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Fleas, Ticks, Mosquitoes - Prevention and Treatment

By Robin Tierney

NOTE: The content on this website cannot be used in connection with any profit-seeking activity due to agreements with the writers, editors and sources contributing to the content. These articles may NOT be reproduced in any form without author permission. To contact the author, email Robin at Tierneydog@yahoo.com.

Fleas and Ticks
Prevention - Treating Pets
Commercial Products
Natural Methods
Important Precautions and Warnings
Flea Treatment of the Home
Flea Treatment of the Yard
Related Webpages


  • Remember to use heartworm preventive. Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes, which are present nearly year-round in our area and throughout the country.
  • While there have been very few cases of West Nile Virus reported in canines, it's still wise to observe the following precautions suggested by the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC). These tips can help safeguard human family members too.
  • Keep pets indoors at dawn, dusk and early evening when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Eliminate areas of standing water that can serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes, and remember to recheck after each rainfall.
  • Change any outdoor water bowls a couple times a day to prevent mosquitoes from using them to lay their eggs.
  • The APCC does not recommend the use of mosquito control products that contain DEET. Dogs and cats are extremely sensitive to DEET and may develop neurological problems if a product formulated with DEET is applied to them.
  • Some topical flea and tick control products for dogs such as Frontline and K9 Advantix contain mosquito repellent.
  • Avoid using pest control products with concentrated essential oils such as tea tree, pennyroyal and d-limonine. These concentrates have caused weakness, paralysis, liver problems and seizures in pets, plus their effectiveness is not proven.
Fleas and Ticks:

Fleas and ticks cause a variety of problems in pets. Fleas feed on animal blood and can trigger problems including skin irritation, allergic reactions, anemia and in rare cases, death. They can also carry tapeworms, which can infest your pet. If you see small rice-like particles around the dog's anus or in his feces, he probably has tapeworms.

Ticks carry diseases such as Lyme, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, so you don't want them feeding on your pet either.

Finding and Removing Fleas and Ticks:

* Chemical- and drug-free ways to keep your pet from getting "bugged" include inspecting your pet each day, and better yet, after each outing outdoors.

* Use a flea comb to search for and remove fleas. Use tweezers or a tick scoop to remove any other bugs and burrs.

* You can dab some petroleum jelly on the comb to help make the fleas stick to its tines.

* Gather a cotton ball, alcohol and cup filled halfway with warm soapy water. Soak the cotton ball in alcohol before combing.

* Remember to check between your dog's toes, behind and in the ears, in the armpits, around the tail and head.

* Comb your pet over white paper. If fleas are present, you will see tiny black specks fall on the paper.

* To check your dog for fleas when bathing, place a large white towel beneath your dog. Fleas typically fall off when you rinse the dog, so you're likely to spot them on the towel.

* Trix no-touch tick remover is reportedly safe and effective for even sensitive areas such as the ears.

When finding fleas....

* Dab fleas with the cotton ball soaked in alcohol. This slows down fleas, enabling you to catch them. Then plunge the fleas to the bottom of the cup of water. Next, dump the water into the toilet and flush, or rinse down a sink, to prevent the flea from escaping.

* Smother fleas by dropping them in a cup of water to which a teaspoon of cooking oil has been added.

When finding a tick....

* When finding a tick, carefully remove the whole tick from the pet's body. A tick scoop, available at many pet supply stores, is best for removing ticks. See www.tickedoff.com for tick scoop details. How to remove a tick using tweezers: Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible by gripping its head. Steadily pull upward until the tick releases his grip. Do not twist or jerk the tick or you might break off the head or mouth parts, and you do not want to leave the tick head embedded in your pet's skin. Also, do not squeeze to the point of crushing the tick, or disease-spreading secretions may be released. If you do not have tweezers or a tick scoop, you can use your fingers, a loop of thread around the jaws, or a needle between the jaws to pull it out.

If the head is left in the skin, use a sterile needle to remove the head similar to how you would remove a splinter. Wash the tick bite and your hands with soap and water, and apply antibiotic ointment to the bite.

Note: Studies show that using petroleum jelly, alcohol and hot match heads do not work to loosen ticks from skin, although a few people still use the petroleum jelly and rubbing alcohol approaches, but the hot match technique has caused skin injuries.

