Has your pet been doggedly scratching? Their discomfort could signal fleas. When faced with an infestation, many pet owners resort to commercial repellents. However, this strategy subjects your pet and household to toxic chemicals. A much better option is to learn how to use essential oils for fleas.
In this post, I’ll explain why it’s better to use essential oils for getting rid of fleas. If you’re wondering which essential oils are safe to use on dogs or cats, you’ll find answers here. We’ll also discuss a few natural products that can help repel fleas – such as Wondercide. Send those pesky fleas packing!
1. Flea Idiosyncrasies
This class of parasites is unique in many ways. Rather than flying, fleas travel by jumping. In fact, in terms of leaping, fleas are champions of the insect world. Despite their tiny size, they can vault 7 inches vertically and over 1 foot horizontally. (source)
Fleas are also picky eaters. Certain types specifically hunt cats, dogs, birds, or people. What fleas have in common with other parasites is that their “bread and butter” is blood.
Flea season depends on your local climate. If your area receives freezing temps, the cold either kills the critters or renders them dormant until the weather warms. If you have balmy winters, you can end up fighting fleas year-round.
From April through October, fleas feed on wild animals outdoors. If your pet comes near one, your animal joins the ranks of victims. If you enter a flea’s range, it can jump on your clothing and hitchhike into your home. Once inside where it’s warm, fleas can populate indefinitely.
They’re quite prolific. The average female lays nearly 50 eggs per day. Considering such fertility, you can readily see why a flea infestation can morph into gigantic proportions.
When a flea bites, its saliva triggers dermatitis, a skin allergy. Symptoms are relentless itching and scratching. Constant irritation causes breaks in skin, which can become infected and develop scabs.
The parasite carries tapeworms, acquired by flea ingestion. A tapeworm can grow up to 6 inches long internally. Signs of tapeworms are weight loss and anal itching.
With a severe infestation, fleas can drain so much blood that they cause anemia. Left unchecked, anemia can be life-threatening.
Though fleas prefer to dine on dogs and cats, they can bite people. Favorite human sites are legs and feet.
Summing up, flea complications are tormenting dermatitis in animals and people and tapeworms and anemia in pets.
3. Telltale Evidence
Although fleas are visible, they’re very tiny, only the size of a pen tip. Ranging in color from brown to reddish brown and black, they have six legs. The more blood they consume, the lighter their color.
Flat, hard bodies make them very difficult to crush. Hairs covering their skeletons equip them to cling tenaciously. Fleas are also identified by their “dirt,” waste composed of digested blood.
If your pet is light-colored, you may be able to see flea dirt on their fur. Also, check for black particles in your animal’s bedding and feeding area.
You can distinguish flea waste from regular dirt in two ways. One method is to swipe your pet’s fur with a wet paper towel. If it picks up black specks that bleed reddish brown, that’s flea dirt.
Another technique is to walk through your house wearing white socks. If the fabric collects black specks that bleed when wet, Bingo!
4. Signs and Symptoms
Bites are visible as red bumps and patches on skin. Another sign is constantly itching, licking, or nibbling fur. The irritation can lead to rashes, open sores, and scabs. Pale gums indicate anemia from a severe infestation.
Your pet may appear very restless, frequently shaking their head and scratching their ears. Fur loss can be due to your pet pulling at their coat or an allergic reaction to the bites.
To confirm fleas, fill a bowl with soapy water for discarding them. Then, turn your dog or cat on their back, and place white paper towels alongside them. Look for insects and droppings around your pet’s ears, neck, underarms, abdomen, groin, and tail. Using a flea comb, designed with closely set teeth, sweep it close to the fur in these body areas.
After each stroke, dip the comb in the soapy water, and look for floating fleas. While combing, you may see flea dirt settling on the paper towels.
You can also set a light trap. Install a night-light near the floor, and place a bowl of soapy water next to the light. The insects will jump toward the fixture, attracted by the heat and light, and collect in the soapy water.
Fleas typically bite a person at their underarms, breasts, waist, groin, ankles, feet, and folds of the elbows and knees. Bites appear as small red bumps, surrounded by red halos. Generally, you’ll see lesions in groups of three or straight lines.
Bites will be very itchy, and the surrounding skin can be sore. Near the bites, a rash may develop. Resist the urge to scratch by treating bites with an essential oil, such as lavender. Otherwise, they can get infected.
5. Chemical Treatment Hazards
In 2008, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) received 44,000 complaints of severe reactions to commercial flea treatments. During the previous five years, 1,600 pet deaths were reported, caused by pyrethroids.
Also in 2008, the Center for Public Integrity published a pesticide study. Researchers found that pyrethroid treatments account for more than 50 percent of serious medical reactions in pets, including heart attack, brain damage, and seizures. (source)
Although the EPA approves pyrethroid-based products, the pesticides are still associated with poisoning. Overdose symptoms in animals are diarrhea, vomiting, tremors, breathing difficulty, seizures, and death. (source)
One pyrethroid insecticide is Permethrin, classified by the EPA as likely carcinogenic for humans. Other dangerous chemicals are carbamates and organophosphates. The Natural Resources Defense Council regards these compounds as injurious to the nervous systems of children and pets. Symptoms include tremors, movement disorders, anxiety, lethargy, and seizures. Toxic pesticides also cause skin reactions, such as itching, rashes, sores, and ulcers.
