7 Natural Flea Remedies for Cats and Dogs

person holds black lab outside in the woods

Sanja Kostic / Treehugger

Sadly for pet owners, fleas are not only a summer problem. The pesky parasites are active year-round so long as they have somewhere warm, like the skin of your pet, to live. Common flea prevention methods include special collars, shampoos, dips, sprays, and medications, but you can supplement those with natural remedies, too.

Many vets recommend administering natural remedies alongside (not instead of) more traditional preventatives. Flea prevention and treatment are important because the blood-sucking insects can carry life-threatening diseases like heartworm, Lyme disease, and tapeworms.

Here are seven natural flea remedies for cats and dogs. Always check with your vet before trying a new remedy for your pet.

lemon apple cider rosemary ingredients on table while dog plays on floor
Sanja Kostic / Treehugger

Warning

Avoid using essential oils as a flea remedy. Research about the efficacy of essential oils is limited, and according to the ASPCA, essential oils should not be used on pets unless specifically approved by a veterinarian.

Apple Cider Vinegar

hands pour apple cider vinegar into dog bowl of water
Sanja Kostic / Treehugger

Health food proponents have long touted the diverse benefits of apple cider vinegar, and not just for humans. It's said to repel fleas because they dislike its pungent smell and taste. This method will not kill fleas, the nonprofit veterinary organization Anicira says, but spritzing a mixture of equal parts water and apple cider vinegar may help prevent fleas.

Apple cider vinegar contains about five percent acetic acid, an antiseptic. A spritz of this or a wet comb through your pet's coat will relieve itchiness. When taken orally, it may also help balance out a dog's pH as apple cider vinegar is alkaline and dog food is notoriously acidic. Be sure to talk to your vet before treating your pet with apple cider vinegar.

Baking Soda

Baking soda is often cited as a natural flea remedy. However, research has shown that it is not actually toxic to flea larvae. That said, baking soda is safe to use on a pet's coat (it's great for neutralizing odors) and can be either mixed with water to form a paste or added to its regular shampoo during a bath.

For flea prevention, Ancira recommends mixing a bit of baking soda with water and putting it in a dish near light, out of your pet's reach. Fleas are attracted to light, so they will jump into the dish and drown.

Brewer's Yeast

black lab dog lays on ground and stares at camera
Sanja Kostic / Treehugger

Brewer's yeast is made from a fungus used for fermentation in beer. As a nutritional supplement, it increases energy levels and promotes healthy skin, hair, and eyes. Brewer's yeast can be used to boost the immune system of your pet, which in turn can help stave off fleas and other parasites. However, studies dispute its efficacy in directly repelling or killing fleas.

Powdered brewer's yeast can be given to pets orally. Talk to your vet about what dosage is right for your pet.

Rosemary Flea Dip

hands cut off rosemary spears with scissors
Sanja Kostic / Treehugger

Chemical flea dips can be very caustic. You can make a less abrasive version by spiking water with fresh rosemary at home. Rosemary is a proven flea (and spider, and cockroach) repellent. To make a natural flea dip, start by steeping two cups of fresh rosemary in boiling water for 30 minutes. Strain the liquid, throw away the remaining leaves, and add up to a gallon of warm water (depending on the size of your pup). Wait until the brew cools, but is still warm enough to be comfortable. Pour it over your dog or cat, soaking its coat, and let it dry naturally.

Lemon Spray Repellent

overhead shot of lemons and lemons cut with glass spray bottle
Sanja Kostic / Treehugger

Dr. Ashley Geoghegan of the veterinary practice VetNaturally recommends making a spray with fresh lemons to use as another natural flea repellent. While the citrus hasn't been proven to kill fleas, its scent does seem to drive them away.

First, cut a lemon into quarters and cover the fruit with boiling water for up to ten minutes. Then, let the mixture steep overnight. You can even add rosemary leaves to the mixture for good measure. The following day, pour the liquid into a spray bottle, taking care to strain the lemon bits out of the liquid first. Spray the lemon water on your pet, making sure not to get it in the eyes. Try to target the spray behind the ears, around the base of its tail and its neck, where fleas are known to hide.

