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The Truth About DIY Flea and Tick Control: Protect Your Pup

If you're a pet owner, you likely have some experience with unwelcome pests such as fleas and ticks. Not only can these parasites cause itchy bumps on the skin, but they can also transmit diseases to you and your furry family members. A prescription preventative product from your veterinarian is the best way to keep your pets safe from external parasites. But what about those who prefer a more natural approach? A quick Google search will yield a variety of natural remedies touted as flea and tick control. But natural does not always mean safe (or effective). Let's examine some common home remedies and learn why they should be avoided.

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The importance of flea and tick prevention

Fleas and ticks are two of the most common external parasites plaguing pet dogs (mosquitoes, known for transmitting heartworm disease, are another big one). These tiny creatures feed on the blood of their hosts, causing a range of health problems for pets and their owners.


Fleas are tiny, wingless insects that commonly affect dogs, especially in warm and humid environments. They can easily leap from one surface or host to another and reproduce quickly. Another sobering fact is that a significant part of the flea lifecycle takes place in the environment (your home), making them difficult to eliminate once they establish a presence.

Adult fleas live on your dog, feeding and laying eggs. These eggs fall off, hatching into larvae, then pupae in the environment (carpet, furniture, etc.), where they can remain dormant for long periods. Adult fleas emerge, finding more pets to feed on. Consistent flea prevention breaks this cycle, stopping fleas before they can bite, reproduce, and cause health issues.

When fleas bite, they inject saliva into the skin, which causes itchy red bumps that irritate dogs and humans. The irritated areas can trigger intense itching and scratching in your furry friend, which may lead to skin infections and other health issues if left untreated. Severe infestations can cause anemia in small or young animals. Some dogs also develop an allergy to flea saliva, which causes intense itching, hair loss, and infection from a flea bite. Fleas can also carry tapeworms, which can cause intestinal upset, and diseases like Bartonellosis (cat scratch fever) can be passed to humans.

While over 2,500 species of fleas exist worldwide, the most common affecting both dogs and cats is known as the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis.


Ticks are tiny arachnids that often hang out in wooded areas or tall grass, climbing onto a host as they pass by. There are many types of ticks, but the most commonly encountered in North America are the American dog, lone star, deer or black-legged, and brown dog tick.

Like fleas, ticks feed on your dog’s blood. Once embedded, they take a blood meal and become engorged, making them difficult to remove. Not only can ticks cause irritation at the site of attachment, they can also transmit a range of serious diseases to you and your furry friend, including Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and other conditions that may cause joint pain, fever, and neurological issues.

Some ticks can transmit disease-causing bacteria within as little as three hours of attachment, so it’s essential to act quickly and safely remove the tick as soon as you find it. If you find a tick on your dog, ask your vet what follow-up testing or care may be recommended. If you frequently find ticks in your area, discussing vaccinating your dog for Lyme is a good idea.

Proper prevention is essential, given how severe flea and tick infestations can be. Keeping your canine companion on a strict preventative schedule can help keep them flea- and tick-free. Of course, if your pup picks up fleas and ticks before you can get them on a preventative schedule, it isn't the end of the world — plenty of flea and tick treatment options can help resolve the issue. But, as the saying goes, prevention is the best medicine (for your pup's health and wallet).

Considering homemade options: what you should know

The internet, particularly social media, is abuzz with all sorts of DIY flea and tick repellents for dogs. While dozens of do-it-yourself remedies are online, not all options are safe for your dog, and even those that are not harmful are unlikely to be effective. Let's explore some of the most common home remedies in more detail.

It's important to note that this list of home remedies for fleas and ticks is simply to educate and inform. It should never trump your veterinarian's advice, so if you're unsure what to use for your pup, talk to your vet.

Diluted essential oils

In the holistic world, essential oils are the holy grail of natural remedies. Essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts with the natural scent and flavor, or 'essence,' of the plant they come from. They’re used for countless purposes, from aromatherapy to cleaning to pest prevention, for both people and pets. A handful of these oils may deter unwelcome guests, including fleas and ticks, making them a popular recommendation for pet parents seeking a natural alternative. When used topically in diluted amounts, the following oils may have pest-repellant properties:

  • Cedar
  • Lemongrass
  • Citronella
  • Peppermint
  • Rose geranium

Generally, the oil is diluted in a homemade flea and tick spray or your pup's shampoo. But before jumping on the essential oil bandwagon, it's important to consider their risks and limitations. Essential oils rely on their strong scent to deter pests. They don't generally kill fleas or ticks, and the effects can be short-lived and variable, depending on the concentration and mode of application.

