With rising concerns about the toxicity of conventional flea and tick control, some pet owners are looking for natural alternatives. Fleas and ticks are a nuisance, and they can transmit diseases such as tapeworms, allergic reactions, and heartworm. A large infestation can even cause anemia.

There are natural means by which these nasty little critters can be kept at bay, however. Here are some suggestions – even a formula from the 17th century. The war against fleas and ticks is nothing new!

  • Herbal flea collars can do an excellent job of repelling fleas, particularly on cats. For dogs, look for collars containing amitraz, a natural repellent that is particularly effective against ticks. Be sure to change collars monthly.
  • Natural commercial flea and tick medication is another option. Even chain pet stores are now beginning to carry these. They are available as spot-on medications, shampoos, sprays, and powders.
  • Herbal flea and tick shampoos can be purchased commercially, or you can make them yourself. Add a few drops of tea tree, eucalyptus, or pennyroyal essential oil to unscented, liquid castile soap or unmedicated pet shampoo.
  • Make a home-made spray by steeping one unpeeled, thinly-sliced lemon and one lime (also unpeeled and sliced) in 4 cups of boiling water overnight. The next morning, strain this infusion and add a few drops of pennyroyal, rosemary, fennel, and/or garlic extracts to make it even more effective.
  • Garlic is an excellent flea and tick repellent. Combined with brewer’s yeast it is even more effective. Try adding a pinch of fresh, minced garlic and a pinch of brewer’s yeast to your small dog’s or cat’s food each day during flea season. For dogs over 35 pounds, you can add up to a 1/2 teaspoon of garlic and 1 teaspoon of brewer’s yeast to their food.

Another way to get the garlic essence into your pets is to add a few drops of liquid garlic extract to their food along with the yeast.

Note: there is conflicting information about giving pets garlic. If you are concerned, check with your vet before feeding garlic to your pets.

  • Dried chrysanthemum flowers work well for flea control. You can apply the powdered or crushed flowers to your pet as well as around your home – chrysanthemums are safe for babies and other pets.
  • Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) is full of pulegone, the bug repellent found in pennyroyal. You can grow, dry and crush this herb yourself easily, or steep a strong mountain mint tea and use it as a spray.
  • Keep your yard flea-free by sprinkling diatomaceous earth liberally into your grass. Wear a respirator when you do this – while diatomaceous earth is non-toxic, it is made of microscopic silicon which can irritate the lungs.

In the 17th century, Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek devised a flea powder of dried herbs. You can do the same if you like, buying the dried herbs in bulk in powder form or crushing them yourself. Leeuwenhoek’s formula consisted of eucalyptus, fennel, fleabane, garlic, onion, rosemary, rue, tansy, and wormwood.

Be aware that wormwood is considered toxic – you might want to make the formula without this herb. Work this powder into your pet’s fur several times a week, raking your fingers through the animal’s fur against the direction of its growth.