How to Groom Pets for Fleas

Fleas are the bane of many a beast. Fortunately, there are safe alternatives to the toxic chemicals often used for controlling these pesky little creatures on your pet and in your home. And that’s important, because the worst environmental pollutants that threaten pets are surely the poisons that well-meaning owners regularly dip, spray, powder, collar and shampoo directly onto and into their flea-bitten companions.

Here are Dr. Pitcairn’s recommendations for a natural flea repelling shampoo, conditioner, powder, collar, and diet additive.

Flea Shampoo
Select a good-quality castile soap or a natural shampoo. Don’t use shampoos containing dandruff suppressors or any other chemical medication. Avoid pet shampoos that contain synthetic insecticides. If fleas are a problem, look for natural pet shampoo containing flea-and insect-repellent herbs. Some contain d-limonene, a natural extract from citrus fruits that will kill fleas with minimal side-effects. (Editor’s note: Don’t use around cats.) Or you can make your own insect-repellent shampoo by adding a few drops of essential oil of rosemary or eucalyptus to a bottle of natural shampoo or castile soap. (Do not apply these oils directly to the skin. They are too irritating.)

Rosemary Conditioner
Rosemary tea, used by Anitra Frazier, author of The Natural Cat, makes an excellent conditioner that promotes a glossy coat and helps to repel fleas.

1 teaspoon dried rosemary (or 1 tablespoon fresh)
1 pint boiling water

Combine and steep for 10 minutes, covered. Strain and cool to body temperature. Pour it over your pet after the final rinse. rub in and towel dry without further rinsing.

Herbal Flea Powder
You’ll find them in pet stores and natural food stores, or you can make your own. Combine one part each of as many of these powdered herbs as you can find: eucalyptus, rosemary, fennel, yellow dock, wormwood and rue. Put this mixture in a shaker-top jar, such as a jar for parsley flakes.

Apply the flea powder sparingly to you pet’s coat by brushing backward with your hand or the comb and sprinkling it into the base of the hairs, especially on the neck, back and belly. To combat severe infestations, use several times a week. Afterward, put your animal friend outside for a while so the disgruntled tenants vacate in the yard and not in your house.

Herbal Flea Collar
These are impregnated with insect-repellent herbal oils. Some are made to be “recharged” with the oils and used again. Buy them at natural food stores.

Natural Skin Tonic
The animal herbalist Juliette de Bairacli-Levy recommends this lemon skin tonic, which many of my clients successfully use on their pets for a general skin toner, parasite repellent and treatment for mange.

Thinly slice a whole lemon, including the peel. Add it to 1 pint of near-boiling water and let it steep overnight. The next day, sponge the solution onto the animal’s skin and let it dry. You can use this daily for severe skin problems involving fleas. It is a source of natural flea-killing substances like d-limonene and other healing ingredients found in the whole lemon.

Brewer’s Yeast and Garlic
Some studies show yeast supplementation significantly reduces flea numbers, though others indicate no effect. My experience with using yeast is that it has some favorable effect, particularly if the animal’s health is good. You can also rub it directly into the animal’s hair. Many people also praise the value of garlic as a flea repellent, though so far studies do not support this. Don’t give garlic to cats.

For more about flea control with citrus and other herbs, read
this Everyday Solution:
Flea Free.

Adapted from Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats by Richard H. Pitcairn, D.V.M., Ph.D. & Susan Hubble Pitcairn. Copyright (c)1995 by Richard H. Pitcairn and Susan H. Pitcairn.Reprinted by permission of Rodale Press.
Adapted from Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats by Richard H. Pitcairn, D.V.M., Ph.D. & Susan Hubble Pitcairn


Amandine S.
Past Member 4 years ago

Nice ideas, thank you !

LMj Sunshine

Thank you for the ideas.

LMj Sunshine

Thank you for the ideas.

Jutta N.
Past Member 5 years ago

Pine oils are irritating to mucous membranes. Cats, birds, and some reptiles appear to be more susceptible to toxicity than other species.

Charles Webb
Charles Webb6 years ago

Tree oils are more toxic to pets than any chemicals. They contain phenols.

Charles Webb
Charles Webb6 years ago

Just shampooing will kill fleas that are on the animal at that time, but they come right back. I see too many fleabitten, miserable animals, because people just want to use the herbal stuff. If you live in a big flea area, those things aren't going to work. You will be fighting them constantly, your animal will be miserable and believe me, I would rather spend time playing with my pet than vacuuming and spraying herbal junk all over the house, yard, and car. Advantage or Frontline work like a charm.

Sheri M.
Sheri M.6 years ago

Wonderfully safe ideas....Thanks!

Mikala K.
Mikala K7 years ago


Cheryl B.
Cheryl B7 years ago

a note on the comments about fleas drowning... it has to be soapy water, not plain water

Heather B.
Past Member 7 years ago

Thank you for an informative article.