Cedar Chips and Fleas – Non-Toxic Insect Repellant for Fleas? (Revised)
The relationship between cedar chips and fleas is getting smaller. Cedar chips were used as a non-toxic insect repellent for fleas and ticks. And at this time of year when the weather is warming, fleas and ticks quickly congregate on the dog. As the cycle begins, the pet market used to rise in the spring to summer. Sales in cedar chips and pine bedding going through the roof. But not anymore.
For many years, the good news was that cedar chips were used as a popular non-toxic insect repellent for fleas and ticks. But recently, OSHA has found extreme occupational safety and health problems in their testing of this product.
With continuous usage on animals and humans, the combination of cedar chips against fleas and ticks became a dubious choice for pet owners due to health risks. The combination of cedar and pine was well-known for killing and repelling insects. Today, the mixture of recycled paper and aspen shavings are far more superior for rabbits, gerbils, chickens, smaller pets, and contained puppy areas. Another item bird lovers are using in their nesting sites is the soft needles of pine trees. In Nebraska, pine chips are used as the birds and other small animals will not kick them out of nesting sites as they do cedar chips.
According to a well-known Herbalist, Gary Le Mon, history told that “our pioneering forefathers killed ticks and flea infestations by sprinkling cedar wood chips on their cabin floors. Today the wisdom of the ages continues with cedar chests, cedar clothes hangers, and pillows stuffed with cedar wood chips for dogs and cats.” And like many other things throughout history, things have changed or developed into something better.
Disadvantages of using cedar wood chips
When cedar chips became popular for pet bedding, it was in the company of pine to reduce the odor of the cedar. People primarily used this mix instead of hay due to mite problems. This was because cedar by itself is nature’s personal bug repellant but the odor by itself knocks your socks off. And birds off their roosts. And kills or makes very ill contained animals.
Both softwoods had a reputation for controlling odor, but cedar wood chips were stronger in odor and therefore thought to be more effective than the other wood chips. Unfortunately, cedar wood chips are very problematic to be using them with animals or birds:
- Mulch made with wood chips can contain or feed termites
- The decay of freshly produced chips from wood consumes nitrate
- Bark produced from hemlock or cedar is far less likely to produce splinters and is commonly used as a covering for children’s play areas.
Why cedar chips and pine are dangerous
The strong odor of the cedar comes from phenol and aromatic hydrocarbons that are released into the air. Unfortunately, it is these same compounds which can be a health risk regarding respiratory problems and the liver. Chips and shavings from hardwood are safer, as they do not have as many phenols in them. This would be from the aspen and Douglas fir trees.
- Phenol is primarily a man-made compound, yet is also found in organic material and animal waste. Man designed it to make several products: to make plastics, nylon 6, bisphenol for epoxy and resins, disinfectants, medical products, and as a slimicide chemical it kills bacteria and fungi in watery slime.
- According to OSHA, phenol’s side effects for animals are irritants of the eyes, mucous membranes, and skin; absorption causes convulsions as well as liver, kidney, and other systemic damage. Its effects on humans are similar: systemic absorption causes central nervous system impairment and liver and kidney damage; local effects include irritation of the eyes, skin and mucous membrane. The primary route of phenol is entry through the skin.
OSHA has aromatic hydrocarbons listed on its website for targeting human organs: blood, bone marrow, central nervous system, eyes, respiratory system, skin, liver, and kidneys.
- The compounds consist of (1) benzene, (2) ethyl benzene, (3) toluene, and (4) xylene for use in chemical and pharmaceuticals, along with usage in commercial solvents. Benzene compounds with one substituent are a phenol. The phenol carries a hydroxyl group, and toluene carries a methyl group.
Considering whether to use cedar chips or not
There are certain facts to consider before using cedar chips as a way to care for your dog:
- Cedar chips can only be used for dogs, cats, cattle, horses, and humans
- Old dogs or sick dogs need veterinarian consultation before using cedar chips on a continuous basis
- Other smaller animals will need veterinarian consultation first
- Dogs and cats need to be over six months of age for cedar applications
- The misuse of cedar can cause people or animals to develop a cough or allergic reaction
- Cedar oil and cedar chips for bedding often interferes temporarily with scent retrieval in hunting and tracking dogs
- The essential oil mix for insect repellent (citronella, cedar oil, basil, and pennyroyal) should not be used on pregnant animals. Shavings and chips from the Ponderosa Pine cause spontaneous abortions and hormonal disturbances
- To use insect repellant oils, like fleas or ticks, as a topical oil (externally on the body), dab small amounts behind their ears, under the tail (not the rectum but the tail itself), on the chest, and on the abdomen. Then brush gently throughout the fur
- Some oils for insect repellant mixes include French basil, cedar oil, cinnamon oil, citronella oil, clove oil, lemon oil, lavender oil, pennyroyal oil, rose geranium, palmarosa or opopanax oil for ticks, and carrier oils (almond oil or grapeseed oil)
- The purpose of carrier oils (vegetable oils) is to dilute and deliver essential oils. They usually do not have a heavy fragrance. Refrigerate after opening. Most households have canola oil, olive oil, peanut oil, or sunflower oils, but others can be purchased at a natural store.
As long as the dog provides enough blood for the flea to live on, the dog fleas will remain. Known for their extreme loyalty to their dog host, infected fleas are known to spread worms in dogs, notably the tapeworm.
Cedar chips and fleas may have a relationship, but more bad than good may come of it when there are many other natural cures for fleas.
Scientific research study using cedar chips
A scientific paper was published on October 13, 1998, by Toshiyuki Masuda. It had a pillow filled with a fibrous member containing an aromatic essence of cedar chips and Japanese cypress to prevent contact with ticks. Ticks are known to produce atopic and asthmatic diseases.
Japanese and South Korea patients were used as participants of the research study. The pillow provided an aromatherapy effect as afforded by a forest bath.
Male albino mice, in a red cedar chip environment, showed a decreased sleep time to sodium hexobarbital and sodium pentobarbital. The effect appears to be reversible.