Do Natural Flea & Tick Products Work?

There are currently a number of all natural flea and tick products on the market advertising how well they work at repelling fleas and ticks. There are also a number of well-intentioned people who have posted videos and written articles claiming how well one of their homemade recipes works for fleas and ticks. Pet owners who don’t want to use chemicals on their pets (and may not have the time to do extensive research) are really relying on these products to do what they claim. Before determining whether or not a flea or tick product actually works on fleas and ticks we need to first determine what the word “works’ means. Does it mean that a product effectively:

  1. Repels fleas and ticks – the product either completely keeps fleas or ticks off your pet or greatly reduces the number.
  2. Kills fleas and ticks – the product kills (or at least incapacitates) fleas or ticks that come into contact with the product when it’s on your pet.
  3. Kills and repels fleas and ticks – keeps your pet mostly flea and tick free but also kills the fleas or ticks that do manage to get on your pet.

Overall product effectiveness is not something that is really easy to determine, so choosing a product can be tricky.

Product Effectiveness Can Be Difficult To Determine.

Trying to decide on an all natural product for a pet can sometimes be confusing and time consuming. We’re often left with reading reviews and then giving something a try based solely on those reviews. Or we may watch a YouTube video of a someone putting together a homemade recipe or read an article claiming effectiveness. How is someone to know what to believe? Here are a couple of things to consider when reading product reviews or believing what someone says in a video or article.

  • How much of the product was actually applied?
  • Where was the product applied and how well was it rubbed in?
  • How much time passed between applications of the product?
  • Did the pet get wet or go swimming after the application?
  • Is the yard or walking/hiking area the pet is in infested with fleas or ticks?
  • Did the reviewer give the product a poor review because he or she had preconceptions on how they thought it should work.
  • Is either the retail product or homemade recipe making use of the specific ingredients that have actually been scientifically proven to work?

Ingredients Found in Popular All Natural Products

Here are some various essential oils I have seen listed in various recipe videos and in retail flea and tick products claiming to be effective vs. fleas and ticks: thyme essential oil, peppermint essential oil, lemon eucalyptus essential oil, clove essential oil, geranium, rosemary essential oil, cedarwood essential oil, spearmint essential oil, cinnamon essential oil, soybean oil, citronella essential oil, neem oil, and castor oil. One popular doctor claimed Neem oil but I could not find any studies showing it’s effectiveness. So if you have the time to try different suggestions then go for it. If you just want to get a product that has some chance of working then stick with one containing ingredients that have been tested and proven to work.

Ingredients that have actually been proven to work.

According to the CDC, before an insect repellent can be sold to the public it has to be evaluated and approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as safe. In addition, most insect repellents also have to be approved by the EPA as effective. Insect repellents made with all natural ingredients (plant oils) however do NOT have to be proven effective before they can be sold in the U.S.

According the the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) the natural products that have been tested to repel or kill ticks are:

  1. 2 undecanone – Essential oil from leaves and stems of the wild tomato plant, Lycopersicon hirsutum,
    Repels: Ticks (blacklegged “deer” tick and lone star tick)
  2. Garlic oil – Essential oil from garlic plants,
    Repels: Ticks (blacklegged “deer” tick)
  3. Mixed essential oils of rosemary, lemongrass, cedar, peppermint, thyme, and geraniol.
    Repels: Ticks (blacklegged “deer” tick)
  4. Nookatone – Essential oils from Alaska yellow cedar trees, some herbs, and citrus fruits (Nookatone).
    Kills and repels: Ticks (blacklegged “deer” tick)
    From the study done on Nookatone, only 1 (carvacol) of the 15 natural compounds extracted from the heartwood of the Alaska yellow cedar tree demonstrated biocidal activity against nymphal ticks, fleas, and mosquitos.
  5. Fungus (Metarhizium brunneum/anisopliae)
    Kills: Ticks (blacklegged “deer” tick)

In 2007 an In vitro study was done on the biocidal (effectiveness at killing) activity of three steam distilled cedar essential oils against Aedes aegypti (mosquitos), Xenopsylla cheopis (rat flea), and nymphal Ixodes scapularis (ticks). The cedars used in the study were the Port-Orford-Cedar, Incense Cedar, and Western juniper cedar. According to the study, the Incense cedar was the most toxic to all three species followed by the Western juniper and the Port-Orford-cedar.

Cautions with essential oil products

Let me start by saying that I use essential oil flea and tick products, so I firmly believe in them as one part of a larger flea and tick prevention system. There are some things to keep in mind when selecting products that make use of essentials oils:

  1. They are not all created equal. As far as I can tell, the quality and potency of essential oils is not regulated by either federal or state government, so what you get is likely to vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
  2. Some can be harmful to pets. I had used a “supposedly safe” wintergreen topical product on my dog which clearly resulted in hair loss around the application point.
  3. Some products or recipes are made with ingredients that have not actually been proven to do anything against fleas or ticks (see above).

Summary

  • Do your own research before following advice from the internet.
  • Choose all natural products that contain ingredients that have been tested for effectiveness.
  • Stick with products that have been deemed safe for dogs or cats (certain essential oils, even in small doses, can be harmful to pets).
  • Remember that all natural products are generally not going to be as strong or effective as chemical based products (but they aren’t going to pose possible health risks either).
  • All natural topical sprays should be part of a more comprehensive system to keep you pet safer from fleas and ticks.

Sources:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6885593
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/08/010828075659.htm