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Dog Scratching from Fleas
Fri, May 1, 2015
Fleeing Fleas and Other Bloodsuckers Naturally
Over my many years of pet ownership I became increasingly uncomfortable with having pesticides ingested, injected or applied to my pets. Eventually I moved from summer use of standard pesticides to using only natural remedies. Parasites of any kind prefer an unhealthy host. Just like us humans, a healthy diet and exercise is necessary to create a healthy body with natural resistance. 
This past year was the first time I went completely herbal and all my dogs tested negative for heart and intestinal worms. It has been a process of small changes so that I knew what worked for me. I did not want to get lost in a sudden overhaul, unable to follow through.  Something as simple as offering fresh lemon, yogurt, alfalfa sprouts and garlic at meals can begin healthy body changes.
Pesticides gradually weaken immune systems, especially if diets are compromised and the body is never detoxified. (8)  A transition away from using pesticides raises the level of responsibility for our pet's health. It is best to share your new protocol with your veterinarian. S/he will respect your choices when your pets glow with health. Heartworm and fecal tests are still necessary. Consider a reputable herbal tincture for deworming your dog once or twice a year. Black Walnut, wormwood, and clove are the most commonly used herbs for this job. Not only heartworm but intestinal worms will be cleared if used as indicated (human/animal.) (1,2,3) 
Pay close attention to directions for any type of remedy. When beginning, first test a small amount for any physical reactions. Our pets, like us, all differ in subtle ways and may show an intolerance for some substances. D-limonene, rosemary oil, pennyroyal, and tea tree oil have all been toxic to some animals. I caution you to avoid them. I have plenty of references listed for your research to find the best methods for your household.
Plant oils are commonly used to repel mosquitos, ticks, flies, and other pesky insects, with Citronella being the most familiar plant. Biting pests can carry diseases that affect all of us so bite prevention is important. 
There are many pre-made natural and organic bug repellents available for dogs. Always carefully read all labels. Sprays should be applied liberally to a towel then rubbed all over the dog to avoid inhalation of the spray. Always make sure to apply on the vulnerable underparts and avoid the dog’s face, nose, mouth, and eyes.  (This is true for essential oils, sprays, or medicated baths.)  A towel can be placed over the dog's head for extra protection. A dog's pores stay open for 24 hours after a bath. Be mindful of applications in this time period as they can be absorbed into the body through the skin.
Make a spray repellent using 10-15 drops of essential oils such as cedar, lemon, thyme, lavender,  citronella, peppermint, or Neem (among others) in 1-2 ounces mild soapy (preferably organic) water. (7)  Lemons can even be cut and the fruit rubbed all over the dog. (2,4)  Lemon oil can be applied by drops at the back of the neck, under the neck, leg pits, ankles, and above and below the tail.  Rose geranium oil has been reported as a successful tick repellent applied in the same manner. (5)                                                                  
Perhaps you would like to start with a natural flea collar made by immersing a neck scarf or cloth collar into an essential oil mix of choice. Let it dry before wearing and renew it occasionally.  (2,7)
Neem oil has been used for centuries to treat diseases and pests. It is harvested from a tree that originates in India. The oil has a smoky, not so pleasant scent, unnoticeably used in products like shampoos. The active ingredient of this tree is azadirachtin. It works by reducing insect feeding as well as disrupting hormones and blocking reproductive cycles. Neem is nontoxic to bees, birds, mammals, and plants. (5)
Your favorite shampoo can become a bug preventative that also kills any pests on the dog. Add 1-5 ml. (up to 1 tsp.) Neem to 100 mL (1/2 c. or .422 c.) shampoo. Leave the shampoo on for a few minutes and wash twice.
A .5%  Neem spray for repellent use is made with  2.5 mL (½ tsp) of Neem oil, 1 mL of mild soap and a half liter of water. Use warm water and vigorously mix the oil in last. Use immediately as the oil breaks down in water. A 1% solution can be made by doubling the Neem oil to 5 mL/1 tsp. (5)
Diatomaceous earth (D.E.) naturally occurs from deposits of a fossilized hard shell algae that are ground to a powder. Relatively inexpensive, one small bag lasts me a few years.   It slices and dices those nasty bugs and this makes me very happy. Once bugs have this powder on their body, they carry it back to the nest where it continues to work on others.
I use it indoors and out to protect against pests.  I have seen ant colonies immediately disappear with a slight application of the powder. D.E. can be put on carpets and inside vacuum bags. I apply it around the exterior base of my home to keep pests out. I use either a cup or a rose duster to apply the powder depending on where I am using it. If it is a closed space I try to make very little dust. A dust mask may be indicated in some applications as it can cause damage to the lungs if inhaled.  I suggest putting a towel over the dog’s head if applying to the body (light application) and do not apply on the dog’s face.
Should you find yourself with a flea infestation here are my basic recommendations.  First of all you must realize that daily persistence is needed since fleas lay eggs daily:
  1. Use the 1% Neem solution on your dog and let stand outside for 15 minutes or so.
  2. Gather all the dog’s bedding. Wash immediately, adding Neem, or bag it and fumigate with Neem solution outside before washing.
  3. Apply diatomaceous earth to carpet and areas where the dog resides for later vacuuming. You will need to do this daily. This is a necessity.
  4. Brush the dog outdoors then bathe with a Neem shampoo. I would apply the repellent scarf/collar to the dog after dry but no sprays or oil applications for 24 hours.
  5. Begin vacuuming EVERY DAY as fleas lay eggs daily, this is a MUST. Whatever method you use for flea removal (natural or pharmaceutical) it is imperative.   Empty the vacuum bag every day to be sure no fleas are left to breed in the home and add some D.E. to the new bag.
  6. It is important to find the source of the infestation. Perhaps there is a rabbit den or rodent home in the area?  I would apply diatomaceous earth around and even inside the rabbit hole. I also apply the D.E. around entrances and the outside perimeter of the home.
  7. Day 2:  Having waited 24 hours for the pores to close I would use a light dusting of D.E. to start and keep the treated neck scarf on the dog. Vacuum!
  8. Day 3:  I would go back to essential oil applications, the neck collar or one of the aforementioned homemade or purchased repellent sprays. Vacuum!
  9. Don’t quit just yet!  Continue prevention for a few weeks until you are sure fleas are gone.
  10. Vacuuming can be reduced to every other day until positively no signs of fleas remain. A weekly Neem bath and continued use of repellents and physical checks on the dog are indicated.
Any furious repetitive biting is an indication of bug bites. Check after walks in wooded areas for ticks and fleas. Most sprays need to be reapplied every few hours for mosquitos and spiders too, which is a great reminder if you are camping or spending long days outdoors with your dog,. 
Ticks should be removed manually with a tick remover. Do not leave the head burrowed into the skin. A flea comb can be dipped into alcohol and run through the dogs coat to pick up and kill any fleas on board. Fleas actually use the dog’s spine as their highway and hide in ears and sanitary areas of the dog.  A quick check of the dog's spine and around the tail area may reveal small black dots. That's flea poo: Get to work!
Here in Michigan the freezing winters kill bugs reducing populations; southern areas are not so lucky. So get outside with the dogs, enjoy the summer we waited for and bug out!
  4. The New Natural Cat, Anitra Frazier, pp.337-342
Other helpful references:
Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy,  Valerie Ann Worwood,  Ch. 17
The Holistic Guide for a Healthy Dog,  Volhard and Brown DVM

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