Tell Bugs to Take a Hike the Holistic Way

It’s that time of year…time for those adorable commercials of dogs & cats selling us on the need to visit our vet and get this season’s supply of monthly flea, tick & mosquito prevention. They do a great job at upselling on the convenience and efficacy of keeping bugs at bay, but fail to mention that they are essentially selling us on a monthly chemical laden insecticide that has a number of nasty, documented side effects. These chemicals pose a threat to our animals health, they can also transfer to other members of the house, and leach off into our environment, specifically poisoning our streams and lakes.(4)(5)

Fifteen years ago, in an effort to calm my Labrador retriever’s recurring rash, I found myself slowly creeping towards more and more holistic treatments with great results. As my curiosity grew I began to question the habitual things we were doing, like monthly flea & tick spot treatments. After reading a number of articles by reputable sources I decided one year that we were not going to use chemicals anymore. And we had a great summer…until late August when one of our dogs had the worst rash I’d ever seen. In a panic I rushed to the vet to be told - My dog had fleas and a terrible allergy to their bites. I was mortified! I quickly learned that while chemicals were a problem, going cold turkey and not using anything was not an option. I learned the hard way that stopping fleas is a lot harder than preventing them. I felt like the worst pet parent and became highly motivated to find a safe solution.

The solution ended up being more simple that I even realized. Since that one incident of infestation, our house has been using layers of natural protection to keep our pups safe from biting bugs, which include essential oil based bug repellant, keeping our home and yard less hospitable to pests, and actively checking our pet for indication of bugs. 

Safe Repellents

Essential Oils: There are many essential oils (lemongrass, lavender, cedar wood, neem, to name a few) that are safe for use on our pets, and also highly effective at repelling biting insects. Regularly applying these topical repellents to your pet & their collars or bandannas keeps bugs from wanting to bite your pet. This helps protect them from the itchiness of bug bites, and also helps to prevent diseases such as heartworm, lyme disease, and parasites. These sprays can often be used indoors as well on pet beds, rugs and blankets to help keep your home uninviting to pests. If you are ready to ditch the chemical treats and spot treatments, Pet Grocer has a ready to go pet spray called Defense that can be used on your pet & family (click here for the cat friendly Feline Defense). Defense is also part of our cost saving Biting Bugs Be Gone Kit.

In addition to essential oils you can also use high frequency repellents like Tickless Tags. Tickless is an ultrasonic flea & tick repellent safe for pets of all sizes! It is a non-toxic tag and does not use or release any chemical substances or odours, making it safe to use even for young, elderly, ill or pregnant pets and is clinically proven to be up to 94% effective at keeping fleas & ticks away. It is super easy to use. Just activate it for the season and attach to your pet’s collar, that’s it! Each tag lasts 6 - 12 months once activated. This year Tickless Tags is also part of our cost saving Biting Bugs Be Gone Kit.

Feed Fresh & Healthy Foods: Feeding fresh foods has shown to lead to healthier pets. A pet with a strong immune system is a not a good host to parasites and disease. Choose fresh whole foods and unprocessed proteins that include a range of nutrients that include Omega (3 & 6), B vitamins, and sulphur rich foods like eggs, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. A pet fed on a natural, species appropriate raw diet without toxic chemical preventatives is not as attractive to fleas or ticks as these parasites prefer unhealthy bodies.(3)  

Edible Protectors: There are edible herbs and foods like garlic that can both repel and control fleas & ticks. Products like Earth MD: Outdoor Shield combine quassia bark, neem leaf, and garlic. Quassia and neem contain compounds (quassin and azadirachtin, respectively) that are toxic to insects, but not mammals. When your pet consumes it, these compounds go into their bloodstream and spread throughout their body. When a bug bites them, these compounds make it so the insects cannot eat or reproduce, and then they die. Garlic has often been added to edible flea deterrents as it changes the scent your pet gives off making them less desirable to fleas. 

Ensure you are prepared: In case you, your kids or pets do end up getting bitten by a tick make sure you use a safe way to remove and treat them. Check out the easiest to use Tick Key out there and keep one on your keychain this summer. Tick Key is the only tick removal device on the planet that uses natural forward leverage to remove the entire tick – head and all – quickly and safely without touching or squishing even the toughest engorged ticks. 

