Is Diatomaceous Earth Safe for Dogs and Will It Kill Fleas? Uses and Facts
How I Learned About Diatomaceous Earth
Years ago, I dutifully went to the veterinarian to get one of those popular topical flea treatments. I read the label and instructions and was mildly alarmed that there were so many warnings on the label, but I knew that as a "good pet owner," I needed to prevent fleas and ticks on my pets. Besides, there are few things worse than flea infestations—and I didn't want that. So, I twisted off the tip of the green-looking chemical solution and thought, "bye-bye, fleas."
Adverse Reactions to Flea Medication
A couple of hours later after applying the flea medication, my dog started foaming at the mouth. He was an older dog, and I watched anxiously as he started to grow lethargic. (The year before, the same thing had happened to my cat.) It was 10 P.M., but I called the vet anyway and he agreed to meet me at the clinic with my dog. By 1 A.M., my dog was showing improvement after receiving fluids and oxygen therapy. The vet said he would need to keep my dog overnight to monitor him.
What My Research Revealed
The next day, I anxiously waited until I could bring my dog home. I now had two animals that had shown adverse reactions to name-brand flea medications. I hopped online, wondering if other people experienced similar issues. (I should have guessed that topical flea medications were bad when the directions urged me to wash my hands immediately and to avoid skin contact.) While browsing the internet, I read things like "endocrine disruptors" and "toxic to the brain and nervous system." This information wasn't just on one site . . . it was on many.
I began to look for natural alternatives for so many reasons. I didn't want to perpetuate the rampant use of chemicals that our society is so dependent upon nor did I want to put my animals at risk. After all, my dog ran out in the woods all the time and would invariably bring home a few fleas from his romps in the bushes. I recalled that despite the incident at the vet, I still expected the flea application to last a month, but it lasted three weeks and not a day more. This stuff wasn't cheap and it never lasted as long as the box would say.
In Search of Natural Flea Prevention
I ordered some animal-safe herbal sprays with tiny amounts of cinnamon oil and cedar oil. It worked, but I felt like I had to apply it every other day and my dog hated being sprayed down all the time and smelling like a cinnamon stick. Right after applying, he'd run outside and roll and slide in the grass and leaves until he was satisfied he didn't smell anymore—effectively rubbing it off. I liked the smell of the cinnamon, but it was equally difficult holding him still long enough to spray from head to toe. He would shake like a leaf whenever he saw me bring out the bottle.
I then turned to garlic. Some would argue that garlic wasn't good to give to my dog, but I tried adding a small amount of it into his food. I had done enough research to be comfortable trying this with my dog but not the cats. It seemed to mildly work. After running around in the woods, I'd still have to pick off ticks. Small amounts of garlic seem to be okay for dogs according to some experts, but both onions and garlic are toxic to cats, as are many essential oils. I still felt like I was fighting a losing battle.
Then, I finally read about diatomaceous earth or DE. With my veterinarian's blessing, I began to use DE exclusively on my pets.
What Is Diatomaceous Earth?
DE is made up of a mineral called silica. It comes from the fossilized remains of ancient diatoms, a type of microscopic algae. It looks like a fine, white powder. This white powder has numerous practical applications and is used for water filtration, in scientific experiments, and as a form of pest control.
In terms of pest control, it works by cutting the exoskeleton of the insect (the hard outer layer) and then dehydrates the flea, tick, ear mite, and all sorts of other tiny pests. This is because the powder has tiny but sharp edges and the ability to absorb liquid. DE is fine to use topically and even internally with animals if it is food-grade and animal-safe. However, avoid breathing the dust from it—you don't want those tiny silica particles in the lungs.
Be careful and avoid breathing in DE dust as much as possible. The same goes for animals.
How to Choose a Safe DE Product
When buying DE, make sure it is approved for use on animals. Many hardware stores carry DE for general use but it may not be safe for use on animals. If in doubt, call the manufacturer's phone number listed on the product and they will tell you whether it is safe or not.
All internally consumed DE must be food-grade. Failure to verify the source of DE and using an industrial DE product can result in poisoning and toxicity in humans and animals.
Food-Grade DE for Flea Control
This is the brand I buy for my pets most often. I just open the lid, sprinkle it on my pets with my fingers, and let them run around while they try to shake it off. It lands on the carpet, which also helps to keep the fleas at bay.
How to Use DE to Get Rid of Fleas
One thing to remember is that DE is a natural product. As with all pet/flea products, your experience with it might differ from mine. You might find it to be greatly successful or you may not. This can be due to many factors including pet allergies or tolerance for DE, how often you apply DE, how thoroughly you can get rid of fleas elsewhere in the home, etc. If you have questions about it, it's always a good idea to check with your veterinarian.