* Another way to remove a tick: Apply liquid soap to a cotton ball. Cover the tick with the soap-soaked cotton ball and swab it for 15 seconds. We're told the tick will release and come out when you lift the cotton ball.

* Ticks do not drown in water, so dispose of them by wrapping in a tissue and flushing down the toilet, or drowning in rubbing alcohol. Do not crush the tick; that can spread disease. Some vets may want to see the tick if disease transmission is suspected.

* Swab the pet's bitten area with antiseptic.

Natural Prevention and Treatment:

Above all, keep your pets healthy. Fleas and other parasites have less effect on healthy animals...and they tend to live on pets who are unhealthy and/or have weak immune systems. And, as with healthy humans, healthy animals recover from illness faster and in the case of contracting parasites, are not likely to get sick. It's a matter of immunity.

Also be aware that stressful conditions weaken immunity in humans and animals. A harmonious home is a healthier one.

Chemical-free, drug-free ways to keep your pet from getting "bugged" include inspecting your pet each day, and better yet, after each outing outdoors. Also see above for combing and bug removal tips.

A growing number of pet owners use natural ingredient-based flea repellents, immunity-boosting dietary measures and other techniques, instead of chemicals and commercial medications. Following are some natural/holistic approaches that many people find effective.

Dietary additions for boosting immunity and repelling bugs:

** A half teaspoon of nutritional brewer's yeast daily can provide the B complex vitamins a dog needs. Dr. Michael Fox has recommended brewer's yeast or nutritional yeast (but not baker's yeast), giving 1 teaspoon per 30 pounds of body weight mixed with the animal's food.

** B complex vitamins - 50 mg once a day for cats and smaller dogs, and twice daily for larger dogs.

** Use Omega 3 and 6 fatty acid supplements.

** Add a tablespoon of organic apple cider vinegar to the dog's water bowl.

** Add .a teaspoon each of safflower oil and powdered kelp or seaweed to the food bowl.

** Fresh garlic in small quantities can help repel fleas by making the animal taste unpleasant to fleas. Grate a small amount of fresh, raw garlic into your pet's food at mealtime, about one-half to 3 chambers of the clove (chamber, not a whole clove) depending on the animal's size. One vet recommends one crushed clove of garlic (not a whole bulb; a clove is just one chamber) per every 30 pounds. Some holistic health practitioners recommend heating the garlic for easier digestion, and to not to give them garlic every day.

Natural ingredient-based sprays, lotions, shampoos:

* Several useful, relatively gentle flea shampoos to help rid fleas. Avoid shampoos with insecticides, since the chemicals can be harsh. If your dog has fleas, use a gentle shampoo containing pyrethrin, pyrethrum or citrus oil. See the Robin's Dog Tip about Bathing for bathing and grooming details.

* When bathing your pet, you can use apple cider vinegar to rinse his or her fur. Fleas don't like the smell or taste.

* Lavender, peppermint and geranium essential oils repel mosquitoes. Lavender, lemongrass and geranium repel ticks. And lavender, lemongrass, peppermint and citronella repel fleas. Dab oils between the dog's shoulder blades. As you can see, lavender (which also repels flies) is particularly versatile. Other effective natural repellents include lemon, cedar, eucalyptus, myrrh, neem and rosewood

* Put a drop of lemon oil or rosemary oil on the dog's collar.

* A safe, easy homemade flea repellent: cut 6 lemons in half, boil in a quart of water, steep a few hours, then strain the solution into a spray bottle. Spritz your pet's fur, taking care not to spray near the eyes.
Don't spray anything in a dog's face; apply spray to the hand and then rub it on the fur.

* Another gentle homemade flea spray: dilute a flower-scented shampoo, such as the type available from ihelppets.com, in water and spray liberally, or rub into the coat and let air-dry.

* One inexpensive over-the-counter choice for dogs and cats is Gentle Touch drops. Gentle Touch is a spot on that is all natural and free of chemicals and petroleum solvents.

* Bothered by flies? Pyrethrin-based sprays and ointments are relatively safe and effective.

* You can find many natural products for flea and tick control on the internet, including:

* Animal Essentials, Green Hope Essences and Vetriscience are among many companies that make products designed to boost the immune system and help heal the skin.

