Spring is the season of plants and gardening. You may be focused on nurturing and expanding your garden, or simply bringing a piece of nature indoors with new house plants.
As a pet parent, you may be curious if certain plants can keep your pet protected from fleas. If you do a quick Google search, site after site that claims that flea-repelling plants do exist. However, does science back up the claims?
We asked veterinary experts, plant experts, and bug experts if flea-repelling plants actually exist and whether the claims to protect our pets actually hold true. Here’s what you need to know.
Plants that Supposedly Repel Fleas
According to Ball Horticultural Company, plant varieties cited to repel fleas and pests include:
- Nepeta (catmint)
However, when it comes to pest control, these plants are typically used in the form of plant extracts—not actual plants.
“The plant extracts from the list above are often found on ingredient lists for natural products used for pest control where pets are in the house,” says Katie Rotella, communications manager for Ball Horticultural Company. “While there are some savvy homeowners who can make their own extracts, it would require much more plant material than they realize.”
Plant Extracts for Flea Control
Plant extracts may have flea-repelling qualities, but planting the varieties listed above around your house or keeping one on your counter isn’t likely to do the job. However, many natural pest products do contain them.
“There has been a large number of new products containing things like cedar, peppermint, clove, and garlic oils, which claim to control a wide range of pests,” says Dr. Dave Shetlar, professor emeritus in the Department of Entomology at Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. “Many of these do work, but only by direct contact, with the oil disrupting cell membranes on insects.”
But Shetlar explains that none of these plant-based or natural products have long-lasting, flea-controlling effects and he says that most have no documented repellent qualities.
What About Pyrethrins to Repel Fleas?
One example of a successful pesticide derived from plants are pyrethrins, which are classified as botanical insecticides.
“Pyrethrins are derived from a compound in chrysanthemums,” says Dr. Kristi Flynn, assistant professor in the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. “That said, I don’t think the plants themselves repel fleas in the garden.”
And the use of pyrethrins may also be dangerous for your pet.
“Further, we avoid products for pets with this active ingredient because it is toxic to cats,” adds Flynn.
The Bottom Line: Do Any Plants Actually Repel Fleas?
You should not rely on plants to magically repel fleas.
“I have not heard of any that have been shown to work scientifically and would be very skeptical of any claims to that effect that do not have peer-reviewed studies published in reputable scientific journals to substantiate their recommendations,” says Dr. Michael A. Arnold, professor of Landscape Horticulture at Texas A&M University.
And that stake in the ground is backed by veterinarians.
“I know of no controlled scientific studies that document anything useful about plants for flea control, documenting antiparasitic abilities of a living plant,” says Dr. Paul DeMars, associate professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Oklahoma State University.
And according to Shetlar, plants really do not offer effective prevention when it comes to fleas themselves.
“The other problem with relying on repellent plants to manage fleas would be the ignoring of the life cycle of the flea,” says Dr. Shetlar. “Fleas have a complete life cycle, with the larvae feeding on a wide range of decaying organic matter (including food crumbs in folks’ couches and carpets!). However, the common species’ larvae must also have a blood meal in order to pupate and emerge as the adult flea.”
Yep, that’s where your pet comes in handy for these pests.
“Repellent plants would have no effect on the flea larvae,” says Shetlar.
Ultimately, there is no scientific evidence to prove plants are effective flea repellents, so pet owners should rely on other methods of flea control to keep their pets safe.
Flea Control Methods That Work
Instead of relying on plants or extracts to repel or control fleas, the following are veterinarian-approved methods to keep your pets safe from fleas:
Monthly Flea Preventatives
“Monthly flea preventatives are extremely useful to get rid of fleas, and to prevent an infestation,” says Dr. Tori Countner, veterinarian and founder of The Balanced Pet Vet. “It can take 3-5 months to fully get rid of the pesky bugs once they are in your home. Talk to your veterinarian about which preventative is best for your pet.”
Fleas can find shelter in your home, so it’s a good idea to vacuum. And vacuuming has been found to kill fleas in all stages of life.
“Preventative measures for fleas include vacuuming—often in high traffic areas, especially in corners of rooms,” says Countner. It is also recommended to vacuum both sides of couch cushions and in the nooks and crannies of furniture, where all stages of fleas like to hide. If you have a bad infestation, you may have to vacuum every day for several weeks to suck up any fleas hatching in the environment.
Washing your pet’s belongings can help to prevent flea infestations. You should do this on a hot cycle to kill fleas and eggs.
“Wash pet bedding, collars, and toys frequently,” adds Countner.
Doing Yard Maintenance
Your lawn can be a breeding ground for fleas, so mowing and maintaining grass and weeds is an easy way to keep them at bay. And you can also treat your yard.
Courtner suggests using natural yard or home sprays to keep flea populations at bay. “Diatomaceous Earth (food grade, not pool grade) can be sprinkled on your yard and patio for a more natural insecticide,” she says.