6. Is it safe to use Essential oils on cats?
Some aromatherapists claim that the majority of essential oils are hazardous for cats. Felines don’t have the liver enzyme needed to metabolize the phenols, terpenoids, and hydrocarbons present in most plant extracts. Consequently, it takes much longer for cats than dogs to break down and eliminate these compounds. In a short time, the substances can build to toxic levels, causing liver damage, tumors, and body-wide imbalances.
Essential oils, wrongly used, can kill cats. But it doesn’t mean that essential oils are not safe to use on cats. According to Melissa Shelton, veterinarian at Crow River Animal Hospital, the safety of essential oils for cats all depends on the oil you select, the quality of that oil, and how you plan to use it. She recommends when considering essential oil use for cats is to choose oils that are used often, have been used with many cats, and to use them with techniques that cats enjoy (source).
7. Catnip essential oil for cats
Catnip is one the best flea treatment for cats and it’s safe to use on cats. Rather than using pure catnip oil, I recommend Happy Cat, manufactured by animalEO. Although felines like catnip oil, it’s very potent. However, Happy Cat isn’t over-stimulating. Made with fractionated coconut oil and catnip oil, the product is perfectly diluted.
To use Happy Cat, place one drop on your kitty’s bedding. If you have a scratching post or cat tree, apply a few drops to it. Your cat will self-treat by rubbing against the material. Does your cat have their own blanket? If so, apply up to 5 drops on your hands, rub them together, and then wipe your hands on the fabric.
8. Neem oil
Extracted from seeds, neem is an expelled oil, similar to olive oil. Expeller-pressed oils are mechanically squeezed from seeds with a screw press. This process differs from the distillation method used to extract essential oils, which makes them more concentrated. (source)
Since neem is high in essential fatty acids, it starts to solidify at 72°F. To restore it to a liquid state, place the bottle in a mug of lukewarm water. Neem has a nutty-garlic scent, which you can tone down with lavender.
Neem oil for fleas on dogs
For a dog, mix:
- Neem oil – 1 drop
- Lavender essential oil – 1 drop
- Coconut oil – 1 tablespoon
Massage the mixture into your dog’s skin.
Neem oil for fleas on cats
For a cat, omit the lavender and coconut oils, and use the neem undiluted. Just apply 1 drop to the back of the neck. Alternatively, if your cat wears a collar, apply the neem to it instead.
Neem oil for humans
For yourself, use neem as an insect repellent and moisturizer. The oil repairs skin damage, wrinkles, and scars by stimulating collagen production. If you want to buy neem oil, I recommend these brands: Oleavine or Rejuvenaturals.
NOTE – Technically, neem isn’t an essential oil, but since it’s effective against fleas, I’ve included it in this post. Caution: do not expose a pregnant or breeding pet to neem. Although there’s no clinical proof that topical neem is contraceptive, breeders advise against using it. The same advice applies to humans.
9. Cedar essential oil
Cedar essential oil for fleas on dogs
- For a dog weighing 20 lbs or less, mix 1 drop cedar oil with 1 teaspoon coconut oil. For a dog of more than 20 lbs, mix 2 drops cedar oil with 1 teaspoon coconut oil. Lauric acid in coconut oil both kills and repels fleas (source).
- Rub the mixture onto your hands, and then stroke your dog’s fur. Be sure to treat your pup’s outer ears, neck, stomach, groin, spine, and tail. You can also apply the mixture to your dog’s collar and bedding.
- Repeat the treatment weekly, to kill fleas at every stage of their life cycle. Flea eggs hatch every two days to two weeks.
Cedar essential oil for fleas on cats
For a cat, I advise against using pure cedar essential oil. Of the many varieties available, it’s best to use Texas Red Cedar or Eastern Red Cedar, being low in phenol compounds. However, it’s very difficult to find essential oil retailers that specify the source of their cedar oil.
I suggest buying Wondercide, a cedar product specifically formulated for cats. The company uses Eastern Red Cedar oil, lacking phenols and properly diluted.
Flea repellent with cedar essential oil
As a repellent for yourself, combine 5 drops of cedar oil with 1 tablespoon of coconut oil, and apply to your skin.
Caution: For a pregnant pet, apply essential oils to a collar rather than fur. Since your animal’s sense of smell is considerably stronger than yours, use essential oils in a well-ventilated area.
10. Lavender essential oil
How to use lavender essential oil for fleas on dogs?
- For a dog weighing 20 lbs or less, mix 1 drop lavender with 2 teaspoons coconut oil. For a dog of more than 20 lbs, use 2 drops lavender per 2 teaspoons coconut oil.
- Rub the mixture into your hands, and stroke your pup’s fur with it.
- In the same manner, apply the treatment to your dog’s bedding.
11. Lemongrass essential oil
The citral and geraniol in this essential oil annihilate fleas.
