Reviewed and updated for accuracy on June 3, 2019, by Dr. Hanie Elfenbein, DVM, PhD
Many dog owners and animal lovers who wouldn't hurt a fly are happy to make an exception for fleas and ticks.
And while flea and tick medications are the most effective preventative strategies that you can use during tick and flea season, some people are likely tempted to try home remedies and alternative methods for tick and flea removal.
The problem is that these flea and tick removal methods don't work. And on top of that, some can be harmful or create other health issues.
Here are nine common home remedies for fleas and ticks that are not only ineffective but detrimental to your pet’s health.
Many people want to bathe their pet to get rid of fleas. While a cat or dog flea shampoo may do the trick, using dish soap for flea treatment is not effective enough.
Dog and cat skin has a different pH level than human skin, "and using dishwater detergent can actually be dry and irritating to their skin," says Dr. Robert Lofton, a veterinarian of 44 years and an assistant clinical professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Auburn University in Alabama.
"And it's not going to control the fleas," he adds.
Even if the dish soap does help kill adult fleas, the tenacious parasites that are left behind are guaranteed to breed and repopulate your home and pet. Plus, bathing your pet in dish detergent does nothing to address the eggs and larvae.
"People forget that there are four stages to a flea—the egg, larva, pupa and adult. You need a medication that controls the entire life cycle,” says Dr. Lofton. “Even if what you use kills the adult fleas, that isn't control.”
For puppies and kittens that are too young for flea medication, dish soap is safe to use to kill adult fleas. But, alternative methods need to be used to control the flea population in the environment or else they will be infested again the next day.
Some home remedies for fleas suggest that garlic, especially mixed with brewer's yeast, will repel fleas. The theory is that when a dog eats this combination of garlic and brewer’s yeast and sweats, the garlic scent will emit from a dog’s body, making him an unappealing feast for fleas.
This remedy often calls for putting a mixture of garlic and brewer’s yeast on your dog’s food. But veterinarians often warn against this potentially toxic treatment method.
"Garlic is not an effective flea or tick repellent on dogs or cats since they don't sweat like humans," says Dr. Mike Hutchinson, a veterinarian at Animal General of Cranberry Township in Pennsylvania.
In addition to not being an effective treatment method, garlic can be toxic to dogs if large quantities are ingested. It’s best to keep garlic away from your pets.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Just like with garlic, using vinegar to kill fleas is not recommended because it is unsafe and doesn’t work.
The smell and stickiness from spraying apple cider vinegar on your pet’s bedding or directly on your pet is enough to keep you away, but fleas and ticks aren’t as picky. Forcing your pet to drink vinegar will also do nothing to keep away fleas and ticks.
Apple cider vinegar, sometimes abbreviated as ACV, is having its moment in the spotlight as a cure-all. While there might be health benefits for people, dogs and cats are not just furry people, and ACV is not safe for them to consume.
Since your pets lick themselves, anything that you spray on them or on their bedding will eventually be ingested.
Rubbing alcohol will kill fleas and ticks, but if you're going to use alcohol, make sure to use it correctly. Experts recommend dropping fleas or ticks into a glass or jar filled with rubbing alcohol.
"Don't pour alcohol on a tick that's on your dog," Dr. Lofton warns. "The tick is attached to your dog, and the alcohol will make the tick spit out its toxin," he says.
Instead, put on gloves—to protect yourself from possible tick toxins—and remove the tick with tweezers. Grab the tick right where its mouthparts are attached to your dog’s skin and slowly pull straight back.
But, does alcohol kill fleas? Only if they are swimming in it. So you would have to pick them off one by one and drop them into a container filled with alcohol, which is not effective flea control. You would never pour or spray it on your pet, as that much alcohol can seriously harm them.
"Although cedar oil may repel some bugs, it can be very irritating to the skin surface. Again, I do not recommend this either," Dr. Hutchinson says.
The oil can even cause skin irritation when it’s not applied directly to the skin. Many dogs develop skin problems simply from sleeping on a bed that is stuffed with cedar shavings.
And skin problems aren’t the only concern. If enough cedar oil is ingested, say from a dog licking his skin after being treated, it can cause liver damage. Even breathing in small droplets of cedar oil may lead to lung problems.
The bottom line is that while cedar oil smells great and may keep a few (though certainly not all) parasites away, you should not use it on or around pets.
Other oil extracts like tea tree oil or eucalyptus oil are also not recommended because the dose needed to repel fleas and ticks is very toxic to dogs and cats.
Using salt to kill fleas is dangerous and ineffective. The amount of salt required to kill flea eggs and larvae is toxic to your dog or cat if he licks it or gets it up his nose.
You would need a truckload of salt poured into every surface and crack in your house to know that all the flea eggs and larvae are dried up. At that point, you might as well move!
Boric Acid (Borax)
Boric acid is commonly found as the main ingredient in some flea powder products that you can sprinkle onto your carpets. It is created by combining borax with acid.
It can possibly be effective as part of a multipronged flea-management strategy. But boric acid alone can only kill the flea larvae (living in carpets or rugs) that are actively feeding. And flea larvae only make up about 35 percent of the flea population in a home with fleas.
Boric acid is not effective against adult fleas or ticks because they only feed on blood, and they will not ingest the powder. It also won’t work against flea eggs (50 percent of fleas in the home) or flea pupae (10 percent of the flea population).
Baking soda does not kill adult fleas and will do nothing to protect your pets.
It is excellent at absorbing smells and has been suggested by some online pet sites for use as a flea killer because it “may” dry out flea eggs and larvae. But there is no evidence that using baking soda to kill fleas is effective at all.
Coconut oil has a lot of great uses. The polyunsaturated fatty acids in coconut oil can reduce inflammation and help support cognitive function in pets. However, coconut oil does nothing to repel fleas and ticks.
Coconut oil should never be applied to your dog’s skin unless recommended by your veterinarian for small areas of irritation or dryness (although other oils may be better).
Oil applied to your dog’s skin will only be effective at getting your floor and furniture greasy. The thin layer of coconut oil on your dog’s skin does not provide an effective barrier for these tenacious parasites.
The easy answer to the question, “Does coconut oil kill fleas?” is a firm no.
Only Use Vet-Approved Flea and Tick Treatment Methods
So, which flea and tick control is the best? While it may be tempting to try to treat fleas and ticks with home remedies, it’s important to only use options that are recommended by your veterinarian.
“An honest attempt by some well-meaning pet owners sometimes ends up causing some untoward side effects in their pets," says Dr. Hutchinson.
Flea and tick prevention now comes as a chewable tablet, topical solution or collar. For recommendations on effective flea and tick prevention, do your research and talk to your veterinarian.
Fleas can cause disease in your pet and your family. In addition to being itchy and uncomfortable, fleas transmit diseases. Keep your pet and family safe by using vet-approved prescription flea and tick treatment.
By: Dr. Geoff Williams
Featured Image: iStock.com/Obradovic