Additionally, many essential oils are known to be toxic to dogs, whether administered topically, ingested orally, or inhaled from a candle or diffuser. These oils include cinnamon, citrus, clove, pennyroyal, pine, sweet birch, tea tree, wintergreen, citronella, and ylang-ylang. Symptoms of toxicity range in severity and include vomiting, diarrhea, ataxia (difficulty walking), lethargy, seizures, skin irritation, respiratory issues, and death. Even oils that are not considered toxic can still cause adverse effects.

While essential oils have a long history of use, modern medicine offers a wide array of safer and more rigorously tested alternatives. Given the risks associated with essential oils, opting for proven medical treatments is a more prudent choice. Talk to your vet if you’re interested in essential oils and which are safe. They can offer more insight into what oils to use or suggest an alternative method based on your dog’s unique health needs.

Apple cider vinegar or white vinegar

Apple cider and white vinegar are popular suggestions for flea and tick prevention on social media. Some influences suggest bathing your pet in vinegar and water, while others recommend spritzing diluted vinegar on your pup's fur. The quantity recommendation varies, although most recommend a 1:4 or 1:3 vinegar ratio to water. The thought behind this method is that vinegar's acidic nature and pungent scent may have a mild repellent effect.

Unfortunately, the scent won't last long, leaving your pet without protection after it wears off. There is also no solid scientific evidence proving vinegar's reliability as a flea or tick preventative. Furthermore, it will not kill any existing parasites on your pet. Some dogs may also experience skin irritation (especially if they have broken or already irritated skin), including itching, burning, and redness. Given its lack of effectiveness and the potential for irritation, it's best to avoid this method.

@madamesweat #howto naturally repel #ticks from your #dog ♬ Classical - Soften

Diatomaceous earth

Diatomaceous earth (DE) is popular as a natural flea and tick alternative for dogs. It is made from the fossilized remains of minuscule aquatic organisms called diatoms. DE's tiny, sharp particles can scratch and dehydrate insects, eventually leading to their death. For this reason, it works best on soft-bodied insects, such as garden slugs, but it can also be effective against adult fleas and ticks.

DE can be used as part of a strategy to manage flea or tick infestations in your environment (by sprinkling it onto carpets, floors, and outdoor areas). However, some also suggest it can be a preventative method. To use this as a preventative, some recommend sprinkling food-grade diatomaceous earth directly on your pet's fur. However, DE isn't suitable for direct use on your pup as it can cause excessive dryness and irritation to the skin and eyes, and repeated inhalation can also cause damage to their (and your) lungs.


While a significant amount of isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol may kill a flea on contact, it has no place as a treatment or preventative, despite the hype. Some suggest that the strong odor might deter fleas and ticks, so while you might be tempted to spritz your dog with a homemade spray featuring rubbing alcohol and similar ingredients, it isn't a good option. Not only does the smell dissipate quickly, but alcohol is highly toxic and can seriously harm your pet.


Brewer's yeast is a rich B vitamin source often touted as a natural flea and tick repellent. One theory is that when a dog consumes it, the B vitamins are excreted through the skin, creating an unpleasant odor that fleas and ticks find. Some brewer's yeast preparations also contain garlic, which may further contribute to the repellent effects.

Brewer's yeast is generally given as a powder directly onto your dog's food or fed via commercial treats or chews. While it can offer various health benefits, it should not be relied upon for effective flea and tick prevention. A 1983 study involving a dietary supplement of brewer's yeast for dogs found that it failed to repel fleas and ticks. However, more research may be needed in this area.


The use of garlic for flea and tick prevention is a controversial topic. While some sources recommend feeding your dog garlic as an oral supplement to repel fleas and ticks, large amounts of garlic in any form are known to be toxic to dogs. While garlic contains sulfur compounds that may repel parasites, it also contains thiosulfate, which can damage red blood cells and lead to (potentially fatal) anemia in dogs. While it takes a significant amount of garlic to cause adverse effects, it's best to avoid using it as a flea and tick preventative for your dog, as safer and more effective options are available.