How to use lemongrass essential oil for fleas on dogs?
- For a dog weighing 20 lbs or less, mix 1 drop lemongrass oil with 2 teaspoons coconut oil. For a dog of more than 20 lbs, use 2 drops lemongrass oil per 2 teaspoons coconut oil.
- Rub the mixture into your hands, and stroke your pooch’s fur with it.
12. Peppermint essential oil
Peppermint oil doesn’t kill fleas but does help control them by disturbing their nervous systems.
How to use peppermint essential oil for fleas on dogs?
Use this remedy on your dog’s collar.
- Mix 2 drops peppermint oil with 2 teaspoons coconut oil.
- Rub the mixture into the collar, and allow it to dry before placing it on your pooch.
- When you can no longer smell the scent, make another application.
13. Rose Geranium essential oil
Many people use rose geranium oil and find it works well. Rose geranium is available in two varieties. To simultaneously kill fleas and ticks on dogs, buy Pelargonium capitatum x radens, rather than Pelargonium graveolens.
How to use rose geranium for fleas on dogs?
Rose geranium is one essential oil that doesn’t need dilution. However, it only takes a smidgen to be effective. Place 1 drop at each shoulder blade and 1 drop at the tail base. For details on using rose geranium oil for ticks, I have another post, accessible here.
Note: Lavender, lemongrass, peppermint and rose geranium are usually not recommended for cats. That being said, it depends on the quality of the oil and how you’ll use it. If you want to use these essential oils for fleas on cats, please contact a veterinarian for more information.
14. Testing essential oils on your pet
Since pets vary in their responses to odors, I’ve given you a selection of essential oils from which to choose. I suggest buying a few at once and testing them individually. What your pet doesn’t like, use as aromatherapy for yourself!
Your pet will “tell” you the essential oil they prefer. To test one, hold the closed bottle 6 inches from your pet’s nose. Let them approach you, rather than bringing the bottle to them.
If they take a cautious sniff and return to the bottle, that’s a favorable sign. Try applying it, using the method described above for the essential oil. If they turn away from the odor or leave the room, test another essential oil a few hours later.
Also, tailor your essential oil regimen to infestation severity. If fleas are rampant, first try a flea killer like neem or cedar. Once fleas are under control, test a repellent, such as catnip for a cat or lavender for a dog.
15. Other Preventive Measures
To keep fleas at bay, clean your bedding, rugs, and upholstery on a weekly basis. If your pet rests on chairs and couches, use a vacuum crevice tool under and around the cushions. After each vacuuming, seal the collecting bag, and discard it as outdoor trash.
If you have a lawn, keep it well-mowed since fleas hide in tall grass. To kill flea larvae, use a nontoxic lawn spray containing nematode microbes. Nematodes eat fleas but won’t harm earthworms, lady beetles, birds, pets, or people.
Do you keep a garden? If so, plant herbs whose oils will repel fleas. All-stars to use are basil, catnip, lavender, lemongrass, peppermint, rosemary, and sage.
You can make your pet more resistant to fleas by feeding with high-quality food. To avoid exposure to pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics, use brands of natural pet food, rather than traditional products. For a dog, incorporate coconut oil in their daily diet for its repellent effect. For every 20 pounds of body weight, add 1 teaspoon of coconut oil to dog food. Additionally, give both cats and dogs Flea Treats, liver-flavored pellets with B vitamins that increase resistance to fleas and ticks.
Continue daily use of a flea comb until there’s no further evidence of fleas. To heal bites, apply neem oil.
16. The Takeaway
The best essential oils for fleas on cats are:
The best essential oils for fleas on dogs are:
- rose geranium
Coconut oil is an excellent carrier oil to blend with these essential oils, since its lauric acid kills and repels fleas. A standard dose is 1 drop essential oil to 1 teaspoon coconut oil for a dog of 20 lbs or less. For a dog weighing 20 lbs or more, use 2 drops essential oil per teaspoon of coconut oil. You can use rose geranium oil undiluted, 1 drop at each shoulder blade and 1 drop at the tail base. Heal bites on both cats and dogs with neem oil.
For a pregnant pet, apply essential oils to their collar rather than fur. Since your companion’s sense of smell is considerably stronger than yours, use essential oils in a well-ventilated area.
Since dogs and cats vary in their responses to odors, I suggest buying a few essential oils for fleas and testing them individually. One at a time, offer your pet a sniff, and choose the essential oils they appear to like.
Also, tailor your essential oil regimen to infestation severity. If fleas are raging, first try a flea killer like neem or cedar. Once fleas are under control, test a repellent, such as catnip for a cat or lavender for a dog.
To keep fleas under control, weekly vacuum bedding, rugs, and upholstery. Increase resistance to fleas by feeding with natural pet food and Flea Treats. Continue daily use of a flea comb until there’s no further evidence of fleas.
With a regimen of essential oils, healthy diet, and vigilant housekeeping, fleas should become pet history!
What are your favorite essential oils for fleas? Please share your flea treatment strategies with your fellow pet owners!