better AND cheaper.