* Quantum's 100% Natural Herbal Skin Conditioning Spray repels ticks and fleas, we're told, by a reader who gets it at her local health food store. Ingredients include essential oils such as rose geranium, eucalyptus and tree tea, extracts of St. John's Wort, Rue, neem, wormwood, basil and black walnut hulls. www.quantumherbalproducts.com/Catalog/herbs.cgi/1045


* Helpful books include "Veterinarians Guide to Natural Remedies for Dogs: Safe and Effective Alternative Treatments and Healing Techniques from the Nation's Top Holistic Veterinarians" by Martin Zucker.

Commercial Products:

* There are many modern effective flea and tick products, including several "spot on" types that are easy to apply to the skin such as Frontline (effective for killing fleas and ticks) and K9 Advantix (fleas, ticks and mosquitoes). Cat products include Frontline and Advantage. You do not need to use them year-round, but you should consider using them monthly during flea and tick seasons. Ask your veterinarian about effective medications, and learn the facts about the pest prevention you use. You can also find details about various products on the web. You can compare several dog and cat flea/tick products at http://www.drsfostersmith.com/pic/article.cfm?dept_id=0&siteid=12&acatid=176&aid=325

* There are several less expensive over-the-counter flea and tick products for dogs available in pet supply stores and supermarkets. These products typically contain permethrin, which is derived from a natural insecticide. Brands include BioSpot and Control (which also include an insect growth regulator). Permethrin tends to be more effective against ticks than fleas. Since permethrin can be toxic to cats, you may not want to use it on your dogs if you also have cats. For details, see http://www.VeterinaryPartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&S=0&C=0&A=626 . For cats, BioSpot offers Flea Halt Towelettes.

* Sentry Natural Defenses squeeze-on flea, tick and mosquito repellent can be used on dogs and puppies www.sergeants.com

* Avon Skin-So-Soft wiped on pets keeps insects off and drives ants away when it's wiped on countertops and the kitchen floor. -- T.M., St. Peter, Minn.

* Keep in mind that some adult-strength products are too harsh for young puppies, and that dog and cat products are not interchangeable since the strengths and formulas of the products differ. Read this entire tipsheet for other important guidance.

* Insect growth regulators (IGR) like lufenuron, methoprene, and pyriproxyfen can be used alone or in combination with other flea control/flea-killing products. They can help break the flea life cycle by inhibiting flea maturation. IGRs include Precor (used inside the home), Program (pill for dogs, oral liquid for cats), and Archer and FleaFix (which are applied to the environment by spray indoors and outdoors). Some pet owners pair Program with one of the topical products (such as Frontline) mentioned above.

* Use sprays in well-ventilated areas, or better yet, outdoors. Never spray on the face; when applying solutions to the face, rub on gently with your hands.

* Keep in mind that flea shampoos, powders, and sprays tend to kill only the adult fleas on the pet at the time of application. Flea mousses, foams and creme rinses tend to last a little longer. Flea and tick dips, which are typically poured on the pet, are stronger, but more likely to contain harsh, toxic chemicals. The newer products mentioned in this tipsheet are regarded as more effective and somewhat safer than the older types of flea control. And of course, some pet owners prefer the natural ingredient-based approaches.

Important Precautions (from the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center):

* Before using any insect product, read the label instructions completely. For example, some dog products can be deadly to cats, even in tiny amounts. And some products should never be used on very young or elderly pets.

* Never use insecticides on young, pregnant, debilitated, or elderly animals without consulting your veterinarian.

* Use caution when using shampoos, sprays, topical spot-ons, or mousse near your pet's eyes, ears, and genitalia.

* Just because a product is labeled as "natural" does not mean that it is completely safe. For example, d-limonene and linalool are citrus extracts used as flea control agents that can have serious side effects if used on sensitive animals or if used improperly.

* Observe your pet closely after using flea products. If he exhibits unusual behavior, or becomes depressed, weak, or uncoordinated, contact your vet immediately.

* Typically you should not bathe the animal before or soon after applying flea and/or tick control products. Again, it is essential to read the product information.

* If you use a flea collar and you let your dog swim in water, remove the flea collar, since wet flea collars can irritate the skin, and the active ingredients will wash off, rendering the collar ineffective.