If your pet won't tolerate spray, you can rub the juice from a freshly squeezed lemon or orange on your dog or cat's fur. Make sure to use fresh citrus and not citrus essential oil, which can be dangerous to pets.

Neem Oil

black lab sits down and looks up at owner
Sanja Kostic / Treehugger

This all-natural insect repellent comes from a tree native to India, Sri Lanka, and Burma. It's often used to repel biting insects such as fleas and mosquitoes, but there's little proof that it wards off ticks. Neem oil is safe to use on dogs and is, in fact, used in some pet shampoos. If your pup's shampoo doesn't include neem oil, you can simply add a few drops of it or dilute it with dishwashing liquid for a do-it-yourself flea spray.

You'll need to take extra precautions for cats, as some are more sensitive than others. If you see any adverse reactions, such as excessive salivation, stop using it immediately and contact your vet.

Nematodes

Nematodes are microscopic, worm-like parasites that are not dangerous to humans or pets. Some kinds, like the Steinernema carpocapsae, destroy flea larvae by parasitizing them. They can be purchased from garden stores, mixed with water, and sprayed around your yard to stave off pests. That said, this treatment won't help with a flea problem that's already moved into your house.

Nematodes thrive in sandy soils, and may not do well in other soil compositions. They need moisture on a regular basis, so you should water your lawn every couple of days to ensure their survival.

View Article Sources
  1. Flea and Tick Education.” Anicira.

  2. Frequently Asked Questions about Fleas and Ticks.” Anicira.

  3. Yagnik, Darshna, et al. “Antimicrobial Activity of Apple Cider Vinegar against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans; Downregulating Cytokine and Microbial Protein Expression.” Sci Rep, vol. 8, 2018, doi:10.1038/s41598-017-18618-x

  4. Sagawa, Kazuko, et al. “Fed and Fasted Gastric Ph and Gastric Residence Time in Conscious Beagle Dogs.” Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, vol. 78, 2009, pp. 2494-2500., doi:10.1002/jps.21602

  5. Hinkle, Nancy, et al. "Biorational approaches to flea (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae) suppression: present and future." Journal of Agricultural Entomology, vol. 14, no. 3, 1997, pp. 309-321.

  6. Brewer's Yeast.” Mount Sinai.

  7. Baker, N.F., and T.B. Farver. “Failure of Brewer’s Yeast as a Repellent to Fleas on Dogs.” J Am Vet Med Assoc, vol. 183, no. 2, 1983, pp. 212-214.

  8. Beretta, G., et al. “An Analytical and Theoretical Approach for the Profiling of the Antioxidant Activity of Essential Oils: The Case of Rosmarinus officinalis L.” Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis, vol. 55, iss. 5, 2011, pp. 1255-1264., doi:10.1016/j.jpba.2011.03.026

  9. Geoghegan, Ashley. "Fleas!!! Help!!!." VetNaturally.

  10. Rust, Michael K. “Recent Advancements in the Control of Cat Fleas.” Insects, vol. 11, no. 10, 2020, p. 668., doi:10.3390/insects11100668

  11. Burke, Anna. “What Do Flea Bites Look Like on Dogs?.” American Kennel Club. Published June 11, 2019.

  12. Maia, Marta Ferreira, and Sarah J. Moore. “Plant-Based Insect Repellents: a Review of their Efficacy, Development and Testing.” Malar J, vol. 10, 2011, doi:10.1186/1475-2875-10-S1-S11

  13. Blaskovic, M., et al.  “The Effect of a Spot-on Formulation Containing Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Essential Oils on Dogs with Atopic Dermatitis.” The Veterinary Journal, vol. 199, iss. 1, 2014, pp. 39-43., doi:10.1016/j.tvjl.2013.10.024

  14. Neem Oil.” National Pesticide Information Center.

  15. Hoy, Casey et al. “Nematodes Show Potential for Control of Soil Insect Pests.” Texas Cooperative Extension.

  16. Warner, Fred. “Soil fertility, pH, Texture and Nematodes.” Michigan State University.