Naturally control fleas on dogs and cats

Are there plant based methods for treating fleas and ticks on Farm animals? Cats and dogs work hard for us and are exposed to all the elements. We are constantly dealing with viruses, parasites, infections, and wounds. Over the past few months, all of our outdoor cats have required de-worming and that got us thinking about more natural remedies.

Cats are unique

Cats and dogs are completely different. In general, a dog can eat almost anything we can (aside from chocolate.) They are pretty good about taking medicines and have few fatal reactions. Cats are the opposite. They are sensitive to many plants and many plant remedies. They are finicky and difficult to medicate.

We do not use pesticides on our farm – for the protection of our pollinators and ourselves. Many organic pesticides are generally safe for humans but even organic pesticides, like permethrins made from flowers, can cause seizures and death in cats.

We have a horrible time getting our cats to take their de-wormers. As an FYI – it is pretty easy to identify worms in cats and you can buy de-wormers without visiting a vet. We used these two: roundworms and tapeworms. If you have outside cats, it’s a good practice to de-worm the a few times per year.

The liquid de-wormers are pretty simple to mix with wet food and most cats will eat them. The challenge becomes making sure each cat got the right dose and that somebody didn’t eat it all!

The tablet dewormers can be broken up and mixed with wet food as well, but cats seem to be able to sense the “taste” of those and refuse the food 9 times out of 10. So we have come up with another way of getting cats to take their medicine!

How? We crush up the pills and mix with the smallest amount of water possible. Then we load it into a very small syringe, hold the cat on it’s back and squeeze it down the SIDE of their throat. Going straight down results in gagging and choking.

This is scary and frustrating for the cat, but it lasts just a few seconds and is much better than trying to shove a pill into their throat or being unsure if they got the medication.

The liquid medicines come in pretty ample volumes but can be easily put into the syringe and squeezed into their mouths. Trust me when I say it is easier than force feeding or trying to coax a cat (especially semi-feral cats) to eat a “tainted” food.

Through searching, we have not found a natural solution for cats, but we have a few ideas on how to prevent worms in the first place. Cats get worms from eating mice and birds, but also from eating fleas.

If your outdoor cats are well fed, they will still tend to kill mice and birds, but not eat them. That helps. Fleas are a different story all together. We were treating our cats with topical flea medicine (provided by our vet) but stopped because a few of our cats were extremely sensitive and the medication not only burned their skin (and caused fur loss) but also made them foam at the mouth and vomit.

We no longer trust topical cat medications. A few of our cats did not have bad reactions but all of our cats share a bedding area and all of them require adequate flea treatment. Right now we are relying on a powder that goes into their bedding. We plan to experiment with fleabane, horsetail, cleavers, and other natural herbs and will report back our experience.

A Promising Study

We were hoping to come across information about herbs that could be added to cat food, but in our experience cats will “eat around” vegetables or anything green. Dogs are different and we recently read an interesting study, published in February of 2020. In this study, they fed a group of dogs a mixture of extracts of thyme, rosemary, melissa, fenugreek, absinthe and lemongrass and compared them to a group of dogs being fed a control diet.

This study got us excited because we can grow many of these herbs and have experience drying/using them.

Lemon balm is known to repel mosquitoes, so it made sense it would have an effect on fleas. Just reading the abstract, it looked like there was great results and that a product was being developed as a natural flea supplement for dogs.

The data tells the truth

Unfortunately, there are a few problems with the data. First, there were only 22 dogs in the entire study. Having raised honey bees (different from fleas, for sure, but still in the insect family!) we know that there are wide varieties in insect colonies and 22 colonies are not enough to account for that natural variability.

Second, the data sounds great on paper, but not when it’s viewed in it’s entirety. We wanted to post the data chart from the study but when we requested permission to post the picture, they gave us a price quote of $3,000. Yikes. Click on the link to the abstract and select the photo to see the data. It’s free. If you look at the error bars on the data, you will see that the control and the treatment overlap in almost every instance. That means we can not attribute the mean difference in the two groups to the treatment. So it might not work.

Beyond that, they used a mix of 6 herbal extracts. If the treatment did work, which extract is responsible? Do we really need all 6 or is one herb responsible for the entire result?

We found this study because we were having tremendous success with lemon balm (melissa) lately (as an antiviral) and wondered if it might have an insecticidal attribute. And so we came upon this study.

As of the time of this writing, there is no commercial product with these ingredients and no other larger studies to confirm the treatment works. So would it be a good idea to feed these herbs or herbal extracts to your pets?

To cats, definitely not. To dogs, probably not. This is frustrating and it would be wonderful if there were accurate herbal medicine recommendations for animals. If anyone has the answers, or could lead us to book source, we are all ears.

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