All-natural remedies for itchy insect bites and tips to prevent future flea infestations
Fleas are one of those pests that nobody wants to think about, much less deal with. Although fleas can be seen year-round, it is during these hot summer months that fleas come out in full force. Summertime means outdoor activities like swimming, hiking, going to the beach, and dog parks. But if you’re not careful, all these fun moments could lead to itchiness later on.
What you need to know about fleas…
Fleas are small insects that thrive in warm, humid environments where they can feed off hosts like dogs, cats, and even humans. These parasitic insects jump from host to host and make themselves at home in your dog’s fur, causing a lot of discomfort and itchiness for your favorite canine friend.
What do Fleas look like?
These tiny bugs don’t grow much larger than a pen top and have thin flat bodies with hard outer shells. They do not have wings; therefore, they travel between hosts by jumping from one warm body to another. They range from light brown to almost black in coloring.
Once a flea makes itself at home on its next victim, they start to bite, causing your dog to itch and scratch like crazy with no relief in sight. The bites look like tiny red bumps, usually clustered together, and most often accompanied by a significant amount of flea poop. Flea poop looks like little specks of dirt but once mixed with water it dissolves into a reddish, brown color. Some dogs (and humans) are allergic to flea saliva which leads to more severe reactions that can spread to the whole body.
Fleas love humidity. Humid conditions are critical for their survival. In their early larvae stage, they need relative humidity of 70-75% to hatch and 50% humidity to survive into adulthood. Locations with less humidity tend to see a lower percentage of fleas complete their full life cycle. However, this does not mean you won’t see them in dry-heat states or during winter. While they prefer the summer months, they can live and thrive everywhere.
Fleas can live up to several weeks, feeding off the host 2-3 times a day. An adult female can lay over hundreds of eggs during her lifespan. These eggs can be found directly on the host, or anywhere the victim spends time (i.e. the yard, bedding, carpet). Now, multiply that by twenty and you can see how difficult it is to get rid of a flea infestation once it has started.
Does your Dog have Fleas?
It may be hard to believe, but fleas don’t only come from dirty, pest-infested animals. In fact, fleas can be found on the cleanest of dogs. It only takes a short interaction with another dog (or an environment where these insects live) for the dog to become their next victim. From saying hello to their buddy at the dog park, to walking on the beach or even your backyard — fleas are always in search of a nice, big host to call home.
From their size, it’s hard to see them running around under your dog’s coat; however, one major sign of a flea infestation is a large amount of flea poop. To check if your dog has fleas, place a damp white towel under them and brush your dog until you see little brown specks of dirt fall onto the towel. If those specks turn red or brown after making contact with the moist towel, then your dog has fleas. This will also work if you rub your dog’s coat with a wet paper towel.
Fleas dislike the light so make sure to check their shady areas like the belly, inner thighs, armpits, tail, and ears.
Some of the usual symptoms of flea bites include:
- Increased Scratching
- Shaking his/her head
- Biting/ gnawing at paws, legs, or tummy
Fleas can create an uncomfortable and itchy situation for your pets. In some cases, they can also lead to more dangerous problems and diseases. Dogs will try to nibble and scratch at their flea bites, and if they scratch too much, they may give themselves open sores or hair loss.
Pay attention to symptoms such as pale gums, hair loss from constant licking and scratching, and tapeworms in their poop. These may be indicators of a bigger problem.
Many dogs also have allergic reactions to flea saliva. Flea bite hypersensitivity often results in severe itching, hair loss, and scabs/sores on large regions of your dog’s skin. Even just one or two bites can cause a strong reaction. If your dog exhibits these side effects, you should consult your vet immediately so they can be prescribed more potent anti-itch medication or antibiotics (if needed).
Fleas bites are one of the most irritating things your dog will deal with. If a flea or mosquito has ever bitten you then you’ve experienced the discomfort. Humans have the ability to apply topical creams and soothing remedies to our skin, but dogs do not have this luxury.
This is where we — as responsible pet owners — come in.
First thing is first- you must give your dog a bath once you start seeing signs of a flea infestation. Fleas do not like water or soap so washing them will help get rid of a good majority. Dish soap works great as a soapy flea deterrent and a DIY flea trap. The chemical properties of Dawn and other dish soaps help break down a flea’s water-repellent outer layer. Bathing your pet with Dawn will make it harder for fleas to latch onto your dog’s hair strands.
After a nice lather, dry your dog and comb them with a fine tooth comb to remove the remaining fleas and eggs hidden deeper under your dog’s coat. Be sure to brush the underside of your dog’s belly, tail, neck, and legs (aka the preferred hiding spots for fleas). When brushing your dog’s coat, have a cup of water (with dish soap) handy, so you properly dispose of the fleas or larvae that get stuck in the comb. Rising off the comb will ensure you are killing off all the fleas and not just transferring them to another host (i.e. the yard, your carpet, or YOU).
