Cat on porch scratching fleas

With rising temperatures comes a familiar problem for many pet owners, fleas. These little bloodsuckers are dormant during winter in some regions. But with warm weather — particularly where it’s warm and humid — fleas are most active. And they’re looking for a meal and a place to lay their eggs — preferably, on your dog or cat. Fortunately, you don’t have to poison your pets, yourself, or your home; keep fleas at bay with these natural prevention tips.

Not only do fleas make your furry friends itchy and cause skin issues, but they can also cause anemia if left untreated. They also spread diseases, including tapeworms. But spotting them can be tricky.

Because flea infestations can happen in any home, even those without pets, it’s crucial to recognize the signs of flea infestations as early as possible to treat them effectively. But you’ll want to avoid many industrial products, which often contain permethrin and pyrethrins. These insecticides are toxic to cats, warns the NRDC, and also cause adverse reactions like vomiting and diarrhea if too much is used on a dog.

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Detecting a Flea Problem

Your pet may provide the first sign you’ll recognize. If you see excessive scratching, licking, or biting at the skin, check your pet’s lower back or base of the tail. However, fleas and their feces, which look like specks of dirt, can be found anywhere on a pet’s body.

Fleas prefer to feed on pets, but it is not uncommon for them to bite humans. Flea bites on humans often appear as small red spots surrounded by reddish halos. You’ll usually find these itchy bites on the lower half of your body. If your pets sleep with you, check your bedding for “flea dirt” and wash all your sheets before sleeping there.

Fleas also enjoy tall grass and shaded areas near decks, woodpiles, or storage buildings. If you suspect an infestation, flea traps can be an effective way to confirm your suspicions. These nontoxic traps use light and heat to attract fleas onto a sticky surface but are ineffective against infestations. You’ll need to bring more firepower to end your flea problems.

Close-up of flea on human skin
Fleas prefer to feed on pets, but it is not uncommon for them to bite humans.

Prevention Is Better Than Medicine

Begin with some prevention steps that can halt a flea in its tracks before they start laying up to 40 eggs a day. PetMD suggests that just one female flea on your pet can lead to 20,000 living, biting fleas within 60 days.

Diatomaceous Earth

Spreading food-grade diatomaceous soil in the spaces your pet frequents, inside and outside your home, should help kill fleas when they arrive. This desiccating soil kills fleas by starving their bodies of moisture. When spreading diatomaceous earth, ensure your pet doesn’t ingest or inhale it. Check with your vet before deciding whether to put it directly on your pet. It is a good idea to vacuum inside spaces to pick up dead fleas within a few hours after applying this material.

Beneficial Nematodes

Nematodes prey on many outdoor pests and are often used to protect homes and gardens. These helpful critters can also help prevent fleas from gaining a foothold in your yard. You can purchase beneficial nematodes by the millions for a reasonable price and spread them using a sprayer attachment on a hose.

Baking Soda and Salt

Like diatomaceous earth, you can spread a mixture of salt and baking soda to kill fleas and their eggs around areas inside your home. Leave this mixture in place for a few days before vacuuming. Make sure to empty the vacuum bag outside or replace the bag to ensure no fleas survive. Be aware salt does cause rust, so you must be diligent if cleaning surfaces with metal.

When Fleas Attack, Fight Back

The American Kennel Club recommends using DIY shampoos and sprays to prevent fleas naturally. Combining one quart of water, 1 cup of white or apple vinegar, and one cup of baby shampoo or liquid dish soap in a spray will make a shampoo that you can apply twice a month to help prevent fleas.

The AKC also recommends applying lemon juice to repel fleas. When making a lemon wash, you will need four slices of fresh lemon, one tablespoon of salt, and six cups of water. Heat the water until it boils, then add the lemon and salt and remove from the heat after two minutes. Let the ingredients steep for 24 hours. Filter out the lemon before applying the mixture to your pet after bathing.

Man washing dog in bathtub
Bathe your pet twice a month with a mixture of baby shampoo, water, and vinegar to help prevent fleas.

Essential Oils

Before using any essential oils, it’s important to note that they can be toxic to pets. Be careful using them where your animals or wildlife are active, and always check with your vet before using these oils. The harmful effects of essential oils will vary based on the size of your dog or cat. Never use essential oils on or around your pet in concentrated form, cautions the American Kennel Club. Dilute them before using on your pet.


Cedarwood oil is a very effective flea repellant, but before application, dilute it with distilled water – 10 drops of cedar oil for every 200 ml (about 6 ¾ ounces) of water. Be sure not to spray anywhere near your pet’s face or anyplace they are likely to lick. Apply it to your pet’s neck by spraying it into your hands and rubbing it into the neck area. You can also treat their bedding and carrier with cedar oil to repel fleas and ticks.


Lavender is a powerful flea repellent; lavender plants and oil are effective. To make your pet shampoo do flea duty for your dog, add five to 10 drops of lavender oil. This essential also helps reduce skin irritation from flea bites. Do not use this on cats, as they have toxic reactions to lavender that dogs are not as sensitive to.


Lemongrass is an active ingredient in many natural flea sprays. Make your own flea repellent by adding five drops of lemongrass oil to a four-ounce spray bottle, then fill it with water, shake, and use it on your pet, furniture, or carpet to deal with fleas. Always avoid spraying essential oils near or into your pet’s face.


Rosemary is the last of the essential oils to consider for flea fighting. Add five to eight drops to your dog’s shampoo to help keep fleas away and soothe any existing bites. If you have a rosemary plant, grab some of the needle-like leaves and rub them into your pet’s coat to refresh their flea defenses. With cats it’s a better idea to use the leaves than the oil, as ingesting rosemary oil can upset their stomach.

Puppy and cat sleeping on human's bed
If your pets sleep with you, check your bedding for “flea dirt” and wash all your sheets before sleeping there.

The Natural Choice Is Yours

Fleas are a recurrent nuisance, especially in warm climates, affecting pets and humans. Essential oils can be helpful use them cautiously and with your veterinarian’s guidance. In severe cases, professional pest control may be necessary.

Prevention is crucial. Inspect your pets regularly and choose nontoxic methods such as diatomaceous earth, beneficial nematodes, and homemade sprays to keep fleas at bay without harming you, your pet, or the wildlife near your home.