The skeletal, inorganic remains of single-celled microscopic algae called diatoms — the namesake of diatomaceous earth — make up 26 percent of the earth's crust by weight! The only organism on the planet encased in glass, the diatom's cell walls are composed of transparent, opaline silica, and when these tiny creatures die, they do not decompose, but instead sink to the bottom of the waterways, oceans, and wetlands of the world. Not technically fossils because their cell walls are not replaced by another mineral, diatoms amass and are preserved for up to tens of millions of years.
Is Diatomaceous Earth Safe For Pets?
Today, silica deposits are mined for many commercial uses, including as a component in the manufacture of diatomaceous earth. Sold in Food Grade (Human Grade) and Non-Food Grade (Industrial Grade) formulations, diatomaceous earth has a variety of applications, but only food-grade D.E. is safe for pets. It may be used topically to control parasites like fleas and ticks, administered as a de-wormer, and consumed as a beneficial supplement, according to Dogs Naturally Magazine.
What is diatomaceous earth?
Known as D.E., diatomite, or kieselgur, diatomaceous earth is a naturally occurring soft, siliceous rock that can be easily crumbled into a fine, chalky, white or off-white powder that resembles talcum powder. Most diatomaceous earth is a composition of amorphous silicon dioxide, and food-grade D.E. is chemically inert and virtually harmless for pets and their people when used for pest control and consumed as a supplement. It's also used by food manufacturers to filter beverages during the production process. Farmers may also use D.E. as an anti-caking agent in livestock feed.
On the other hand, industrial-grade diatomaceous earth is highly concentrated and is used in the mining and construction industries to stabilize nitroglycerin, or as a filter in swimming pools and aquariums. Farmers may also spread it over fields to prevent disease and eliminate parasites from the soil before planting crops.
It's extremely important to ensure you are using food grade D.E. for any pet applications. If shopping in-store, thoroughly read the label. And if shopping online, verify the grade with the vendor if it's not indicated in the listing. Taking the wrong grade of diatomaceous earth may compromise your pet's health and industrial-grade D.E. is not safe for humans to handle at all.
Precautions when handling diatomaceous earth
While you should avoid contact altogether with industrial-grade diatomaceous earth, you should also handle food-grade D.E. with care. It's a natural drying agent and is potent enough to dry out the skin, cause irritations in the esophagus, and its superfine consistency can irritate the nasal passages and lungs, so be careful not to inhale it.
The Diatomaceous Organization advises you always to wear gloves and a face mask when using D.E. whether you're removing pests from your pet or the garden.
Some beneficial topical uses of diatomaceous earth for pets
Many pet owners eschew the use of pesticides in and around the home and also for their pets. Diatomaceous earth is an effective, non-toxic natural alternative to chemical pesticides that are given orally or topically applied throughout the flea and tick season.
Dusting your pet's fur with diatomaceous earth controls external parasites, such as fleas, ticks, and flies, including their eggs, according to the Diatomaceous Organization, a diatomaceous earth advocate. You can also apply D.E. to your pet's bedding and the carpeted areas your pet frequents.
Diatomaceous earth as a de-worming agent
Whipworm, pinworm, and hookworm infestations can be successfully eliminated within seven days of being fed D.E. daily, says Dogs Naturally Magazine. To catch newly hatching eggs and the cycling of the worms through the lungs and back into the stomach, they suggest that D.E. should be fed for at least 30 days.
Diatomaceous earth as a food supplement for pets
Diatomaceous earth, like many other alternative therapies, is not a "cure-all" and, if used as a pet food supplement, it should be in moderation, and only after veterinary consultation, advice, and consent. D.E. should be used as an adjunct, not a substitute for medical care.
Although D.E. is widely promoted for its purported miraculous benefits, have a chat with your veterinarian about any potential side effects of giving D.E. internally before you decide to administer it to your pet.