More Cautionary Information:

The Natural Resources Defense Council issued an enlightening report, Poisons on Pets: Health Hazards from Flea and Tick Products, which can be accessed at http://www.nrdc.org/health/effects/pets/execsum.asp

The Humane Society of the United States also published an important report, What You Should Know About Flea and Tick Products. An abstract appears below; see the complete article at http://www.hsus.org/ace/11795

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did not begin to review pet products for safety until 1996. The substantial backlog of products waiting to be tested meant that many pet products containing potentially harmful pesticides still could be found on store shelves.

After reaching an agreement with manufacturers, the EPA announced that the chlorpyrifos, also known as Dursban, and diazinon would be phased out. The target dates were December 2002 for indoor-use products (including flea and tick products) and December 2003 for lawn, garden, and turf products.

* Avoid products containing any of these active ingredients: chlorpyrifos, dichlorvos, phosmet, naled, tetrachlorvinphos, diazinon and malathion. Avoid products with carbamates by looking for the chemical names carbaryl and propoxur on the label.

* Instead, use a product with insect-growth regulators (IGRs), which are not pesticides [and/or use natural remedies]. These will prevent the next generation of fleas, although they will not kill insects already on your pet. Common and effective IGR products include those made with lufenuron (Program and Sentinel; available by prescription), methoprene (Precor), and pyriproxyfen (Nylar and EcoKyl).

* HSUS suggests relatively newer topical products, available through veterinarians, that are insecticides designed to have fewer toxic effects on the nervous systems of mammals: imidacloprid (Advantage), fipronil (Frontline, Top Spot), and selamectin (Revolution).

* Report problems that you think resulted from flea products containing OPs or carbamates to the EPA National Pesticide Telecommunications Network at 800-858-7378. First, have your pet treated by a veterinarian without delay.

And one more cautionary note: using insecticides or repellents does not guarantee that your pet will be protected from diseases carried by parasites, such as Lyme disease transmitted by certain ticks.

Flea Treatment of the Home:

Particularly during flea season, and whether or not you've seen fleas in your home, vacuum all floors, rugs, furniture and other surfaces at least once a week, paying particular attention to rooms and places the animal usually stays. To make cleaning easier, you can cover furniture and your pet's favorite rugs with sheets.

Fleas lay eggs, and the eggs fall off where the pet goes. This means that you must treat your house if your pet has picked up fleas. The life cycle of a flea is about four weeks, so even with diligent treatment, it will probably take that long to rid your environment of fleas.

Different products have different levels of effectiveness depending on the flea growth stage (egg, larva, adult), so typically a combination of products is required. Some people use foggers with success, while others hire a pest control professional. Still others prefer less toxic, non-chemical-based and natural approaches as their primary weapon against fleas.

* Steam-clean carpets. After they dry, sprinkle on boric acid/borax and salt treatment. Some people use just the boric acid/Borax, others use just salt that they grind to a powder using a blender, and some combine the ingredients, which dehydrate fleas, larva and eggs over time. While boric acid is far safe and less toxic than other bug control chemicals, it still can pose a health risk to small animals, so it's recommended to wipe up boric acid dust and vacuum daily for a few days after applying the powder.

* Chemicals used to control and kill pre-adult fleas indoors include Precor. This is typically paired with a chemical that kills adult fleas, such a pyrethrin (tetramethrin, pyrethrin or permethrin) or an organophosphate. These chemicals are usually packaged in the form of foggers and sprays.

* Anti-flea mineral salt treatments for your carpets can be professionally applied. One is available from Fleabusters, a cruelty-free business. Fleabusters Rx for Fleas has an extremely low toxic level on par with table salt and less than boric acid powder, which is another effective home bug treatment. Rx for Fleas Powder works by dehydrating fleas, flea larvae and flea eggs in the carpet and floor cracks of your home. The mineral salt-type treatments are effective for up to a year. For details, see www.fleabusters.com .

* Amorphous diatomaceous earth can be sprinkled around baseboards, under furniture, in cracks, and hard-to-reach areas. Somewhat messy, this substance kills the fleas by causing them to dehydrate. Do not use the glassified type used in pool filters.

* Make a flea trap: Fill a shallow container, such as a wide bowl or glass pie pan, halfway with water and stir in several drops of dish soap. Place the container on the floor or table, then hang a light directly over it. A gooseneck lamp or reading light will work. Use a lower-wattage bulb to avoid heating the area too far beyond the water.

