Most barns don’t just house horses, they contain whole universes: dogs, cats, birds, rats, mice, flies, fleas, worms…. While some of those may not appeal to us as pets, they are a part of any animal lover’s life. In the wild all these creatures live together and find some sort of balance; healthy wild canines and felines find ways to control internal and external parasites in their environment. Once we deprive animals of freedom of movement we need to help them keep these parasites under control.
In the wild, animals control worms by eating herbs that purge (cause diarrhoea), or sharp leaves and grasses that mechanically scrape the worms out of the gut; they also eat clay and charcoal. Animals choose to do this when the worm load becomes to high for them to live with comfortably.
Interestingly research now suggests that aggressive elimination of worms leads to increased cases of illnesses, such as asthma and diabetes. Total eradication of worms can imbalance the immune system and worms actually contribute to a mammal’s health.
No ‘Cookie cutters’
Each animal has a different level of tolerance and sensitivity to bugs, and different levels of exposure, so there is no ‘cookie cutter’ solution to the problem, and there is certainly no advantage to automatic regimes of pest-eradication. Many chemical flea and worm treatments overburden the immune system and make the animal more susceptible to re-infection.
However, fleas and ticks can also be vectors for disease so we must keep them under control somehow. I try to provide my animals with ways to self-control pests as they would in the wild using essential oils, hydrosols, vegetable oils and clay.
A dog or cat who is healthy and stress free is much less likely to be bothered by bugs. Conversely, one of the early signs of an imbalanced bio-system is an attack of fleas or mites, especially if they are hard to get rid of. Many people find that switching to a fresh, meat-based diet reduces parisitic infection in both canines and felines, and reduces sensitivity in animals who suffer from flea allergy.
My approach to pest control starts with keeping animals stress free. Feed your dogs and cats a healthy natural diet based on raw or lightly cooked meat and raw bones, and make sure they have access to herbs and grasses to self-medicate. These can be grown in your garden, window boxes or pots.
Depending on where you live this may be enough to keep your furry friends bug free. In hotter climates or areas with high levels of tick infestation you may need also need to apply a natural flea repellent. For dogs I make bug repellent using hydrosols, herbal oils and essential oils. For cats I leave out the essential oils. Or I use food grade diatomaceous earth and neem powder (75/25) dusted through their coat.
Neem, the natural parasiticide
Neem (Azdirachta Indica) is one of the big guns in my ‘bug kit’. Neem is a well known parasiticide, as well as being skin soothing and anti-inflammatory. Neem oil is effective against at least 200 insects: it is apparently so distasteful that most insects won’t bite anything treated with it, but if they do, it disrupts their hormones, fatally preventing the bugs from shedding their outgrown skins.
How I manage bugs
I brush my animals often and keep a keen eye out for fleas, I massage them to keep their skin healthy and occasionally wash dogs with warm water. I do not use soap or shampoo unless they are really smelly as it strips away natural oils and makes the skin more vulnerable. If I do use soap, I use a neem bar.
If I notice fleas in my pet’s coat I offer essential oils to strengthen the immune system and apply my bug gel or diatamaceous earth.
In areas where ticks carry disease it is a good idea for dogs to wear a neem-coated collar during tick season, especially long haired dogs. I also check for ticks daily. Early detection and removal of ticks is important in order to reduce the chance of infection as ticks only release infectious agents after the first 24 hours of attachment. When removing the tick use a tick hook so you do not squeeze the body, forcing infectious agents into the blood; turn anti-clockwise.
Internal parasites can be controlled using herbs such as garlic, ginger, turmeric and chili; hydrosols of thyme or carrotseed can be diluted in water and left down for self medication; or put a tablespoon of green clay in a litre of water so they can drink it when they need, use a wide-mouthed container so they can stir the water with their muzzle or paw if they want to make the solution stronger.
There are also some good herbal wormers available on the market, which makes natural worm control easy and convenient. Many of the natural wormers also aid a healthy digestive system and boost immunity.
Essential oils and hydrosols for pest control:
Use only hydrosols or herbs internally, unless under qualified supervision. Add one teaspoon to a bowl of water and leave for dogs and cats to drink as they choose, change the water daily.
Anthelmintic: (expels intestinal parasites)
Fleas & mosquitoes: Many essential oils will deter insects, these are the ones I have found most useful.
- Fleas: Cedarwood Atlas, lavender, lemongrass, patchouli,
- Ticks: Basil, marjoram, geranium, rosemary,
- Mites: Chamomile, lavender, thyme linalool
Flea and tick repellent for dogs
Rub gel through the animal’s coat, paying special attention to ears, neck ruff, belly and ‘armpits’(front and back). You can also make the gel into a spray, start with only 20 mls of gel and add more liquid.
To make 100 mls
- 50 ml unscented aloe vera gel,
- 2 mls cold-pressed neem oil
- 5 drops cedar wood Atlas (Cedrus Atlantica) essential oil
- 4 drops lavender (Lavandula Angustifolia) essential oil
- 1 drop lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) essential oil
- Add essential oils to the neem oil and then stir into the gel.
- Slowly stir in up to 50 mls of distilled water or geranium hydrosol until the gel is pourable but sits in a ‘blob’ on your hand, approximately like hair conditioner.
For cats, leave out the essential oils, use only neem and hydrosol.
To apply pour a small blob onto your hand then rub into your animals fur, rubbing against the lie of hair and concentrating on the ‘flea track’ areas, around the ears, chest, ruff of the neck and between the hind legs and around the base of the tail. A little goes a long way. Reapply every few days, after swimming, or before going to walk in areas that you know to be heavily infested with ticks.