Baking soda

Like diatomaceous earth, baking soda is thought to dry out fleas and ticks, helping get rid of an infestation in your home. Some pet owners advise applying the powder directly to your dog's fur as a repellent or integrating it into shampoo to keep pests at bay. Unfortunately, baking soda can be drying or irritating to your pet's skin, isn't an effective repellent for pests, and will do nothing to prevent an infestation.

Lifestyle considerations

While unlikely to be effective alone, lifestyle prevention can be essential to managing fleas and ticks. This includes regular vacuuming, washing pet bedding in hot water, consistent grooming, and keeping the yard well maintained to reduce habitats that fleas and ticks find favorable (such as tall grass and warm, dark areas).

Safe and effective flea and tick prevention

You can purchase safe and effective flea and tick repellant from your vet. Many options and formulations are available, and your vet can help you determine which one may be right for your family. The Companion Animal Parasite Council recommends treating all dogs with flea control products year-round and throughout their life. Ideally, this should include a broad-spectrum product that protects your dog against heartworm (spread by mosquitoes) and intestinal parasites.

Flea and tick prevention comes in several different forms.

Oral chews and tablets

Feeding oral chews or tablets to a dog

Veterinarians offer prescription flea and tick prevention to provide long-term protection against these parasites. The chew dosage is based on your pup's weight, while the dosing frequency is based on the option you choose (usually every one or three months). These products provide long-lasting protection and take effect rapidly, allowing you to enjoy areas where fleas and ticks may thrive worry-free.

Topical medications

Applying topical medications to a dog

If chewable medications aren't a good fit for your dog, topical preventatives might be. These liquids are applied between the shoulder blades to ensure your pup can't lick it off. They can last up to a month and are effective at keeping unwanted pests at bay. Keep in mind that some products for dogs may be toxic to cats and should not be used if there are cats in the household. Topicals come as both over-the-counter and prescription products. While they may be more expensive, prescription products are generally more effective and cause fewer side effects than OTC options.


Collar on a dog to prevent fleas or ticks

Several collars are also designed to prevent fleas and ticks. While flea and tick collars of years past were largely ineffective, the newer and improved versions are effective. Our vets recommend the Seresto collar.

Common ingredients and how they work

Common ingredients used in flea and tick preventatives for dogs target different stages of the pests' life cycles and act in various ways. Fipronil and imidacloprid disrupt the nervous system of fleas and ticks, while ingredients like (S)-methoprene and pyriproxyfen are insect growth regulators, preventing the development of eggs and larvae. Permethrin is toxic to adult fleas and ticks and works as a repellent. The isoxazoline class of drugs offers long-lasting protection and works by disrupting the flea and tick nervous system, leading to paralysis and death. It's essential to read product labels carefully and consult your veterinarian for the best preventive solution based on your dog's needs.

All medication has potential risks and side effects, and flea and tick prevention is no different. While these products are considered highly safe, possible side effects include gastrointestinal upset (vomiting, diarrhea), lethargy, and skin irritation at the application site. In rare cases, neurological issues (tremors or seizures) have been reported with some isoxazoline products.

When to see a veterinarian

Whether your pup is dealing with medical issues related to a flea or tick infestation or you simply have questions about what type of preventative is best for your dog, your veterinarian will be your best resource. Additionally, if you notice any symptoms or changes you suspect may be due to your flea and tick prevention (whether a home remedy or traditional product), talk to your vet as soon as possible.

Natural vs. traditional flea and tick preventatives: is one better?

Each dog has unique needs, and each pet owner has different preferences. However, vets agree that the most reliable and effective way to keep your pet protected from common pests like fleas and ticks is by using a prescription preventative product.

Natural options, such as homemade sprays featuring diluted essential oils or brewer’s yeast chews, can appeal to pet owners who prefer to steer clear of chemicals. However, pet owners often find that natural preventatives aren’t as effective as traditional ones. Not only will their pet be left unprotected from parasites, but they can also suffer significant side effects from harmful ingredients. On the other hand, traditional preventatives are considered safe and effective and often last for several weeks to months, giving pet owners long-lasting peace of mind.

There is undoubtedly a place for home remedies in caring for your furry family member; however, when it comes to parasite prevention, it’s best to stick with the methods that are proven safe and effective.


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