Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He also trains dogs, mostly large breeds and those that suffer from aggression problems.
Living on the beach and owning a dog, I was reluctant to put chemicals on my dog that might affect her health and damage our environment. According to the distributors, fipronil (Frontline) is not soluble in water and should not wash off. Really? Even with daily swims in the ocean?
I have never been a big proponent of subjecting my dog to fleas, but I'm also reluctant to subject her to the “safe” chemicals—which are often applied much more frequently than the labels recommend. (The ASPCA has even issued a warning about overusing the spot-on treatments.)
I can’t just get rid of the fleas in the environment, because every time she plays with the neighborhood dogs on the beach she gets infested again. Even if I had trusted those chemicals on my dog, the cost was still unreasonable. I wanted, and she needed, something different.
I wanted a non-toxic method of flea control that would provide her with some relief. Here are a few of the best.
Non-Toxic Methods of Flea Control
- Bathing and Vinegar
- Diotemaceous Earth
1. The Flea Comb
This is natural, simple, cheap, and easy to use, but if you do not like dealing with fleas and are upset when you notice even a few, this is not your best choice.
If you do not choose to go the more expensive route of natural control, getting control of fleas is a lot of work. (That is why there are so many flea control chemicals on the market! Dog ownership prior to the spot on-drugs was a major challenge.)
If you choose not to use those chemicals the first step in getting control of the fleas is a good flea comb. You can run the comb through her hair several times a day and remove almost all of the adults. I like to drop them in dishwashing soap as I comb them out so that they cannot jump off and get on to her later. If you can keep the teeth of the comb moist as you run it through the hair you will have a lot better “catch”.
(Some clients hate the sight of fleas, so this method does not work for everyone or all types of dogs.)
2. Bathing and White Vinegar
You can control the flea population (but not totally eliminate it) by bathing your dog. There are several reasons that this only helps.
How Bathing and White Vinegar Help Eliminate Fleas
- Adult fleas only spend part of their lives on the dog, and the majority of fleas out there are still eggs, larva, and pupae. If she has a special place she likes to lie you can try washing it with hot water every week.
- You can also try vacuuming her bedding or wherever she sleeps to pick up eggs and larva.
- Try keeping the grass short and if it is dry and bright fewer fleas will survive.
- You can try to spray her down with vinegar after shampooing to provide a more long-lasting deterrent.
Unfortunately, the adults only spend a small portion of their lives on the dog, jumping on and sucking blood whenever they feel the need. One female lays between 400-500 eggs where your dog likes to sleep. Those larva develop and can pupate and be around for a year so it is really impossible to get rid of this problem with just a comb, bathing, or a natural flea spray like vinegar.
Even Dr. Bruce Fogle, a veterinarian who writes about natural dog care, recommends cleaning with a borate solution to reduce the flea population in the carpets. (Don’t use laundry grade borax though because it can cause poisoning.)
Feeding garlic may also be helpful and, if given with Brewers yeast, works even more effectively.
Unfortunately no one can tell you the exact amount to give, and since no one can patent garlic no big pharmaceutical companies are doing research in this area. A clove of garlic is enough for a 10 to 30 pound dog but larger dogs can eat more safely.
Several web sites out there claim that garlic is toxic. They are not correct. It is helpful, not harmful, but will probably not eliminate your flea problem by itself.
4. Diotemaceous Earth
Another alternative is diatomaceous earth. It is actually made up of tiny skeletons that dry out the outer layer of the fleas so that they will die from dehydration. It is a natural product but can still cause problems if it is inhaled so you have to be careful when applying it.
The product is spread around the yard like a chemical flea powder and here in the tropics, where it rains almost every day, I have not had good results. It is a lot more appropriate for people who live in an arid area or have their pets confined to the house; some owners even put it right on the dogs skin, like a chemical flea powder.
It can irritate the eyes so be careful!
If you have tried several of these procedures and nothing has worked there are also nematodes for sale that will eat the young fleas before they ever develop and jump onto your dog. Nematodes are tiny round worms and, although some types are parasites, there are others that eat fleas and the other bugs in your garden. Nematodes are a great option for an outside dog that spends time in the yard but the nematodes need to be sprayed (reapplied) periodically because they die off.
