Natural Pet Care: Preventing Flea Infestations

While many of us love the warmer weather that spring and summer bring, those of us who own pets know that pests like fleas also enjoy these seasons’ milder temperatures. Aside from being highly annoying to your pet, flea infestations can also cause more serious health issues, such as excessive itching (some animals are more sensitive to flea bites than others), hair loss, secondary skin infections, and anemia.

Unfortunately, many commercial flea preventatives and treatments contain highly toxic chemicals. Though these collars, shampoos, pills, and sprays are certainly effective at killing fleas, they are highly unsafe for pets and their owners. Many of the chemicals in these treatments are also highly irritating to dogs and cats so they will lick and bite at them, which increases the amount of toxins that they take in. Herbalist, Juliette de Baïracli Levy, even states, “The modern flea collars, because they work on a chemical principle and carry health-precaution warnings, I suspect are more hazardous to health than the presence of fleas.”

There are, however, many natural options for preventing flea infestations. Essential oils can be used safely on animals to help prevent various pest problems. However, it is important to remember that animals are much more sensitive to scents than humans are. A little bit of essential oil will go a long way, so you don’t need to use very much. Dilute essential oils when using them directly on an animal’s skin and do not apply on the mucous membranes, near the eyes, to the genital area, or in the inner ear. Be cautious about using essential oils on cats, as they aren’t able to metabolize them in the same way humans and larger animals do. Always do your research or consult a holistic professional before using essential oils on pregnant animals.

To use essential oils to help prevent external pests on dogs, you can add a drop or two (depending on the size of your dog) of lemongrass or citronella essential oil to Dr. Bronner’s eucalyptus liquid castile soap and then bath them with this mixture every so often throughout the warmer months. This will deter fleas for a short time.

Making your own natural flea collar is a another way to utilize essential oils to help prevent pests problems. This natural alternative to commercial flea preventatives is effective and safe for both dogs and cats. The below tutorial is adapted from The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy by Valerie Wormwood.

Natural Flea Collar

Supplies:

  • A collar made from soft, absorbent material (An inexpensive cloth collar will work perfectly)
  • 1/2 tsp cheap vodka
  • 1 drop of cedarwood essential oil
  • 1 drop of lavender essential oil
  • 1 drop of citronella essential oil
  • 1 drop of thyme essential oil
  • A heaping 12 tsp of garlic powder or 4″0″ size garlic capsules

Directions:

Blend all ingredients together in a small bowl or measuring cup. If you are using garlic capsules, break them open and add the contents before combining. Pour mixture over the collar until it is fully absorbed. Let the collar dry then put it on your pet’s neck. It should be effective for 1 month.

 

Diatomaceous earth (DE) is another natural option for keeping fleas and other pests from infesting your pets. DE is a very fine powder made up of the crushed skeletons of the fossilized skeletons of diatoms (single-celled marine and freshwater organisms whose cell walls are made up of silica). These extremely tiny particles kill insects by lacerating their exoskeletons and then drying them up.

There are two main types of diatomaceous earth: food grade and industrial grade. Always use food grade DE. Industrial grade DE has been treated with heat and chemicals. It is not safe for use on humans or animals. Food grade diatomaceous earth is safe for internal and external use, but is dusty and can cause lung problems if large amounts are inhaled, so be aware of this when using it.

To use DE for pest control, simply sprinkle onto your pet’s fur. It can also be used on pets’ bedding, in their living quarters, and on carpet to aid in eliminating these pests from your home. Some people feed DE to their pets to help eliminate internal parasites. This is not something I have personally tried as I have had good results with herbal de-wormers.

There are many effective natural external treatments for preventing pest problems on your pets, however, one of the most important parts of treating and preventing flea infestations is to make sure that your pet is receiving a nutritious diet. A malnourished pet with a weak immune system will be more susceptible to parasite related problems (and other health issues in general). In addition to proper nutrition, herbs can be used to support your pet’s overall skin health and boost their immune system.

Echinacea in bloom

Echinacea (Echinacea spp.) is a particularly useful herb for boosting your pets’ immune function to help them fight off infections and pest infestations. Dr. Randy Kidd, D.V.M., Ph.D., advises to use this herb in an on/off way. He recommends using it once daily for three weeks, then taking a week off or using it once daily for 5 days, then taking 2 days off. Repeat either regimen as needed.

Herbs can also be used to help improve your pet’s overall skin health and thus, make them less susceptible to flea infestations and other related problems. The liver is a key organ for clearing out internal toxins that can lead to skin issues, so many of the herbs that are beneficial to the liver will also ultimately promote the health of the skin. The following are a few herbs that are particularly helpful for your pet’s skin.

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Natural Goat Care: Soothing Herbal Tea

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Herbal teas are wonderful for goats and my girls love them. This particular blend is one of their favorites and is a good all-purpose tea to help tone and strengthen their systems. I like to make up a batch for them periodically, especially during more stressful times- like heat, baths, hoof trimming, or transport- or during the changing of seasons to help give their bodies a boost during wet or cold periods.

The ingredients in this tea are naturally soothing and nourishing. Chamomile is a gentle sedative and anti-spasmodic. It also tones the digestive system and helps to relieve constipation and expel gas and worms.  It is a natural pain reliever, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory and helps to heal wounds (making it great for external use too!). While it is a very mild, safe herb its use should be limited with pregnant goats.

