Diatomaceous Earth for Dogs & Cats: Fight Fleas & Ticks Naturally
When it comes to the health and wellbeing of your furbabies, natural remedies are preferable. That goes for flea and tick solutions, too.
Have you heard of diatomaceous earth (DE)? It’s a powder made of diatoms.
Made of what, now?
Diatoms. Fossilized phytoplankton. Algae. Single-celled organisms composed of transparent, opaline silica.
It’s been used for all kinds of things, including fighting off bugs and slugs, and protecting your grass from grubs and maggots.
Diatomaceous earth is used to fight bed bugs, and is also used as a topical treatment to fight off seasonal fleas and ticks from both dogs and cats.
Now, if you’ve done any research on diatomaceous earth, you may have read some conflicting reviews about whether or not it’s safe to use on your pets. We’re going to share the many wondrous benefits of diatomaceous earth … and we’re going to shed light on the potential downsides, too.
Our goal is to give you all the information you need to make your own informed decision about using diatomaceous earth as a flea and tick treatment for your pet.
Continue reading for answers to questions like:
- What is diatomaceous earth?
- How does diatomaceous earth work?
- Is DE toxic to pets and/or humans?
- Will diatomaceous earth hurt my pet?
- What about as a health aide?
- Should I use diatomaceous earth on my pet?
So let’s dive right in to the good stuff.
What is diatomaceous earth?
First, diatomaceous earth is not a poison. It’s more like sand. Some people liken it to chalk or powder. When viewed under a microscope, it looks like small shards of glass.
According to Wikipedia, “It is a naturally occurring, soft, siliceous sedimentary rock that has been crumbled into a fine white to off-white powder.”
There are two very distinct variations of diatomaceous earth. Each has a different concentration of crystalline silica.
- Food Grade contains 0.5–2% crystalline silica. It is used as an insecticide (safe for garden use) and as an anti-caking agent in the food and agricultural industries. It is approved for use by the EPA, USDA and FDA.
- Filter Grade (aka non-food-grade) contains close to 60% crystalline silica. It is toxic to humans and animals, but can be used in water filtration and the production of dynamite.
Filter-grade diatomaceous earth is also used as:
- A mild abrasive in metal polishes and toothpaste
- A mechanical insecticide
- An absorbent for liquids
- A matting agent for coatings
- A reinforcing filler in plastics and rubber
- An anti-block in plastic films
- A porous support for chemical catalysts
- A cat litter
- An activator in blood clotting studies
- A thermal insulator
- A soil for potted plants and trees
How does diatomaceous earth work?
According to the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC), “Diatomaceous earth causes insects to dry out and die by absorbing the oils and fats from the cuticle of the insect’s exoskeleton. Its sharp edges are abrasive, speeding up the process.”
Simply put, it kills fleas and ticks by scoring the hide as they crawl over the powder, which causes them to dehydrate and die.
Diatomaceous earth kills other pests, too, including ants, cockroaches, slugs, grubs, bed bugs, larvae, maggots and more.
Is diatomaceous earth toxic to pets and/or humans?
Food-grade diatomaceous earth is low in crystalline silica -- it’s safe for humans.
Filter-grade diatomaceous earth, however, is high in crystalline silica, which is toxic to humans (all mammals, actually).
“If an extremely large amount is inhaled, people may cough and have shortness of breath,“ said the NPIC. After inhalation, food-grade diatomaceous earth is rapidly eliminated from lung tissue.
“I used DE and now my doc says there’s silica in my urine!”
Don’t panic. Small amounts of silica are normally present in all body tissues. It’s perfectly normal to find silicon dioxide in urine.
One study showed that even after people ate several grams of diatomaceous earth, the amount of silicon dioxide found in their urine did not change.
However, crystalline diatomaceous earth -- the kind that is sometimes found in pesticide products (filter-grade), is much finer, so it’s possible it may build up in lung tissue and lymph nodes. If you inhale a large amount, you may cough or find it difficult to breathe. If you’re concerned, call poison control or consult a doctor.
Some people say that diatomaceous earth causes skin irritation and dryness. Others say it’s little more than an exfoliant. Your reaction will likely depend on your skin sensitivity. If you’re concerned about protecting your skin from DE, use latex or rubber gloves.
Due to its abrasive nature, diatomaceous earth may irritate the eyes. That’s true of any type of dust, including silica. Again, if you’re concerned about getting DE in your eyes, use protective eyewear.
Will diatomaceous earth hurt my pet?
We mentioned earlier that DE looks like glass shards under a microscope.
“Won’t that hurt my pet?” you ask.
We hear your concern, and that’s a valid question. But no. Don’t worry.
Most types of dirt look like broken glass under the microscope, but we still take our pets to the park and to the beach! It’s those tiny insects we’re trying to keep off our pets that can’t handle diatomaceous earth. Your pet’s skin (and yours, too) is tough enough to stand up against DE powder.
“Can I feed diatomaceous earth to my pet?”
Some suggest DE can be used to combat internal parasites by giving it to your pet in his food. If you’re going to go this route, make sure you’re feeding food grade diatomaceous earth. The stuff they use for filtration and garden pesticides is different (filter-grade), and can be harmful to your pet.
In the same breath, however, those same people claim that it’s super important to keep DE away from your pet’s eyes, nose and mouth, as it can irritate mucous membranes.
We think that’s a bit conflicting. It’s pretty tough to feed something orally while keeping it away from the rest of the face, but that’s just our opinion.
According to Healthline, further research is required to prove the efficacy of DE as a parasite killer.
What about DE as a health aide?
Some believe diatomaceous earth is a good detoxification product. Others claim it helps with digestion, and some say it’s good for colon cleansing.
We’ve read reports that DE may absorb E. coli, methyl mercury, endotoxins and viruses, as well as organophosphate pesticide and drug residues, and even intestinal infections.
We’ve also read that diatomaceous earth can:
- Improve heart health
- Provide the body with trace minerals
- Improve bone health
- Promote strong hair, skin and nail growth
When consumed, very little DE is absorbed into the body. Most is quickly excreted.
According to Healthline, “Not many quality human studies have been done on diatomaceous earth as a supplement, so most of these claims are theoretical and anecdotal.”
Other “experts” have cited research by the University of Innsbruck, Austria, hyping that diatomaceous earth can improve cholesterol numbers by lowering LDL and triglycerides and increasing HDL.
We looked into this study and found that it was very small, comprising just 19 people over a 12-week period. Are those numbers large enough to be considered significant? You decide.
If you want to know more about the makeup of diatomaceous earth, Wolf Creek Ranch published a chart.
Should I use DE on my pet?
That depends on who you ask. Some people (vets included) advise against the use of diatomaceous earth for fleas on cats and dogs, opting instead for pharmaceutical treatments. Other people (again, vets included) prefer a holistic approach to fighting fleas and ticks.
A simple Google search on diatomaceous earth will also return a plethora of varying opinions on DE.
When it comes to choosing between prescriptions and all-natural remedies, everyone has their own opinion on which is the better option.
Our hope is that you, the pet parent, do your own research, consider all the information, and weight out the pros and cons. Only you can decide what’s right for your pet. The key is to make an informed decision based on a balanced blend of scientific facts and your own unique situation.
If you have a specific question about diatomaceous earth, feel free to give us a buzz! We’re always here to help.