There tons of all-natural remedies that help relieve the itch and deter fleas from coming back after their “de-fleaing” bath. We have outlined some of the best remedies below.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar acts as a powerful repellent for fleas. Fleas hate the scent and taste of vinegar, so a dog covered in ACV will not be as appetizing as a dog without the odor of vinegar.
Given orally or applied topically, this vinegar-based method can repel fleas from the inside out. Using a diluted solution of vinegar and water, it acts as a protective barrier for your dog’s coat. Some owners even use this mixture as a final rinse or rub down after a bath.
Not only does Apple Cider Vinegar help deter fleas but it also helps keep your dog’s coat nice and shiny.
Apple cider vinegar isn’t toxic, so rest assured that your pup won’t be licking up something that will make him sick later. Pets prefer the taste of apple cider vinegar over regular white vinegar. However, giving your dog an oral dose of apple cider vinegar may be a little tougher if you have a picky eater (or drinker). It’s best to consult your veterinarian before mixing your dog’s H2O with vinegar, but if you get the okay, ACV (along with good hygiene) will be an excellent way to stop fleas from spreading around the house.
Not unlike their fictional blood-sucking counterparts (aka Vampires), fleas HATE garlic. Using garlic spray as an external repellent or taking it orally, can provide the extra kick needed to protect our pup during flea season.
If you’re familiar with some of the “Foods Bad for Dogs” lists floating around the internet, then you might be wondering why I’m recommending feeding your dog garlic. It is true that onions and garlic have the compound named propyl disulfide that can cause damage to red blood cells. But what people don’t realize is that your dog would need to consume a significant amount garlic before it becomes hazardous to their health.
Please note that the negative side effects that have been reported with garlic consumption are typically seen with very large doses of garlic. Dosage, like with any other herbal or plant supplement, is crucial. Starting small and gradually building up to the recommended dose is the way to go. Dogs can safely consume 1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder per pound of food or 1/4 to 1/2 of a fresh clove (depending on the size of your dog).
Internal flea remedies, such as garlic and apple cider vinegar, work by being absorbed into the body and over time the odor/taste that fleas hate so much will start coming out of your dog’s pores. You nor your pet will notice the difference, but it’s a handy trick for your DIY pest control playbook.
Lemon Spray Repellent
When life gives you lemons, make lemon spray flea repellent. That’s right, lemons. As one of nature’s great remedies, lemons can be useful for keeping fleas away from your best bud. While lemon spray does not kill fleas, it does act as a natural deterrent to help manage a growing flea problem. It is ideal for daily use on furniture, carpets, bedding and directly on your dog’s coat.
After your pet has been deflead with a bath and comb, squirting lemon spray over their fur will help the remaining fleas move on. Fleas do not care for the lemon scent, and they will avoid the sprayed areas in favor of less citrusy hosts. The homemade lemon spray is made by boiling lemons then letting them seep overnight so that the oils and juices mix in the water. If placed in the fridge, the lemon spray can last up to a week.
**Please avoid getting the spray into your pet’s eyes or open cuts because it will sting. **
Rosemary for Flea Control
Chemical based flea repellents and flea collars can be very harsh on your pet. Instead, you can use a mild version of these preventive measures by seeping a mixture of fresh rosemary in hot water and using a cloth to coat your dog’s fur with this soothing mix. It can also be poured onto a makeshift flea collar to help repel fleas all-day long.
Using rosemary oil or powder is an excellent tool for controlling your flea problem. While this herb may do wonders for dog fleas, it should not be used on cats because they may have an adverse reaction to rosemary.
Essential oils are famous for their medicinal properties. Whether you’re using eucalyptus oil to clear your sinuses or tea tree oil to help clear acne. Essential oils are potent remedies for a laundry list of ailments, and now you can add flea repellent to that list as well.
There are a number of essential oils that are suitable for managing flea infestations. This list includes:
- Eucalyptus oil
- Geranium oil
- Lavender oil
- Rosewood oil
- Lemongrass oils
These oils can be easily mixed with other liquids and used as a spray or as a DIY flea collar. The scents from these oils repel fleas and keep them from coming back.
The use of essential oils is seen as a controversial method for some pet parents. Some sources claim that essential oils are dangerous to dogs, especially when applied to their coat. And they are right. People must pay very close attention to what they are putting on their dog’s sensitive skin. Some essential oils are suitable for direct skin contact, but when it comes you to pet always err on the side of caution. Essential Oils must be properly diluted with a carrier oil before coming into contact with your pet’s coat. To avoid potential issues, these oil mixtures are mostly recommended as sprays for bedding or carpets.