Lemon balm is an uplifting, tonic herb that helps to soothe anxiety, depression, heart palpitations, and insomnia. It is also beneficial to the digestion system and relieves gas and cramping. It makes a lovely tea and can be fed fresh by the handful.

Nettle is a very nutritive, toning herb that helps to cleanse the blood. It is rich in iron and other important minerals. Herbalist, Juliette de Baïracli Levy, used this herb for her animals to help prevent contagious diseases and worms. She says that nettle makes animals more spirited and gives them shinier, fuller coats. It can also be used to treat poor appetite and arthritis, making it a good herb for older animals.

Oats are very nutritious and are rich in vitamins and minerals. They are important for strong bones, teeth, hooves, horns, and hair. They are soothing and toning to the nervous system. Oat tea is a good tonic for sick animals.

Honey boosts energy, soothes coughs, and reduces stomach and throat inflammation. Goats also love the taste so it makes a great addition to herbal teas to help make them more enticing.

As an added bonus, this tea is great for humans too! It’ll often enjoy a cup myself when I make up a batch for the girls.


To make this tea, you will need –

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tablespoon chamomile blossoms
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon balm leaf
  • 1 Tablespoon nettle leaf
  • 1 Tablespoon milky oats
  • 1/2 Tablespoon honey
  • 1 quart boiling water
  • 1/2 to 1 quart water, room temperature

This makes enough tea for two adult Nigerian dwarf goats (a small breed). If you have big goats or more goats you will want to double (triple, quadruple, …!) this recipe. You can also make a bigger batch and keep some in the fridge for a day or so. It won’t keep for very long though, so don’t make too much at once. 

To save time, combine equal parts of each of the dried herbs in a clean glass jar with a lid and just add 4 tablespoons of the tea blend per quart of boiling water when making tea. 


Directions:

Add herbs and to a glass quart jar. Pour boiling water over them, cover, and let steep till tea is warm, but the jar is not to hot to hold. Strain out the herbs using cheese cloth or a fine mesh strainer, pouring the tea into another jar. Press out all the liquid from the herbs and compost them. Add honey to the tea, cap the jar and shake well. Let cool to room temperature.

Once the tea has cooled, dilute tea with 1/2 to 1 quart water. See what your goats like and adjust it to their tastes. You may have dilute it with a bit more water if your goats aren’t keen on trying new things, but once they get a taste for teas, they will likely drink them down happily. Mine sure do!

Teas are just one great way your goats can benefit from herbs. Our girls also love fresh herbs and homemade herbal treats. To learn how to make your own natural goat treats, click here.

Have fun crafting your own herbal teas and treats to keep the goats in your life happy and healthy!


Resources:

The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable by Juliette de Baïracli Levy

Molly’s Herbals: Natural Care for Animals. www.fiascofarm.com 

Natural Goat Care: Calming Herbal Treats

These calming herbal treats are perfect for toning a goat’s nervous system and will help them better cope with situations that normally cause them stress. I like to feed these to my girls before trimming their hooves, doing any other type of grooming, or while they are in heat. They would also be helpful for goats during transport as this can often make them anxious.

Making treats is simple and my goats absolutely love these. I feed them each two daily when I know I will be trimming their hooves, or when they are going into heat. I’ve also used these treats to help calm them during a tick removal, which is actually pretty painless for them (I just put a drop of tea tree essential oil on the tick and it falls right off), but they aren’t keen on any type of grooming. That’s another reason these goat treats are perfect. My goats are very resistant to topical methods of treatment, but they will happily take medicine in a food form. Putting medicinal plants into food is a great way to get healing herbs into a stubborn or skittish goat.

These goat snacks were specifically formulated with herbs that heal and aid the nervous system. Lemon balm is a natural anti-depressant that also helps ease anxiety. Skullcap relaxes nervous tension and calms goats (and people too!). Oats are a good nutritive, tonic herb. Toning the nervous system is important because it helps prevent depression  and other nervous disorders. This can be especially important for goats that are prone to being high-strung or anxious.

The herbs in these treats can be substituted out for other herbs to serve different purposes in your goat care. I like to make these treats with a blend of herbs that supports immune function and general vitality to give the girls during cold or damp weather to keep them healthy. You could also substitute herbs that expel internal parasites for a natural de-wormer. To make these calming, nerve toning treats you will need the following:

Ingredients – 

  • 2 cups dried lemon balm
  • 2 cups dried skullcap
  • 1 cup dried milky oats
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp cayenne powder
  • 3 Tbsp slippery elm powder
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 4 cups water
Sage is ready for a treat!

Directions –

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the water and molasses. Stir well. Let the mixture sit for about 30 minutes or until the water has absorbed.

When the water has been absorbed, stir this mixture well. Form into small patties and place on dehydrator racks lined with parchment paper. The mixture will not hold together very well, so you will want to smush it into your desired treat shape on the racks.

Dehydrate at 160°F until patties are dry and firm. The exact time this will take will depend on your dehydrator and the size of your patties, but it will probably be several hours. Finished patties will not be sticky or damp and can be stored in a jar at room temperature. Patties that are still wet will go bad at room temperature after a few days.When patties are done, feed to your goats and enjoy their head butts of gratitude.