Is Diatomaceous Earth Safe for Dogs and Will It Kill Fleas? Uses and Facts
How I Learned About Diatomaceous Earth
A few years ago, I dutifully went to the vet to get those popular topical flea applications. I read the directions, 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—I didn't want that. So, I twisted off the tip of the green-looking chemical solution and thought, "bye-bye, fleas."
A couple hours later, 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 had happened to my cat.
I called the vet. It was 10 P.M. He agreed to meet me at the clinic with the dog. By 1 A.M., my dog was showing improvement, with IV's attached and an oxygen mask. The vet said he would need to keep my dog overnight to monitor him.
The next day, I anxiously waited until I could bring my dog home. I now had two animals that had had adverse reactions to name-brand flea medications. I hopped online, wondering if other people had had the same problems.
I should have guessed the topical applications were bad when the directions urged me to wash my hands immediately and to avoid skin contact. But looking online, I then read things like "endocrine disruptors," and "toxic to the brain and nervous system." This information wasn't just on one site. There were many.
I began to look for natural alternatives—for so many reasons. I wanted to not perpetuate the rampant use of chemicals in our society, and to reduce the risk of death to my animals. 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. 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.
What Could I Do About This?
I ordered some 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 then smelling like a cinnamon stick. Right after applying, he'd run out to the grass 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 tried adding garlic to my dog's food. It seemed to work, but mildly. After running around in the woods, I'd still have to pick off ticks. Some would argue that garlic wasn't good to give to my dog. I had done enough research to be comfortable trying this with my dog but not the cats. Onions are not good for dogs, either—they are poisonous. Small amounts of garlic are okay. 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. Maybe a stray flea will hop on for a ride, but it won't survive for long in fur treated with DE.
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 including water filtration, scientific experiments and in pest control.
In terms of pest control, it works by cutting the exoskeleton (the hard outer layer) and then dehydrating fleas, ticks, ear mites and all sorts of other tiny pests. This is because the powder has tiny but sharp edges and has the ability to absorb liquid.
DE is fine to use topically and even internally with animals. However, avoid breathing the dust from it—you don't want those tiny silica particles in the lungs.
In fact, be careful: you really want to avoid breathing in the dust as much as possible. The same goes for 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 then helps keep fleas at by that way, as well.
Microscopic View of DE
Using Food Grade DE Internally
You can help get rid of parasites and improve digestion in humans and animals alike with DE.
- Kittens: 1/4-1/2 teaspoon once daily with food
- Adult Cats: 1 teaspoon once daily with food
- Small Dogs and Puppies: 1/2 teaspoon once daily with food
- Medium and Large Dogs: 1 tablespoon once daily with food
- Humans: 1 generous tablespoon daily before breakfast or before bed with a glass of water
Only use food-grade DE. Pool grade DE has been chemically treated and is altered. It will poison humans and animals alike.
Uses for Diatomaceous Earth
Food-grade is fine and is widely used all over the world on livestock and domesticated animals.
- Use for flea control: If your pet has fleas, it's a good idea to comb them over with a flea comb first to get rid of the worst of them. Then powder him from head to toe, roll over and powder the legs and underbelly. Brush against the fur if you can to help rub it in. Repeat daily for severe infestations. After that, repeat every three days or so.
- A little goes a long way. Be sure not to put more than a couple tablespoons on 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.
- Use for tick control: The directions are the same as for fleas. See above.
- Use for ear mites: First, use vegetable oil (olive oil or almond oil work best) 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 ear mites are gone - 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 on carpets: Sprinkle lightly on carpets and work in with a broom so that you can't see it. Wait three days and vacuum lightly. Lightly reapply and wait three days. Vacuum lightly again. Do this for three weeks.
- Use on pet bedding: Sprinkle lightly on bedding and work in with hands or a broom.
- DE has a drying effect on skin. However, those of us in the population that have clammy hands will benefit from DE's drying action.
- Use 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 in heavily infested areas - such as on ant hills. If you live near the woods like I do, you can use nematodes to kill fleas and ticks in the yard; it won't kill other beneficial insects. DE is not supposed to hurt earthworms, though and may even help them!
When buying DE, make sure it is approved for use on animals, as well. Many hardware stores carry DE, that is safe to use inside, but not on animals.
If in doubt, call the manufacturer phone number listed on the product and they will tell you for sure if it's safe.
What Flea Treatment Do You Use for Your Pet?
Useful Links on DE
- 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