Natural solutions for summer bugs

As the hot weather settles in, what are your thoughts on the insect pests that cause disease and irritation in your patients? Do you use a 12-month protocol of chemicals to prevent fleas, ticks, heartworm, mites, and flies? Are your clients beginning to question these chemicals? Do you have any alternatives on your shelves?

A multi-pronged approach

Over the last 35 years of being an integrative veterinarian, I have developed a different approach to bugs on my patients and in my yard/home. Healthier animals rarely attract many pests, especially fleas and mosquitoes, and flies in horses. If and when they do get infected with an insect-transmitted illness, they recover rapidly with holistic approaches.

My goal, then, is to build health and have a multitude of gentle, safe options (for animals, humans and the planet) to offer clients, reserving the “chemical of the year” for unique circumstances. Clients feel confident buying their essential oils from me (as they trust the source of ingredients) or using my link to the internet products I don’t carry in my inventory (vibrational tags). Most alternative pest repellent products involve essential oils, flower essences, nutrition, herbs, ultrasonic devices and mechanical means, and can be topical or orally administered and/or used to also treat the environment.

Nutrition and herbs

Since improving health is key to preventing attack from many pests, nutritional supplements need to boost health as well as repel bugs.

  1. Garlic has been used for centuries to prevent infestations in people and animals, as well as to eliminate parasites. While there are some safety concerns if huge quantities are fed (see IVC Journal, Spring 2016), garlic has been proven safe and effective in many animals. Add to food or give in supplement form; apply topically and use it to spray the yard. Duration lasts up to a month with some products.1
  2. Noni2 is also very palatable and effective, for all species.
  3. TickZ is a combination of herbs that is added to food to repel all insects.
  4. Apple cider vinegar (organic is best) can be added to food and water (as long as clients are sure their animals are drinking enough) or applied topically for flies and mosquitoes.

Ultrasonic, magnetic or scalar products

Each company is using unique technology. For example, Zero Bug Zone imbeds magnetic strip “tags” with very low three-dimensional frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum; there are frequencies unique for each bug and host species. Several studies (one from Texas State University3) document the efficacy of these tags, and holistic veterinarians report good results when they’re put on the collar/mane early in the season.

These “tags” would be the first product to offer clients in lieu of conventional chemicals since they are so easy to use. The tags are specific for ticks, fleas, mosquitos, chiggers, flies and midges, and also specific for humans, dogs, cats and horses. They can be braided into the base of a horse’s mane, put on collars or halters, worn as a necklace, etc.

Essential oils

Most of the newer products in the last decade have been different combinations of essential oils for topical use, along with internet recipes for making your own combinations. Quality is critical for essential oils as most pets will be ingesting some of the product if you are purchasing single oils. Base your purchase of combination sprays on the company’s reputation. Multiple companies carry combination essential oil products. Base your purchase on the company’s reputation. Look for products that are organic and sustainably harvested, and carry at least two in your practice that have totally different ingredients.

Many essential oils repel bugs. For example:

  • Rose Geranium is known for repelling ticks. I can put one drop diluted in a carrier oil on my hands, rub my cat around the neck and shoulders, and see no ticks for a few weeks.
  • Cedar is another good pest repellent. Companies specialize in cedar oil products have very effective products for yard, house and animals.

Flower essences

While it seems improbable that flower essences with no odor can repel bugs, they are often effective. I have clients who report that they have eliminated fleas from their homes and yards, or flies from their stables, using essential oils. All companies have “bug” essences and all are 100% safe.


Mechanical ways to deal with pests include:

  1. Tick pullers – new ones appear yearly
  2. Diatomaceous earth products – they must be food grade and able to be applied topically and in the house

As your clients’ concerns about toxic chemicals escalate, an integrative approach allows you to offer them many alternatives to try. For a barn, you may offer essential oils in addition to fly larvae-eating nematodes. If a client lives near a swampy area filled with mosquitoes, you could sell a combination of ultrasound tags and yard spray (using garlic or cedar oil) when they bring their dog or cat in for an annual heartworm check.

When it comes to alternative pest control treatment, you need to offer more than one so clients can find one that is both effective and convenient for them to use regularly.

Demand for alternative pest products is growing

Even the pet store industry is recognizing the need for more natural solutions to pests. The January 2016 issue of Pet Age reported that in 2010, the EPA released results from an extensive study, basically saying that most problems arising from pest chemicals were caused by client misuse, but that there were still concerns about the safety of both active and inert ingredients. Since then, consumers have been asking for safer products from pet stores.4 In their March 2016 issue, Pet Age even stated: “Natural remedies… over the past few years [can be]…just as effective as chemicals….”5

The Natural Resources Defense Council recently sued the EPA to have propoxur and tetrachlorvinphos removed from the market, and further cutbacks will happen with other chemicals. Dr. Karen Becker has discussed the over 600 deaths from spot-ons while offering alternatives,6  and clients also have environmental concerns about multiple chemicals. So now is the time to offer alternative pest control options.

What are the drawbacks?

Chemical approaches – toxicity (often from a failure to administer properly), fears of harm to young children or the environment, and the mutation of fleas causing poor results.7

Holistic approaches – the need for more frequent usage, which some clients are not willing to do. Alternatives work for some animals, but not all (but this is true for chemicals, too).


4Pet Age, 1:2016.

5Pet Age, 3:2016.

7Fipronil T. “Pesticide residues in food. Food and Agriculture Organization Plant Production and Protection Paper”. 1997.