One of the most versatile items to have on hand, whether you have dogs or cats, is diatomaceous earth (DE). You may be familiar with its application in swimming pools, but it can be used for many other things as well. For those that haven’t used it or seen it, diatomaceous earth is a chalky substance that is made from the fossilized remains of diatoms (single-celled organisms). These diatoms fossilized over eons in lake beds; as the lake beds dry up, the fossilized remains are exposed and can be collected.
Grades of Diatomaceous Earth
There are actually several different grades of diatomaceous earth. Pure Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth is unaltered and 100% natural. It is mined and packaged, but the key point is that it is not altered in any way. This is the only grade that you should use on or around your pets. Pool Grade DE is intended for use as a pool filter, but because it is heated to incredibly high temperatures (1000° C), its chemical structure is actually altered so that it is primarily crystalline silica. This can be very dangerous to consume, or even breathe in, so please make sure that you are using Pure Food Grade DE on and around your pets. You should note that some companies sell DE blends and still call them Food Grade. While these are considered safe, at least in general, I recommend only using Pure Food Grade DE (no additives). All of the uses outlined in this article specifically refer to Pure Food Grade DE. If you have any doubts as to the grade of DE, ask the company that is selling it.
Non-toxic pest control
Now that you have an understanding of what DE is and the various types of DE available, let’s take a look at some of the ways you can use it. DE is an excellent insecticide, and one of the benefits is that, because of the way it works, it is completely non-toxic to humans and animals. That’s because DE kills insects through a mechanical, rather than a chemical, method. DE is made up of tiny particles, each with sharp edges (if you looked at the particles through a microscope, they’d actually resemble broken glass), and those edges pierce the exoskeleton of the insect (DE cannot affect skin in this way, which means it is safe for humans and animals). The insect then dehydrates and dies. Larvae and adults are both affected this way.
In addition to being non-toxic, insects can’t build a resistance to DE, so it won’t get less effective over time. Keep in mind that DE, while effective, does take a bit of time to work. Depending on the insect, it may take a few hours or even a few days to kill them. Remember, though, that it can be used to treat internal and external parasites, all without the side effects that many chemicals cause.
Flea and tick control
DE is great to use to address fleas, ticks, and other external parasites. One of the most effective ways I have seen it used to rid cats and dogs of fleas and ticks is with these simple steps:
- Vacuum the places your pet likes to spend their time. The reason for this is to help pick up any parasites and their eggs; since pests aren’t affected by DE until they hatch, you want to get rid of the eggs to help break the cycle.
- Apply the DE to the areas in your house that your pet frequents.
- Lightly dust some DE on your pet.
- Leave the DE down for 3 days or so, then vacuum it up. Leaving it down for this length of time will give the DE time to do its work, and vacuuming will pick up any dead bugs and their eggs.
- Give your pet a bath (you may want to use a moisturizing shampoo, because DE can dry out the skin).
- Treat the areas your pet spends time in regularly—when fleas and ticks are at their height, you may want to treat as often as twice per week, leaving the DE down for 3 days each time.
Internal parasite control
DE is also great at helping get rid of internal parasites, particularly roundworms, whipworms, pinworms, and hookworms. Because you want to make sure that you get rid of all of the parasites, you should use it for at least 30 consecutive days. Feeding it for at least 30 days helps ensure that newly hatched parasites are killed, and it also helps ensure that no matter where the parasite is in the body, it eventually gets killed.
How to use as a dewormer
When feeding DE as a dewormer, a little goes a long way. You should check with the manufacturer for specific dosage recommendations, but the following gives you a general idea of what I have frequently seen recommended for dogs and cats (please do your research and contact the company from which you purchase the DE to determine the appropriate amount for your pet, if you choose to give it):
½ tsp. for puppies and small dogs
1 tsp. for dogs under 50 pounds
1 tbsp. for dogs between 50 and 100 pounds
2 tbsp. for dogs over 100 pounds
½ tsp. for cats under 7 pounds
1 tsp. for cats between 7 and 13 pounds
1 ½ tsp. for cats over 13 pounds
Remember, if in doubt as to how much to give, do your research and speak with someone knowledgeable in using DE with animals. You’ll want to make sure that the DE is mixed well into the food to eliminate any chance that the powder could irritate your pet’s lungs.
Around the yard
In addition to using DE in your home and on (or in) your pet, you can also sprinkle it in your garden and lawn areas to help keep pests under control. If you have issues with pests in your garden, it’s a great alternative to chemical pesticides. It is effective against ants, caterpillars, cockroaches, snails, spiders, termites, fruit flies, earwigs, and bed bugs, to name just a few. You can sprinkle it around, or mix it with water and spray it around. You will need to apply it on a regular basis. Keep in mind, though, that it will kill all insects that it comes into contact with, even the ones that eat other insects (such as spiders, ladybugs, praying mantises, and ants). If you are looking for a form of pest control that will maintain balance in your yard’s ecosystem, see the series about pest control in the December 2015/January 2016 and February/March 2016 issues of Raw Pet Digest).
DE is useful for more than just parasite control. Another great use for DE is as a deodorizer, whether it is for litter box odor control or a deodorizer for your pet or house. To use DE as a litter box deodorizer, add some DE (I have seen recommendations for about ¾ cup of DE for each pound of litter) to the litter. Make sure that the DE is evenly distributed throughout the litter (you can use the scoop to mix it all around) and that it is well mixed—remember that it is a lung irritant if inhaled, so it is important to make sure that you mix it in well enough that your cat isn’t breathing in the DE when it uses the litter box. The DE will help to absorb moisture, cut down on or eliminate the smell, and it will also get rid of parasites that might be in the litter box.
You can use it as a deodorizer for any place that doesn’t smell clean and fresh by dusting it into the carpet (or wherever the odor is less than pleasant). Leave it down for a day or so to give it time to absorb the odor, then vacuum it up. You may want to use a shop vac, rather than a regular vacuum cleaner, because DE can burn regular vacuum cleaners out.
DE is primarily composed of amorphous silica, but it also has magnesium, calcium, titanium dioxide, and other trace minerals. Because of this, it can be a very beneficial supplement to give your pet (and to take yourself!). Pet owners that give DE on a regular basis have noticed improvements in their pets, such as improved coat and better digestion. Studies have also shown that DE can absorb all manner of things, such as endotoxins; heavy metals, such as mercury and lead; organophosphate pesticide residues; drug residues; and more. Feeding DE to your pet can help support your pet’s body in an overall detox, and it is also a powerful digestive aid and can help support the health of the digestive system.
DE is an incredibly powerful, non-toxic, tool with a wide range of benefits for your pet. Because it can safely address parasite issues in and on your pet, you can use it in lieu of other toxic pesticide control. It is also a non-toxic way to control pests in your house, and it can be used as a deodorizer and as a supplement for your pet (humans can reap the benefits of this powerful supplement too!). Remember, you should only use Pure Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth for any of the uses discussed here, and if you haven’t used it before, do your research to determine correct dosages and application methods before you use it.