Bug Off! How to Keep Pests Off Your Dog

We map the country's hot spots for summer pests, plus offer tips for preventing and coping with ticks, fleas, and mosquitoes.


Summer is peak season for parasites, so it’s time to be vigilant about your dog’s pest-prevention program. That means using topical preventives directly on your dog. Fans of natural remedies rely on neem oil (the brilliant bio-pesticide that kills fleas and mosquitoes) and food-grade diatomaceous earth (which effectively dessicates ticks and also kills roaches, and is the main ingredient of Buck Mountain Herbal Gold Parasite Dust, available here).

Now come a couple of new developments on the pest-prevention front. One is Natural Flea & Tick Defense Spray by Mercola. Approved by alternative health guru Dr. Joseph Mercola, this new product is made from oils harvested in the Brazilian rainforest, where people have successfully cohabited with pesky pests for centuries. The main ingredients are lemongrass oil and cinnamon oil (both pest repellents), plus sesame oil, castor oil, and purified water.

The other is NatuRepel, also an all natural, chemical-free spray to prevent fleas and ticks from attaching to dogs. The formula comprises water, castor oil, and a custom blend of lemongrass, geranium, palo santo, cedar wood, and eucalyptus essential oils.

Keep Your Home and Yard Pest-Free

But summertime pest prevention is about more than what you put on (or in) your dog. It also means tending to the back yard and garden in a way that will make your home environment less attractive to parasites. Keep the lawn cut, so there aren’t forests of long grass and weeds for pests to propagate in, and eliminate standing water, which attracts mosquitoes. Using Neem oil for the garden also helps lessen the flea and mosquito populations on your home’s perimeter (and keeps bugs from nibbling at your prized plantings).

Meanwhile, back indoors, remember that parasites are attracted to odors, heat, and moisture. Wherever it’s warm and wet, parasites will flourish, it’s as simple as that. Run the air conditioner to keep indoor temperatures cool, and air out your rooms frequently, with screens in the windows to prevent mosquitoes from entering. Keep things as dry as possible indoors with a natural, add several drops of neem oil to the shampoo immediately before lathering up.)

That Ticking Sound

Ticks are found all over the United States, but they’re concentrated in certain areas of the country, notably the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and North Central states. That means dogs living in those areas are especially vulnerable to the dreaded Lyme Disease. In these parts of the country, if you use diatomaceous earth or any other natural parasite preventive, remember always to reapply it after your dog goes for a swim, has a bath, or gets soaked in a downpour. Please don’t slack on this or you could put your pet at risk for serious health problems.

For a tried-and-true tick removal method, go here and scroll down to “Fido First Aid.”

Here are the top tick states:

  • Connecticut
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Wisconsin

Combating Fleas and Mosquitoes

While Northerner dogs struggle with ticks, the climate conditions in the South are extremely hospitable to disease-carrying fleas and mosquitoes. Just ask my Pit Bull Lazarus, who hails from rural Texas and survived a serious case of heartworm disease — he was literally almost eaten alive by rogue Southern skeeters.

Greg Mahle runs a dog-transport business called Rescue Road Trips, ferrying shelter dogs from down South to new homes in the Northeast.

“All of the Southern states, with their warm climates, are just naturally more conducive to a parasitic population that flourishes,” Greg explains. “With the prevalence of warm winters and the lack of a hard freeze, the environment … seems to have no natural defense against these populations. This in no way discounts some species of parasites’ ability to adapt and overcome the challenge of an adverse environment. Warmer and wetter than average springtimes in New England can make some species of parasite seem daunting. We as humans find these parasites to be only aggravating and irritating, but to an animal with a fur coat, a parasitic infestation can be deadly.”

Banfield Pet Hospital, pulling from its database of more than 2.5 million pets, recently released its national ranking of states with the most cases of seasonal fleas and heartworms in dogs. Here they are:

  1. Florida
  2. South Carolina
  3. Alabama
  4. Oregon & Louisiana
  5. Washington, Georgia & Texas
  6. California
  7. Ohio
  8. Virginia
  9. New York
  10. Michigan

And here’s the Banfield heartworm ranking by state:

  1. Missouri
  2. Arkansas
  3. Louisiana
  4. Alabama
  5. South Carolina
  6. Georgia
  7. Oklahoma
  8. North Carolina
  9. Tennessee

Good luck keeping pests off your pets this summer! Please share war stories and home remedies in the comments!

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