Are you amazed at all the choices? There are more products available but these are 5 of the best and most effective.
Like most things in life, a lot of things are available when no one thing works well. If you can live with the problem, and want to subject your dog to the itching, a flea comb is the easiest and cheapest method to control these bugs. If you can´t even stand the idea of a flea being on your dog, the chemical flea control products are most effective, but also the most dangerous.
If you want to fight, these are a few of the alternatives. Some dogs are really miserable when they have this problem, so go ahead and get started today.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: What is the water-vinegar ratio for flea repellent? Will the vinegar mix work for cats too?
Answer: I use a 50% solution (half water, half vinegar) because it is mild enough to be used in the ears for cleaning. If the dog has open sores on the skin from scratching it will burn, so be careful.
I do not use it on cats. Cats lick themselves, and the ingestion of too much vinegar will affect the bodies pH.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 14, 2020:
Hi Mary, even with the guinea fowl I have a lot of ticks here so I am using Topline too. It is okay with fleas but may or may not clear up a bad infestation.
The best thing is to bathe often but I realize that is a problem. If you can do so for two or three times a week, and then use a vinegar spray on after, the problem will clear up pretty fast, in a few weeks.
If you use the topline and bathing, just do not bathe for a few days after the topline. It will wash off.
I hope all else is well up in Ceara. We never did find the Hus. rototiller so ended up getting a Toyoma. So far so good.
Mary Wickison from Brazil on March 11, 2020:
Hi Dr. Mark,
My vira lata has a problem with fleas. I have put in the lake washing her with a flea soap, dusted her with flea powder, used talfon, and brushed her. I have tried vinegar water although she gets sores from scratching and I don't want it to burn her.
Perhaps I am just not keeping up with the program. How often should I be washing and using a vinegar rinse?
Also would using Top Line help? She doesn't have ticks, only fleas (maybe mites from the chickens) but I only see fleas on her.
Teresa on May 28, 2019:
Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on July 21, 2013:
I need to try spraying vinegar to help with fleas! I had never heard of that! I like trying natural products.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 21, 2013:
Sheila, thanks again for sharing. I have heard some good things about the apple cider vinegar too, so you may want to give that a try. It is not available where I live so I made organic cashew vinegar, still awaiting results!
Becky, thanks for sharing your experience. I understand about the flea comb on your Sheltie--I run a comb through my Pit Bulls coat every night but it will not work on my Havanese.
Becky Katz from Hereford, AZ on July 21, 2013:
Interesting, as my dog has had a really tough time with fleas this last two years. I have used all of the methods you mentioned and none of them have worked. I even used them all at once. I finally found something that has worked and for the first time in two years, he is not scratching. His hair is growing back in and we are highly pleased. Concertis is what we used and I know it is not natural but neither is a miserable dog. The Advantage and Frontline made no difference at all, and they did make him sick, so they stopped soon.
I would give him brewers yeast and it contains garlic, I powdered him with diatomaceous earth (that is what killed my father, so I had a hard time doing that). I treated the yard and sprayed/vacuumed the whole house. I washed his bedding in hot water and sprayed him with vinegar water. I combed him, which got easier when his hair fell out; he is a sheltie. Nothing helped and my poor baby was miserable. Now he is starting to play again, he didn't have time too because of the scratching.
Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on July 21, 2013:
I'm so glad I found this hub. Living in the country, both of my dogs have problems with fleas. I don't like using the strong "spot on" chemical alternatives and they really don't seem to work well anyway. I didn't know how much garlic to give my dogs, so I do have an idea now. I will also try the vinegar and water spray. Voting this up, useful, interesting and sharing! :)
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 18, 2012:
Do you mean the stalk of the garlic (as the green part)?
Cat R from North Carolina, U.S. on July 18, 2012:
I also heard that a fly light/buzz (those electric things you plug into an outlet to attract flies) may work. Supposedly the fleas are attracted by the light and get 'buzzed' just like flies would. Never tried it, tough.
