Fleas can be a pain---literally. The itching, scratching and general discomfort caused by flea bites can cause skin irritations, ear infections and hair loss. Even the mellowest dog may be driven a little "buggy" by these blood-sucking pests. For centuries, herbs have been used to discourage biting insects, and their use as repellents continues today. Today, there are many readily available herbs you can use to protect your dog from the aggravation of fleas.
Tansy is more than just a flea repellent. It is an attractive garden perennial with bright yellow flowers that you can use in dried arrangements. Plant tansy in and around your dog's living areas to keep fleas at bay. Tansy also repels lice, flies and mites.
A hardy perennial groundcover, pennyroyal repels fleas and mosquitoes around the perimeter of your home, but its use comes with strong warnings. According to Narda G. Robinson, DO, DVM, pennyroyal toxicity can cause "serious hepatic and neurologic injury." It should not be used directly on the skin and never taken internally. While pennyroyal has proven effective against fleas, there are safer options available.
A native of India, neem contains azadirachtin, a compound that, according to Dr. Robinson, "reduces flea counts in a dose-dependent manner." The doctor sites a study published in the journal Veterinary Parasitology in which researchers noted an "immediate, near-total reduction in fleas in dogs and cats after a topical application." You can grow neem in tropical and subtropical gardens or as a houseplant in cooler climates, but for household use, it is most practical to purchase commercial neem oil.
Familiar to many as an ingredient in mosquito repellent candles and lamp oils, citronella, also known as lemon grass, is available as a flea-repelling essential oil. When purchasing citronella oil, be sure you are buying essential oil, not lamp oil. Mix pleasant-smelling citronella oil with water and use it as a flea, mosquito and fly repellent spray, or mix it with your dog's shampoo for a refreshing, non-toxic flea bath.
There's a reason many dog beds are made from cedar chips---the aromatic oils of cedar are an effective flea repellent. Cedar oil is available in health food stores and can be used to refresh cedar bedding and herbal flea collars. Borrow a few drops for your own bug-busting use: Saturate plain wooden blocks or balls with cedar oil and use them in your sweater drawer in place of toxic moth crystals.
You can grow your own eucalyptus, buy dried stems in most craft stores or use essential oil. Whatever source you choose, eucalyptus will help you pet smell great to you but not to fleas. According the Centers for Disease Control, oil of lemon eucalyptus "provides reasonably long-lasting protection" against insects.
Using Herbs and Oils
Grow rue and artemisia in your garden. Attractive perennials, both have a reputation for repelling fleas. Make your own herbal flea-repelling collar by putting one to four drops of eucalyptus, cedar and citronella oils on a bandanna or cloth collar. You can make a refreshing flea-repellent body spritz with four to six drops of citronella mixed in an 8-oz. spray bottle. To kill existing flea populations on your pet, add neem oil to a shampoos or body spray. Repeat every two weeks for best results.