The Irreverent Vet Speaks Out on Holistic and Natural Flea Treatments

In this article, I will tell you about the Holistic Treatments Veterinarians Recommend For Fleas.

First, let me introduce myself for those of you that don't know me. I'm the Irreverent Veterinarian. I speak my mind and give you my honest opinion. I won't sweet-talk you or sugarcoat the truth. I tell it like it is – to you, the drug companies, the pet product manufacturers, professional breeders and pet owners. Some might say that I'm truthful to a fault. Some of the pet owners and breeders who read my columns get really angry. It is hard hearing the truth.
This is an excellent question. I can't speak for every veterinarian but I can speak for the majority. In fact, in preparation for this article, I contacted 10 vets and asked them for their thoughts on this subject to see if their views matched my own. As it turns out, we were all in agreement.

What holistic treatments are available for fleas?

Over the years, I've learned about dozens of holistic or alternative treatments for fleas. They include:

1.Groom you pet daily. Check your pet for fleas. Use a flea comb. This can really help to identify fleas early, when it is easiest to get the problem under control. Flea combs have very fine teeth. The spaces between the teeth on these combs are smaller than the fleas, so when you use the comb on your pet any fleas are "combed" out. The earlier you detect and treat the problem the better. Once you have fleas they start reproducing. This leads to generations of fleas (a flea infestation). Place any fleas caught from the comb into hot soapy water. Rinse the comb by dipping in cool clean water and continue the search for more fleas.

2.Wash bedding. Thoroughly clean your home. Wash all bedding. They say (and this is true) that more than 90% of fleas live in your home (not on your pet). I've read that for every flea you see ON your pet, there are 200 more in your home in various forms (either as eggs, pupae, larvae or adults). Keeping your home and bedding clean is a great natural way to help control fleas.

3.Vacuum. This can really help control fleas. Vacuuming will pick up some of the fleas (in various forms) but won't stop your pet from bringing them into the house. Also, any adult fleas on your pet will still reproduce and drop their eggs back in your house. Vacuum under furniture and cushions as well! After vacuuming, empty and remove the vacuum bag from the home.

4.Remember to clean all areas of the home. Don't forget areas like the garage, laundry room, and basement.

5.Borax and Borax Powders. Some people believe that Borax can kill fleas. It is true that it can have natural insecticide qualities but it is also toxic to dogs and cats. Borax is a white, calcified mineral that comes off the Playas (dried seasonal lakes). It has many uses but mostly it is used as a mild detergent for laundry. There are several brands – the most talked about one is called "20 Mule Team Borax". Many people use it to kill fleas by spreading it on the carpet in its dry form (one to two cups per average sized room). Leave it on the carpet for two weeks without vacuuming to help to cover the different life cycles (e.g. eggs, larvae and adults). Some believe that by doing this household fleas will be eliminated for a year, but this is not true in our experience. Because it is toxic to dogs and cats, we recommend that if you do this you should keep your pet away from the Borax (especially as pets may walk through it then groom their paws and ingest this toxin). Leave the Borax down for an hour or so then vacuum it up (then you can allow your pet back into that area). Inhalation of Borax powder can also be irritating to your pet's lungs. Use it with care if you choose to use it at all. Also note that this Borax treatment does not prevent fleas from living on your pet and in the uncarpeted areas of your home.

6.Hope for cold weather. Some people believe that winter freezes can eliminate fleas. This has not been true in my experience. For example, it was quite a cold winter in the north this year and fleas are as bad as ever.

7.Salt. Some believe that salt can help eliminate fleas. Some people sprinkle salt on the floor, under cushions and on bedding. In theory, if the flea eats the salt they will "swell up and die". This has not worked for us.

8.Citrus extracts. Citrus extracts are sometimes considered to be natural flea repellents. They should never be used on dogs or cats or with other flea products as they can cause toxicity. Personally, I have not found them to work. Also when polling my panel of vets, none of them believed that citrus extracts work. They generally don't hurt anything but they don't really help. Because citrus extracts are often used in combination with other things, some pet owners falsely believe that they work. In our experience, they don't.

9.Electronic flea collars. These don't work. Period. That is my opinion. I asked several veterinarians for their opinions and read several articles on electronic flea collars. Some electronic flea collars use high pitched or ultrasonic sound to repel insects, others use an electromagnetic field and newer ones use ionic air cleaning. They all claim to drive fleas away. Based on several opinions by entomologists and other researchers, they simply do not work.

10.Essential oils. Some essentials oils may repel fleas but they don't kill them. They are not effective in treating infestations. These essential oils are diluted in water (10 to 15 drops of essential oils to 500 ml of water) and then sprayed on the pet's coat. Another option is to add 10 drops of essential oils to 20 ml of almond oil and apply 1 drop to the hair coat per 2 lbs of body weight once or twice a week. So a 20-pound dog would get 10 drops. In most veterinarians' experience it may not be harmful but it doesn't help very much either. The effort is not worth the benefit. Speak to your veterinarian befor applying any essential oils to your dog's coat. You may also add Eucalyptus or lavender oil to the water when washing bedding. In my experience, this doesn't help but does smell good.

11.Electronic flea traps. These work by exuding small amounts of heat that attract fleas, which are then trapped on sticky paper. They can help but alone they are not effective for treating fleas.

12.Acupuncture. Are you kidding? How do you acupuncture fleas?

13.Flea collars. Well, what can I say … flea collars are not natural and they have their own story. To read the full story on flea collars, go to <insert link>.

14.Pyrethrum. This product is commonly used in veterinary flea products and is derived from the chrysanthemum flower. It can be toxic if used inappropriately.

15.Other Herbal Treatments and Such:

One thing I'd like to point out is that many toxins come from something "natural". For example, some drugs that help us cure or treat cancer come from plants. Some would consider them "natural". When used inappropriately, they can be very toxic and kill. So just because something is natural, that does not mean that it is safe.

My Final Thoughts on Holistic Flea Medications

The most effective treatments are prescription medications from your veterinarian. They really are. I'm not getting one dime for giving you my honest opinion here. If an over the counter treatment that worked as well as these medications really did exist, I'd tell you. But it simply does not exist.

There are so many safe and effective products on the market that can really help that I don't think it is worth using natural treatments that don't work and can also be very expensive.


The Irreverent Vet is a columnist that regularly contributes to The goal is to add a balanced and alternative view of some controversial pet issues. As happens with all of us, veterinarians can't always say what they really think without offending some clients. This commentary allows vets to say what they think and give you, the pet owner, the opportunity to consider another point of view. All opinions are those of the Irreverent Vet and not the views of and are not endorsed by