Somebody told me it's actually the green part of the garlic that is dangerous. I always added garlic to my dog's food and will definitely try the brewer's yeast. Living in the country I am VERY interested in anything that will work against fleas and ticks.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on June 23, 2012:
Actually I have heard of both so maybe that indicates none of them are perfect. One speaker (I think he has a video on Youtube) recommends adding a little vinegar to water, and I talked to a girl from Britain that uses apple cider vinegar in the same way and she said it works really well. I have used it as a repellent after a bath. You put it in a spray bottle and just coat the dog. Let me know if this works on the fleas there in Florida. I hear they are especially tough to get rid of!
Melissa Flagg COA OSC from Rural Central Florida on June 23, 2012:
I love your hubs DrMark. I didn't know vinegar worked on fleas. Is it like a vinegar water mix, or straight vinegar that you spray on the dog? My poor puppy doesn't respond to frontline or advantage, and the garlic worked a bit, but it didn't get rid of them, so I'd like to try the vinegar. :D
Great hub, and packed full of awesome info, you're hubs really are awesome. So I voted it as such :D
wetnosedogs from Alabama on June 10, 2012:
Aw, that was nice of you DrMark1961.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on June 10, 2012:
I found the avon artilce and added the link
somethgblue from Shelbyville, Tennessee on June 09, 2012:
and here I thought your dog was a metaphor for yourself and you were too embarrassed to admit you have fleas. Hey you get used to them and they actually will help you to isolate from other humans.
wetnosedogs from Alabama on June 09, 2012:
I have heard or read somewhere that some groomers use Avon Skin-So-Soft as a last rinse. Fleas don't like Avon. Use 1 part skin-so-soft to 5 parts water.
My oldest female has allergies and recently I was instructed to give her more baths. I always finish with spraying on Avon and rub it in her coat. It relieves itching(I had to change her food once again).
Hope this helps.
I did a hub on Avon skin-so-soft.
Recently PetSupermarket opened here and they even sell Avon Skin-So-Soft!
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on June 09, 2012:
Thanks for all the comments. I have heard a lot about the Avon product, is there something I can add about it for readers of this article?
Thomas Silvia from Massachusetts on June 08, 2012:
A very well written hub with lots of valuable information within it.
Vote up and more !!!
Angela Brummer from Lincoln, Nebraska on June 08, 2012:
Another fantastic hub that will be shared!
wetnosedogs from Alabama on June 08, 2012:
So much information-this is great. We've had a mild winter, so that didn't help with the fleas. But I use brewer's yeast and garlic tablets for dogs, bathe my dogs with baby shampoo(gentler,and I bathe them more often in the warm weather, so it isn't so irritating on their skin. After drying them off, I spray them with avon's skin-so-soft. But always willing to try other ways, so I enjoyed reading this.
Shared this hub.
brewskitimeguy from Maine on June 06, 2012:
VOTED UP...BATTLE FLEAS ALL THE TIME WHERE I LIVE...NEVER WIN
Joe Njenga from Nairobi Kenya on June 04, 2012:
Very interesting and well written hub. I have voted it up!
mwilliams66 from Left Coast, USA on June 03, 2012:
Really interesting information DrMark. I had no idea about nematodes. I have been using the spot on treatment and really never felt good about it. It words but I just don't like the thought of putting chemicals on my pets. Thanks for including so many alternatives.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on June 02, 2012:
Thanks for the comment on the nematodes, I will add something--for me it is like saying "flea" or "worm". Good luck with your new puppy Pamela, they can really make life more interesting!
somethgblue from Shelbyville, Tennessee on June 02, 2012:
Good article and very helpful however being forced to google nematodes took me away from the article when a sentence explaining what they are would have been pretty easy.
Pamela Dapples from Just Arizona Now on June 02, 2012:
Excellent information. I didn't know half of it. I've been lucky with my cat because I started combing her years ago -- once a day -- and kept it up just because she liked it. Somehow or another, even though she would roll around outside in the dirt several times a week (and I'd wash her down) she didn't get fleas. Twice a year we went to the vet -- and the vet would comment that she has no fleas.
It's good to know of these other methods as I'm getting a dog (again) soon.
Voting up, useful and interesting.