By Elizabeth Xu
Fleas are annoying, but every pet owner knows the pests are actually more than a nuisance—their bites can cause itching and irritation on your pets skin, and they carry a myriad of diseases, too. There are plenty of options available for killing fleas, but many contain chemicals and non-natural ingredients.
A natural flea killer is likely sitting in your pantry right now: apple cider vinegar. It can be an inexpensive alternative to pricey medications, and it’s easy to use. Read on to learn more about how to use apple cider vinegar for fleas.
Apple Cider Vinegar: A Natural Flea Killer?
Apple cider vinegar doesn’t actually kill fleas, but it does provide an unpleasant environment that will make fleas want to move on. Both the smell and the taste are off-putting to fleas, which means they avoid your pet if they smell and taste like apple cider vinegar, says Darcy Matheson, author of “Greening Your Pet Care.”
Apple cider vinegar is best used as a preventative measure in protecting your pets against fleas. And while there are plenty of commercial products available for killing and preventing fleas, not all veterinarians like them. “I recommend using natural flea products instead of chemicals due to the many detrimental side effects that can occur when using chemical products,” says Dr. Judy Morgan, a holistic veterinarian in New Jersey. She notes that some chemicals found in commercial options can potentially negatively affect not only the pet, but also the humans—including children—who administer them and come in close contact with the treated pets.
Using apple cider vinegar as a preventative flea treatment will make things easier for you later. Dr. Pamela Fisher, a holistic veterinarian in Ohio, notes that fleas are much harder to deal with once they’re on your pet and in your home.
But not all veterinarians support apple cider vinegar as an effective flea preventative. “I would only recommend natural options for owners who are holistic or for patients who do not respond well to medicated flea treatments,” says Katie Gryzb, DVM, a veterinarian based out of Brooklyn. “I would never recommend a natural option over a medicated flea treatment except for the previously stated cases.”
How to Use Apple Cider Vinegar to Prevent Fleas
Pouring a bottle of apple cider vinegar over your pet will not magically make fleas disappear—so don’t try it. However, there are multiple ways this natural flea repellent can be used: in drinking water, in baths and as a spray.
If you choose to use apple cider vinegar to bathe your pet, using a diluted solution is best, says Fisher. This option can be used as a preventative or a treatment, depending on your needs.
Adding apple cider vinegar to your dog’s drinking water can be a good option, but it may be a little tricky, explains Matheson. For this option you should include a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar for every quart of water, but your dog might not be a fan at first. “You may have to introduce this gradually because apple cider vinegar does have a distinct taste,” Matheson says.
How to Make an Apple Cider Vinegar Flea Spray
To use apple cider vinegar in a spray, just add equal amounts of apple cider vinegar and water to a spray bottle. Spray the mixture on your pet when you notice fleas, or before they go outside to discourage fleas at the outset. This mixture can also be used in your home if you notice fleas in your carpets or bedding, but be sure to always test on a small area first to see how the material will react.
If using the spray method, it’s important to be aware of where you’re spraying. “Be careful to avoid their eyes, noses and ear area when you’re misting around the face,” Matheson says.
This spray can be even more effective if you add a few drops of some essential oils, says Morgan. She recommends lavender or cedar oil as both have flea-repellent properties and will make your dog smell a little better than if you just use apple cider vinegar.
Other Home Remedies for Fleas on Dogs
Apple cider vinegar can be used as a natural flea killer in many ways, but dog owners have other natural options, too.
Many people like to use essential oils, which Morgan uses on her own pets when necessary. It’s important to make sure essential oils are diluted before use on your pet, Morgan says, because otherwise they’re too strong and could cause skin irritation or respiratory distress These oils can be mixed with water and added to your dog’s collar before he heads outside—Matheson says to use 8-10 drops of oil and two tablespoons of water to make the mixture. Oils such as lemongrass, cedarwood, peppermint, rosemary and thyme are also safe and effective mixtures to use as possible flea preventatives. It’s equally important to know which oils not to use on pets—tea tree oil, for example, can be toxic to both cats and dogs, Matheson says.
Matheson also recommends using lemon as a home remedy for fleas on dogs. Similar to the vinegar, fleas are repelled by the taste of lemon. Simply add a cup of lemon juice to your dog’s bath or include some on a comb while you’re brushing them out.
Natural flea killers, however, aren’t without their downsides. “Many of the products need to be reapplied on a regular basis,” says Fisher, “but are well worth the effort to keep our pets and families safe.”
Remember that it’s best to work with a veterinarian to safely control and prevent fleas, even if you’re using natural products.