The following method will help you get rid of your flea problem naturally, but it is critical that you get rid of all fleas in your home as well as on your pet at the same time. I know that when I have not done this, the fleas always come right back.
Only use food-grade DE. Pool-grade DE has been chemically treated and is altered. It will poison humans and animals alike.
1. Bathe Your Pet
Before putting DE on your pet, you'll need to get rid of existing fleas. Start by giving your pet a warm bath with a pet shampoo of your choice. You can use a flea shampoo for added protection after the bath.
2. Treat the Rugs and Vacuum
After bathing your pet, spread DE on all rugs and leave it there for 15 to 20 minutes to help dehydrate and kill the flea eggs. Vacuum all carpets and rugs thoroughly and clean out the vacuum afterward so that the fleas can't find their way out and back into your home.
3. Reapply the DE
Reapply the DE and work it into the carpet with a broom; leave it there for three days and vacuum again. This will kill any fleas living on the rug, repel any new ones, and continue to dehydrate the eggs.
4. Wash All Cloth Items
Wash all cloth items and bedding where eggs could have fallen off of your pet. This includes bedspreads, pillows (or at least the pillowcases), clothes (like laundry clothes), and anywhere your pet might like to sleep like the cover of pet beds, etc.
5. Apply the DE
Once your pet is dry, go ahead and sprinkle the DE on them. This will ensure that any new fleas that hop on will not survive for long. Repeat this process every few days.
Instructions and Various Uses for Diatomaceous Earth
Food-grade DE is currently widely used all over the world on livestock and domesticated animals. Industrial DE has been chemically treated and is altered and will poison humans and animals alike, so always verify the quality of the product you are purchasing. Here's how to use it:
- Use it for flea control: Powder your pet from head to toe and roll them over, powdering their legs and underbelly. Brush it against their fur if you can to help rub it in further. Repeat this daily for severe infestations and every three days or so.
- Use it for tick control: The directions are the same as for fleas (see above).
- Use it for ear mites: First, use vegetable oil (olive oil or almond oil work well) on a cotton ball to clean your pet's ears. Then put just a pinch of DE in each ear on a daily basis until the ear mites are gone for about 30 days.
- Use it for intestinal worms: Humans and animals alike can ingest DE to help improve digestion and to get rid of intestinal worms. It can also help with other internal parasites.
- Use it on carpets: Sprinkle DE lightly on carpets and work it in with a broom so that you can't see it. Wait three days and vacuum lightly. Lightly reapply it once more and wait for another three days. Vacuum it up lightly again and do this for three weeks.
- Use it on pet bedding: Sprinkle it lightly on bedding and work it in with your hands or a broom.
- Use it in the yard: You can use DE in the yard to help rid it of fleas. However, it will also kill beneficial insects, too, so you may want to just apply it in areas where you think you might have larger populations of fleas. (If you live near the woods, you can use nematodes to kill fleas and ticks in the yard; this won't kill other beneficial insects.) DE is not supposed to hurt earthworms, however, and may even help them!
- Use it for clammy hands. Those of us in the population who have clammy hands can benefit from DE's drying action.
A Little Goes a Long Way
Be sure not to put more than a couple of tablespoons on your animal at a time—you don't need much. (My dog doesn't mind having the powder on his fur and doesn't shake when I bring out the bottle.) One can or jar of DE lasts me six months or more.
Only Use Food-Grade DE Internally
You can help get rid of parasites and improve digestion in humans and animals alike with DE, however, make sure you purchase food-grade DE; other DE products may have been chemically treated and are poisonous if ingested.
Instructions for Internal Application
The following proportions for ingestion are based on the Lumino Organic Diatomaceous Earth product instructions (pictured above):
- Kittens (6 weeks and older): 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon once daily with food
- Adult cats: 1/2 to 1 teaspoon once daily with food
- Small dogs and puppies (under 35 pounds): 1/2 teaspoon once daily with food
- Medium and large fogs (over 35 pounds): 1 tablespoon once daily with food
- Humans: 1 generous tablespoon daily before breakfast or before bed with a glass of water (always check with your physician before use)
What Flea Treatment Do You Use for Your Pet?
- Diatomaceous earth: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Pictures, history and chemical composition of Diatomaceous Earth are all on this site.
- Diatomaceous Earth For Flea Control-Buy Natural Flea Control
Diatomaceous Earth will help rid your pets of fleas and ticks and can even help de-worm them!
- Diatomaceous Earth: Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth Health Benefits
Everything you ever wanted to know about Diatomaceous Earth and its health benefits.
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.
© 2011 Cynthia Calhoun