Once the tick is safely removed make sure to spray the area with Leucillin (a soothing antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiviral spray) to flush the puncture wound. You can also follow up with a simple homeopathic care as well. Ledum Palustre, a homeopathic remedy, is used by homeopathic practitioners following any kind of puncture which includes bug bites.(1) The easiest way to administer to your pet is by dosing in water (see graphic). After a bite make sure to be aware of any changes to the skin (rashes, swelling, etc.) and in the weeks following note any changes in health that may warrant further medical care.   

Homeopaths often recommend wet doses for dogs. Wet doses can penetrate deeper than dry pellets and it makes administering doses much easier.   You can easily prepare a wet dose as follows:  Place 2-3 pellets or Ledum 200C (or 30C if you can't find 200C) or drops of liquid remedy in a small glass jar of spring or filtered water. (Never use unfiltered tap water and do not touch pellets with your hand). Or you can use an amber glass dropper bottle to make up your wet dose.  You stir vigorously, shake or “succuss” (pound the base of the glass bottle against the palm of your hand) about 10 times. A single dose is a teaspoon or a dropper. When you give it to your dog, give it in small amounts to make sure the liquid is on his gums for as long as possible. Put it into his cheek or onto his gums as you would the pellets. Don’t be concerned about the amount as homeopathy is not given by volume as is other medicines.  When dosing for bites administer 3 times a day for 3 days in a row. Always use a clean spoon, syringe, or dropper. Avoid touching it with your fingers. Don’t refrigerate the liquid. You can keep it on your counter for 2 or 3 days. Stir vigorously, shake or succuss it before each dose. If your water goes cloudy toss it and make a new batch.

Environmental Prevention

Outdoor Pest Control: Protecting where your pet spends time is just as important as treating your pet. Make sure to keep lawns short, remove standing water, and brush piles where mosquitoes & ticks enjoy breeding. Choose safe lawn products that combat pests like nematodes and lawn sprays made with cedar or garlic oil. Treating your yard like this not only makes it safer for your pet and family, but make is so much more enjoyable as well. You can also plant or keep pots of lemon balm, sage, rosemary, catnip, lemongrass, basil and mint outside. Place some by your main doors and throughout your yard. These plants help repel fleas through the natural oils that they secrete. They’ll discourage fleas from entering the house.

Vacuum and wash pet beds and floors regularly during flea season. If a flea makes it indoors, give them the boot and send them packing by way of sucking them up and tossing them away. Vacuuming and cleaning areas your pet frequents will pick up live bugs & eggs helping to stop the flea life cycle! 

Check your pet’s body regularly especially after outdoor play. Run your hands along their underside feeling for ticks as well as in and around ears and paws (and check under the collar). Brush them and use flea combs to remove any bugs and debris they may have picked up and make sure to check areas like the base of the tail for ‘flea dirt’ (a.k.a. flea poop). This flea dirt looks like a bit of dirt close to the skin and the easy way to check if your are not sure is to gather a few particles and wet them on a light coloured background. If the dirt begins to shed a reddish rusty colour you have fleas, not dirt. 

Small changes make a big impact

Choosing healthier options for your pet when it comes to flea, tick, and mosquito control takes a bit of extra awareness. Sure spot treatments or flea collars are a one and done each month with little thought, but the side effects that your pet, family, and environment suffer with excess chemicals is huge. Choosing to take an active role in keeping everyone safer becomes an easy habit and in the long run, saves you from complications and health concerns. It has been just over ten years since our household gave up spot treatments and replaced them with options that target our pet, house, and yard in a safe and healthy way. We have been thrilled with the results! I highly encourage you to make this the year you take a holistic approach to pest control for your pets and see the difference for yourself. 

Don’t just take our word for it. Read up on the effects of insecticide on our pets yourself. Here are some articles that we like:

Study by Judy Morgan D.V.M - Veterinary Medicine & Science Journal Peer-Reviewed Paper - Out of the 2,751 respondents: When any flea treatment (Bravecto, Nexgard, Simparica) was given to dogs, 66.6% of respondents experienced a REACTION to the treatment.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has alerted pet owners and veterinarians that there’s potential for neurological damage when using drugs in the isoxazoline class. The reactions include muscle tremors, impaired movement, lack of coordination and seizures:

Toxic pet flea and tick treatments are polluting UK freshwaters:



 **The content in this blog is not meant to replace veterinary advice. Always consult your holistic veterinarian prior to using any recommended items or supplements.** 

Author, Pet Grocer staff member & Holistic Specialist, Sarah O'Donnell