When making your flea repellent collars, spray a small amount of the oil mixture onto a scarf or bandana and tie it around your dog’s neck. Do not keep this collar on for extended periods of time and monitor any shifts in behavior or skin irritations that may appear. Pet parents need to use common sense when using essential oil flea therapy. Never apply the fully concentrated oil directly onto your dog’s skin and always start with a small amount until you dog grows accustomed to the smell and sensations of the essential oil.
All-Natural Flea Shampoo and Powders
Traditional flea shampoo is still one of the most common treatments for pet parents. While there are many natural flea sprays and powders currently being sold on the market, it is tough to find one without chemicals. Some pet parents like the speed and ease of flea shampoo, while others still prefer the more holistic methods mentioned above. While flea medications may be fast and efficient, the harsh chemicals of these commercial treatments may end up irritating your dog’s skin more than it already is. Give your dog the best of both worlds by using all-natural, pesticide-free pet shampoo. That way you give them the medicine they need to feel better without rubbing unnecessary chemicals on their sensitive skin.
Overall Good Nutrition
It is always a good idea to keep your dog in good health. But a lesser known fact is that a wholesome diet and healthy immune system can also aid in the fight against fleas. Fleas and other parasitic pests seek out the weak and unhealthy. Attracted to the odors of sugar, carbs and processed foods, fleas are more inclined to jump on dogs with poor dietary habits instead of a dog who eats fresh, wholesome foods. Give your dog foods rich in B-complex vitamins (found in meat, fish, and eggs), probiotics and vegetables to boost the health of their coat and digestive tract.
A good diet is the foundation of a healthy life and an active immune system is just as important. Your dog’s immune system protects them after they are bitten and can also help deter fleas beforehand.
The healthier your pet is, the less likely they will have a major fleas infestation.
Relieving that ITCH
While all these are great preventive measures for fleas, your dog is much more interested in getting relief from the annoying itch left behind. A warm bath, as we mentioned before, is a perfect way to soothe irritated skin. Using all-natural chemical free shampoos will offer the most relief. Better yet, a soothing homemade oatmeal bath will do the trick. By mixing oatmeal and water together in a blender and applying it to your pet’s coat, the natural anti-inflammatory compounds found in oatmeal will soothe their itches and moisturize their chafed skin.
Applying ice to the bitten regions will provide immediate relief for your pup, while aloe vera can help with the redness and itching.
Tips to Protect your Dog against Fleas
Protect your House
Make sure to wash their bedding every week with warm water and unscented detergent. A clean, flea-free dog won’t stay that way for long if their bedding is crawling with these pesky critters. This also goes for other fabrics around the house. Vacuum your carpets, couches, floor, etc. (basically anywhere where your dog has access too). Dirty carpets and bedding can give fleas a place to multiply and thrive. Keep repeating these steps until you are sure that your flea infestation is completely gone.
If your flea infestation is particularly bad, a deep steam cleaning could do wonders for clearing out larvae and eggs hiding in the carpet fibers. Using a non-toxic Borax treatment on your carpets may help a more severe infestation as well. If all else fails– call an exterminator to solve the problem.
DIY Flea Trap
Along with the sprays and methods listed above, you can spread DIY flea traps around your house to help eliminate the stragglers that have jumped off your dog. Take a bowl of hot water and put a couple of drops of dish soap inside. Place this bowl, along with a bright lamp, in the areas most affected by fleas, i.e. the foot of your bed, your pet’s bedding, shaggy rugs, etc. The warm light will attract the fleas and the water/soap mixture will trap them.
Additionally, placing eucalyptus stems and leaves around your house will help eliminate fleas. They do not like the smell and will try to avoid it as much as possible.
Protect your Yard
Nematodes are small worm-like insects that can keep your garden pest free. These “good” parasitic organisms feed on fleas, ants, termites and grubs. Once mixed with water and sprayed throughout the yard, nematodes are an effective method for eliminating fleas around the yard. These parasites are living organisms with short life spans and they need constant moisture to survive. They can be found at garden centers and are considered a safe and effective flea control method.
Mowing the lawn can be more beneficial than you think. Keeping your lawn short will help deter fleas from hiding in the long grass.
Plants such as lemon balm, sage, rosemary, catnip, lavender, or marigolds are all-natural and dog-friendly pest repellents. These plants, placed in the right locations around the house, can help manage and even prevent bugs from invading your home, yard and -more importantly- your pet. The natural scents and oils from these herbs and flowers deter fleas and other pests like ticks, mosquitoes, and gnats from hanging around. People spend a lot of time outside, playing and relaxing in their yard, so it makes sense to bug-proof your yard to protect your family from all the annoying insects jumping around.
Ridding your pet and home of fleas requires a lot of work. But using these all-natural methods will help you stay proactive in your approach. These homemade flea repellents will not only save you money but also reduce the amount of chemicals and toxins being used around your dog.