It's that time of the year again - season for fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and other insects that carry diseases! Although there are an overwhelming number of flea and tick control products out on the market, most are chemical based and can cause adverse effects on your pet's health.
The most popular kind of flea and tick control product on the market is the “spot-on” type, sold under brand names like Frontline®, Revolution® and Advantage™. Spot-on flea and tick products are liquid pesticides applied to a "spot" on the pet's skin, usually around the back of the neck or shoulder area of pets. There are additional forms of flea and control products, such as powders, collars, chewable tablets, and sprays, which are no less dangerous to you or your pets. The active ingredients in these solutions include chemicals such as imidacloprid, fipronil, permethrin, methoprene, and pyriproxyfen, all of which have caused serious health issues when tested in animals. (1)
If you read these product labels carefully, they will warn you not to get these substances on your skin, to wash your hands after applying them, and to keep them away from children. If these products are so toxic, why is it okay for these chemicals to be absorbed by our pet's skin?
As per United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), "In spring 2009, EPA received more than 44,000 reports of pet incidents involving spot-on pesticide products. We received enhanced information on individual reported adverse effects from the companies that hold registrations for these products. We are pursuing a series of actions to increase the safety of spot-on pesticide products for flea and tick control for cats and dogs. " (2)
In response to the large number of adverse reports received, the EPA issued a report in 2010 that determined inert ingredients in spot-on products were generally assumed to contribute to toxicity; dosage ranges were considered to be too wide in some cases and product labeling was identified by the EPA as needing revamp in many instances; the EPA's Companion Animal Studies guidelines are insufficient to predict the toxicity of spot-on products.
If your pet exhibits any signs of vomiting, diarrhea, trembling, seizures, and respiratory problems after application of flea and control products, your pets may be suffering pesticide overdose. If this occurs, immediately wash the product off of your pets skin and seek veterinary care. To report any adverse reactions to flea and tick control products, please visit American Veterinary Medical Association's and FDA's websites.
To prevent fleas and ticks from your pets, the first step is managing your pet's health. Your pet's skin condition is an indicator of your pet's overall health and an important factor in flea control. The key to healthy skin is a healthy diet. To learn more about healthy diet choices for your pet, click here.
We must abide by the laws of nature and feed foods that our pets' bodies need and eliminate ingredients that provide no nourishment. Their nutrients must be balanced because deficiencies will develop much faster in your dog or cat than they will in you. For healthy skin, ensure your pet's diet includes probiotics, digestive enzymes, vitamin C, vitamin B complex, and essential fatty acids.
If you, unfortunately, have a flea or tick issue with your pet, here are some safe, non-toxic and natural ways to manage the situation.
1. Diatomaceous Earth (DE)
DE is a powder composed of the fossilized remains of single-celled algae. It can be sprinkled on carpets, bedding, and on your pet's body to eliminate fleas and ticks safely. DE can also be ingested to help remove internal parasites. When applying, wear a protective mask to avoid inhalation, let the powder sit at least several hours on carpet before vacuuming. If DE is sprinkled on your pets, once the fleas and ticks are killed, please ensure you wash DE off of your pet's coat as this could dry out their skin if left on for too long.
Caution: never use DE that has been chemically treated for use in swimming pools. Ordinary table salt or borax can also be used on carpets and should be vacuumed up the day after use.
Products containing beneficial nematodes (microorganisms that eat flea larvae) can be sprayed on lawns and, unlike many toxic treatments, are perfectly safe for animals, birds, and humans, as well as “friendly” garden dwellers, such as earthworms and ladybugs. Brand names such as Interrupt can be found in pet stores and in the lawn-and-garden sections of hardware stores and supermarkets.
3. Black Walnut
Black walnut is a very effective flea and tick repellent for pets when given orally several times a week. It can be purchased in capsules or in liquid form. Give only the minimum effective dose because it can be toxic in higher doses. Please consult a holistic veterinarian prior to administering this remedy.
4. Natural Insect Repellent
Make an effective natural insect repellent for dogs that can be applied daily by adding five drops each of tea tree oil, citronella oil, neem oil, rosemary oil, peppermint oil, lavender oil and eucalyptus oil to one cup of water, shake it, and put it in a spray bottle. Do not use on cats.
A great product that we carry is Omega Alpha's HerbaCoat Spray, which contains some of the essential oils mentioned above and have been proven to be effective in protecting humans and pets against fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, flies and other insects.
5. Herbal Shampoo
Gentle herbal shampoos, such as Oil of Oregano, are effective and can be used as often as once a week, to help rid of fleas. Beware, however, that if you bath your pets too frequently, it can dry out your animals’ skin. Caution: Flea-pesticide shampoos and dips are dangerous and toxic!
6. Maintain a Clean Living Environment
When your pet returns from being outdoors, comb your animal thoroughly with a fine-toothed flea comb to check for potential fleas. If you do find any fleas or ticks, either dip your comb (if the critters are on it) or drop the critters directly into a bowl of rubbing alcohol and they will die instantly.
Be proactive in vacuuming your rugs and furniture frequently and launder your pet's bedding weekly. Flea eggs can be picked up by the vacuum, but may still hatch inside so please ensure you clean your vacuum thoroughly after vacuuming.
The Bottom Line
Fleas, like any parasite, are more attracted to animals with weaker health. This is especially prominent in multi-animal households where the older dogs seem to be attracted to fleas but the younger ones seem to be clear of them. Therefore, it is really important to have your animal as healthy as possible, not only for fleas and ticks, but for parasites, heartworm, disease resistance, stamina, and long life.
(1) Kathleen Dudley, “Are ‘Spot-On’ Flea Killers Safe?” The Whole Dog Journal Feb. 2002.
(2) U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Pesticides: Health and Safety,” 9 May 2012.
(3) Dr. Karen Becker, "Advanced, Non-Toxic Pet Pest Repellent System That Works"
(4) Flea and Tick image source - http://www.northdevonvets.co.uk