Every pet owner fears these tiny pests, even if they’re not a regular occurrence for your pet. Many have dealt with fleas, scouring the house and combing through fur to find each and every one of those minuscule invaders. They’re not nice. And that’s putting it mildly.
So, how can you spot an infestation, prevent fleas from taking up residence, and what natural flea remedies are there?
What Do Fleas Look Like
Most dog and cat owners can recognize a flea at first glance. They’re pretty distinctive little pests.
Adult fleas are about 1/12 to 1/8 inch long, oval shaped and dark brown. And they’re flat from side to side. They have six long legs and can jump very high and far, about 200 times their body length.
Flea larvae are pale white and measure about 3 mm in length, and almost look like tiny worms. They have no legs.
Lifecycle of a Flea
Thankfully, the lifecycle of a flea isn’t super long compared to other insects. However, in our humble opinion, any length of time is too long for a flea.
The flea life cycle goes from egg to larva to pupa to adult. This process can take anywhere from 2 to 3 weeks to several months.
- Egg Stage: Female fleas lay eggs while attached to the host (your dog or cat in this case). These agues don’t attach, so they slowly drop to the ground where they’ll stay until they hatch. This can take from 2 to 12 days.
- Larva Stage: The larval stage is shorter in the summer, taking four to 24 days to enter the pupal stage. For the rest of the year, the process can take up to 200 days. They eat their own skin sheddings, waste from adult fleas, and organic debris like hair and dead skin cells. They’re often found burrowed into or under pet bedding or in deep carpet to avoid the light.
- Pupa Stage: After going through a series of molts, flea larvae begin the process of building their cocoon (the pupal casing). It’s in this pupal stage that the flea larvae change, developing into a fully grown adult flea.
- Adult Stage: These are the fleas we recognize. Adult cat and dog fleas can live up to one year in ideal situations, but only about one to two weeks if they’re not attached to (and feeding from) a host.
Symptoms of a Flea Infestation
How can you tell if your pet has fleas? How do you know what natural flea remedies are needed?
Itching, scratching, and biting are typically the most obvious signs of a flea infestation. This is because those tiny parasites are feeding, which can be really irritating, and can cause a significant amount of discomfort.
Upon close inspection, you might find tiny bite marks on your pet – red, irritated spots. You may even notice some on your own body.
During this inspection, you’ll probably also notice fleas burrowed deep down in your pet’s fur, along with flea dirt – the waste left behind. It looks like little flakes of pepper, and you might find it on your animal, the carpet, or their bedding.
Natural Flea Prevention
Ideally, you want to stop a flea infestation. And while you may reach for chemical-based flea medication for prevention, there are several natural flea remedies that will do the trick, and are much safer.
- Healthy Insides. No, this isn’t exactly a remedy – it means that keeping your animal healthy will naturally keep fleas at bay. Like other parasites, fleas target less healthy hosts, as well as puppies and kittens with undeveloped immune systems. So, opt for fresh, whole food nutrition, lots of exercise, sleep, and no stress.
- Apple Cider Vinegar. ACV is great because it creates an acidic environment on your animal’s body, which is healthy for them, but uninviting for fleas. An easy way to use ACV for prevention is with a simple spray. Mix 6 cups of apple cider vinegar with 4 cups of water, add a dash of sea salt, then spray directly onto your pet’s coat. Be careful to avoid the eyes.
- Garlic. Yes, garlic! This option is for pups only, but adding it to food is a great way to protect against fleas. A good basis is to use no more than 1/2 clove per 20 pounds of body weight daily, with a maximum of 2 cloves for any size of dog. Use fresh garlic, crushed up, just added right to your dog’s food. **If your pet has a history of hemolytic anemia, it would be safest to avoid using garlic in any form.
- Neem Oil. This is an oil that comes from the neem tree. It’s non toxic for dogs, and thanks to its less than appealing taste, most animals are unlikely to lick it off their fur.
- Topical Use – dilute neem oil with olive oil (1 part neem to 10 parts olive oil) and dab it directly to the places where fleas like best: the head, ears, tail, shoulders, and flanks. This can be done every two or three days.
- Spray – mix 1 part neem oil to 10 parts warm water and spray it liberally all over your pet. The mixture should only be made for same-day use, as the oil will become less potent with time.
But if you’re too late to get ahead of things, it’s time to turn to natural flea remedies to get rid of the problem.
Natural Flea Remedies
If you’re a little too late for prevention, it’s time to get down to flea-killing business.
First, get yourself a flea comb. Do a really thorough search of your pet and pick off all the fleas. Then, do it again. This is where you want to start with any infestation. And you’ll want to do it daily to catch any stragglers.
Next, reach for one of these natural flea remedies. Since these are all natural, they can all be used at the same time to up the flea-killing power!
- Diatomaceous Earth. Diatomaceous earth is a non-toxic natural substance made from crushed fossils of freshwater organisms and marine life. When the razor-sharp particles touch the fleas, they pierce their protective coating and the bugs quickly dehydrate and die. The particles affect larvae in the same way. But don’t worry, it’s deadly to any insect, but completely harmless to your animals. You can feed it and spread it around your home.
- Internally – Mix it into food really well. It’s best when food has good moisture (raw food). If you feed kibble, mix it with some water.
- Small dogs and puppies: 1/2 tsp per day
- Up to 50 lbs: 1 tsp per day
- Over 50 lbs: 1 tbsp per day
- 100 lbs or more: 2 tbsp per day
- Externally – rub the powder into your pet’s fur. Start near the tail and pull back the hair to get it on the skin. Avoid the eyes, nose and mouth as it can irritate mucous membranes. Also sprinkle it on bedding, carpets, even around the yard. Let it settle so that your pet doesn’t breathe it in – this can cause irritation.
- Coconut oil. Coconut oil kills and repels fleas thanks to the lauric acid content. Put some in your hands and let it melt a little, then rub it all through your pet’s coat. You can also add it to food – go with 1 tsp per 20 pounds of body weight twice daily.
- Lemon Spray. Lemon is a great natural home remedy for fleas. Make a lemon spray by slicing a lemon thinly and adding it to a pint of water and bring to a boil. Let it sit overnight and then pour it into a spray bottle. Spray the solution on the infested areas in your home – sofas, pet bedding, chairs etc. Don’t soak, only dampen.
- Essential Oils. There are several essential oils that can help with fleas, including rosemary, sage, and lemongrass. You can add these to the lemon spray, even to the neem oil prevention spray we mentioned above, to help increase their effectiveness. Just be careful – always dilute essential oils well if you’re applying them topically!
- Nematodes. Nematodes (also called roundworms) are minuscule organisms that kill fleas, but are harmless to pets and humans. Spread them in moist, warm areas of the yard that pets and fleas frequent. The nematodes get rid of fleas naturally by feeding on flea larvae.
To reduce the risk of harmful side effects, these natural flea remedies and prevention methods will help you wave farewell to fleas and keep your pet healthy and happy.
The Veterinarious team is made up of pet owners, pet lovers, and pet experts from around the globe! We’ve banded together to create a community of like-minded pet people to give you the latest research and health advice for your beloved beast!