Flea Treatment of Yards:

Flea eggs fall off in areas of the yard where pets spend time. Fleas can reproduce in areas that are warm and moist throughout the day, so if you are treating your yard for fleas, focus on those areas that stay moist and warm and around the doors of the house.

* Remove dead plants and excess brush from your yard, since they harbor critters and parasites.

* There are chemical-based yard sprays made specifically for yard treatment, as well as companies that apply such products. Commercial treatments include Archer and FleaFix. You can obtain more information by doing a web search.

* If you plan to use a commercial product, first read the label to make sure it's safe for use around pets.

Do-it-yourself approaches that can help you save money and avoid chemicals:

* Spread beneficial nematodes in affected areas of the yard to naturally control fleas. These worms help eliminate fleas by feeding on flea larva. They are nontoxic, harmless to humans and pets, and even help control other nuisance insects. You can get them through some veterinarians and from several internet-based companies.

* Other alternative bug repellents can be found on the internet. They include BugBand products that use all-natural Geraniol instead of DEET to repel mosquitoes, fire ants, flies, gnats, ticks and lice. For details, visit www.bugband.net. You can find details about NaturVet herbal flea repellent at www.naturvet.com .

* Ivory Liquid Soap approach: Rather than poisoning fleas, Ivory reportedly suffocates fleas, gnats and other bugs. To spray Ivory in your yard, use a garden sprayer attachment such as the one made by Ortho Sprayer. Fill it with Ivory and set the dilution dial to 2 tablespoons. Saturate the area, then let it dry before allowing your dog or anyone else walk on the treated ground. Using this method, people treat their yards every 4 to 6 weeks.

* Homemade solution to repel insects from from Hints from Heloise: Make a solution of 1/2-cup of liquid dishwashing soap, 2 tablespoons of ammonia, and 5 to 7 cups of water. Use a bottle spray attachment to apply the solution.

* Outdoor/indoor bugzapper alternative: Pour some water in a white dinner plate and add a few drops of Lemon Fresh Joy dish detergent. Set the dish on your porch, patio or other area. Mosquitoes reportedly flock to the dish and then die at or within a few feet of the dish, soon after drinking the mixture. Joy was the specified detergent, but other brands can work.

* A fairly safe way to keep mosquitoes away is to spray your yard once a week with Simple Green, which is available at home and garden stores.


* A flea shampoo that contains pyrethrum or citrus oil is usually effective, and these additives are less toxic than harsh chemicals.

* When you shampoo your pet, wash around the neck first to keep fleas away from the animal's head.

* Before shampooing, read the directions that came with the flea/tick control products you use.

* Before bathing, plug the dog's ears with cotton balls and put a dab of mineral oil in the eyes.

* Recipe for a gentle homemade shampoo for puppies and dogs with extra dry or troubled skin: 1/3 Cup Glycerin
1 Cup Lemon Liquid Joy
1 Cup White Vinegar
1 Quart of Water

Mix in a liter bottle or a large shampoo bottle. Always shake the solution before use to mix the glycerin thoroughly.

* Be sure to see the detailed Dog Tipsheet on bathing listed below.

* Many dogs have their skin conditions aggravated by frequent bathing. To give dogs a waterless bath, sprinkle on baking soda and brush off the excess.

Related Webpages:

Remedies for Insect Stings and Bites, Hot Spots and other Skin Conditions

Summer Health and Safety Guide

Flower Essences and Essential Oils That Can Help Your Companion Animals (see Part II: Using essential oils to repel bugs)

Bathing and Grooming

Poisons on Pets: Health Hazards from Flea and Tick Products
from the Natural Resources Defense Council

What You Should Know About Flea and Tick Products
from the Humane Society of the United States

Article about Flea Control, including Nematodes

First Aid Kit
Keep a pet First Aid Kit in your home and car. Take the one you keep in your car with you on trips with your pet. This webpage lists items to include:

ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center 24-hour hotline 1-888-4-ANI-HELP

Medical Info
ASPCA Ani-Med 1-888-721-9100

Natural Remedies

Tick Diseases


For more of Robin's Dog Tips, see the index at:  www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/dog_tips.php

Partnership for Animal Welfare
P.O. Box 1074, Greenbelt, MD 20768

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Last Updated: April 26, 2018 (LET) PawSupport