Natural Pest Control

While there are a lot of products out there to keep our cats and dogs from being bothered by pests, some of them are safer than others. I stopped using the monthly spot application flea control on my cats after one of them had an adverse reaction, and when I started working at a holistic pet supply store, learned about some of the safer alternatives. Even some of those that are labeled natural (such as pyrethrins, which are derived from the chrysanthemum plant) have unwanted side effects on non-target species. Here are a few of my favorites:

Neem Oil

Neem oil is derived from the seeds of the neem tree (Azadirachta indica), which grows in India, and is sometimes called “the village pharmacy,” due to its varied uses. Neem oil has been used as an insecticide and insect repellant, antifungal, antibacterial, antiseptic, to treat skin disorders and injuries, and as a moisturizer in soaps and shampoos. Extracts made from the bark are used in dental care. Some people ingest the leaves as well, to support the liver, assist the immune system, and cleanse the blood. Before taking neem internally, it is important to consult with a qualified herbalist.

As an insecticide, neem oil does not work directly, as one might use wasp spray or a similar product. Instead, it works by affecting the brains of sucking and chewing insects, because it is similar in composition to their own natural hormones. Once ingested, the neem blocks the real hormones, and the affected insects “forget” to eat, mate, and lay eggs. This interrupts the life cycle of the insects, and reduces the populations.

Neem is available in a prepared spray or shampoo form at many holistic pet supply stores, or the oil is available at some health food stores, to make your own topical products.

* Ark Naturals Neem Protect Spray
* Flying Bassett Organics No-Fleas Spray

Diatomaceous Earth

This white powder is the ground fossilized remains of diatoms, a form of hard-shelled algae containing silica. Deposits of these shells, known as diatomite, developed approximately 30 million years ago, and are mined and ground, similar to the process of making talcum powder. The powder is slightly abrasive, similar to pumice powder, and is very light, due to its porous nature.

This porous nature is precisely what makes it useful as an insecticide – the powder absorbs lipids (fats) from the waxy layer of the arthropod’s exoskeleton, and as a result the insect expires from dehydration.

Diatomaceous earth can be used externally against fleas and ticks, worked into the pet’s fur or sprinkled on carpet, furniture, or outside in the yard. Diatomaceous earth can also be taken internally, and is effective as a de-wormer. In either case, you should be sure to use only food-grade or medical-grade, rather than the coarser formulas used for filtration in pools.

* (contains a fascinating video on its health benefits)
* The Wholistic Pet Wholistic Diatomaceous Earth
* Azmira Para*Clear Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth

Garlic and Brewer’s Yeast

These are often available together, in either a pill or powder form. They work by changing the flavor of your pet’s blood, so that it’s unpalatable to fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes. However, raw garlic can be toxic, especially to cats, so it is important to use this as a supplementary method, and be careful to follow dosage guidelines. The active ingredient in brewer’s yeast is thiamine (vitamin B1).

* Earth Animal Internal Powder
* Flying Bassett Organics Parasite Relief

There are many more products out there, and it’s important to find which product(s) work best for you and your pet(s). It’s certainly a learning process, and we continue to do our own research. What are your favorite products?

General Resources:



About Kristin S Moran

I have worn a lot of hats over the years. Some of my favorite jobs have been: Naturalist at a state park, Co-owner of a pet sitting franchise, and Intern at a conservation not-for-profit organization. I own 3 male cats and a female rottweiler/border collie dog. I have been learning about pet nutrition for the past few years, and have seen vast improvement in my pets' health and that of several clients' pets. Throughout my life, pets have always had a major role. I grew up with cats, and we got our first dog when I was in high school. I've also owned ferrets, rabbits, and a hermit crab. I started out my college career in a pre-veterinary medicine program, but eventually switched to Wildlife Science, earning my bachelor's degree from Purdue University. I have been an interpretive naturalist at several different facilities, including Acadia National Park, Lincoln State Park, Mesker Park Zoo, and Howell Wetlands. I enjoy learning about the natural world and sharing what I've learned with others. I am also a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, though I tend to write about that and my other crafty pursuits on other blogs.
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