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Flea and tick medications
Recently we reported on the controversy surrounding spot-on liquid flea and tick medications. These products have endured much public scrutiny because of their potentially hazardous ingredients. An article by the Center for Public Integrity released in December 2008 prompted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to further investigate the safety of using flea-and-tick products on pets.
After nine months of investigation, the EPA asserted that the products would stay on the shelf, but changes would have to be made to the labels so that misapplication wouldn’t lead to injury or death. ABC News had reported that in 2008 approximately 44,000 pets became ill and 600 died after receiving spot-on treatments.
It was determined that many of these occurred because of improper use of the medication and inadequate labeling. Though the EPA is requiring the companies selling these products to make changes to their products’ labels, many pet parents remain skeptical, and some have even discontinued use of products for fear of causing harm to their pets. In fact, with so much concern around these products and the summer months right around the corner, a fertile breeding ground for flea infestation is building.
While flea and tick products are questionable at the moment, it’s still important to keep the health of our pets a top priority. Flea and tick products are available not only to rid us of those pesky little jumping bugs our pets detest so much, but also to prevent the spread of disease normally carried by fleas and ticks to our pets and family members. According to the National Center for Infectious Diseases, fleas can carry many dangerous and harmful illnesses including lyme disease, tapeworm and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Mar Vista Animal Medical Center also stresses that flea infestation can lead some pets to suffer from flea anemia.
With that said, pet parents may feel torn about choosing between the better of what seems to be “two evils.” In an effort to support pet parents during the upcoming flea and tick season, our website wanted to provide some alternatives to those pet parents who’ve made the personal choice to refrain from using spot-on treatments. The following are ways of preventing flea and tick bites using natural methods. As with all things concerning your dog’s health, consult with your veterinarian before starting any treatment. The following suggestions are meant to be used for dogs and some of these alternatives may be toxic to other animals, such as cats. Use caution before starting any new flea-and-tick prevention program.
Natural Treatments Against Fleas/Ticks for Your Dog
To combat fleas and ticks (fleas in particular), it’s important to approach the battle from multiple sides. Pet parents should not only treat their pets for fleas, but should also treat all facets of their home for fleas, including their yards. This will help ensure that the fleas don’t escape your pet’s coat and spread to other areas where they’ll live until an unsuspecting victim trots along again.
Richard Pitcairn, DVM, author of “Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats,” offers a multitude of suggestions for naturally repelling fleas and ticks. Dr. Pitcairn makes a strong case for pet parents using alternative methods to protect their pets against fleas. Particularly important to building defenses for your pet, he suggests, is good grooming. Because dry skin attracts fleas, Pitcairn advises pet parents to frequently brush and comb their pets’ coats. “Frequent brushing and combing stimulates hair and skin health, bringing normal secretions from oil glands onto the skin and discouraging fleas,” says Pitcairn.
Along with brushing, pet parents should pay particular attention to how they bathe their pets, says Pitcairn. Bathing is important for keeping fleas and ticks away, but too much can strip dogs of their natural oils. Limit your dog’s baths to once a month or every two months, depending on your pet’s tendencies to build up filth. Soap and water are a perfectly good way to drown out fleas, but Pitcairn also suggests purchasing natural flea-repellent shampoos. “Or you can make your own insect-repellent shampoo by adding a few drops of essential oil of pennyroyal or eucalyptus to a bottle of natural shampoo or castile soap. But do not apply these oils directly to the skin. They are too irritating,” says Pitcairn.
GrandmasHomeRemedies offers a similar suggestion to pet parents. Particularly for badly infested dogs, they recommend an essential oil bath: “Draw the bath using a few drops of tea tree or lavender essential oils. An alternative is an herbal flea dip made from fresh rosemary leaf.” When using any essential oil, always be sure that it is 100-percent therapeutic grade essential oil, with a label that does not warn against applying it to the skin, or inhaling or ingesting it. Please consult with the staff at your local health food store as to how you will use the oils, so they can lead you in the right direction.
Pitcairn asks pet parents to follow this type of dog bath with a plain water rinse and then a vinegar-and-water rinse that contains one tablespoon of white wine vinegar for every pint of warm water. “It removes soap residue and helps prevent dandruff. Pour on the solution, rubbing throughout the fur. Then rinse again with plain water,” says Pitcairn. Pitcairn also suggests using a rosemary tea conditioner to help promote a glossy coat and repel fleas. The conditioner calls for one teaspoon of either dried or fresh rosemary and one pint of boiling water.
“Combine and steep the ingredients for 10 minutes, covered. Strain and cool the combination to body temperature. Pour it over your pet after the final rinse,” states Pitcairn. “Rub the mixture in and towel dry without further rinsing … Use several towels to blot off excess water. Then let your pet do what comes naturally, shaking and licking off more of the water. Make sure she has a warm place to dry off.” For everyday protection against fleas, Nadine M. Rosin, author of “The Healing Art of Pet Parenthood,” suggests the following combination of herbs that can be applied to your pet’s coat:
- Combination of powdered eucalyptus, rosemary, fennel, yellow dock, wormwood and rue (all available individually online or at most independent co-ops or health food stores). Put the mixture into a shaker can and rub it into your dog’s fur (Note: Some herbs are toxic to cats).
- Combination of citronella, eucalyptus, cedar, citrus, and lavender oils rubbed onto your hands and then rubbed onto your dog’s ears, belly, etc. (Note: Some oils are toxic to cats).
GrandmasHomeRemedies also suggests using either a citrus or aromatherapy repellent:
- Citrus Repellent: You can make an effective flea repellent from lemon by cutting it into quarters and immersing it in boiling water. This is then steeped overnight to get you the repellent. By spraying this all over your pet, especially behind the ears and generally around the head, and also at the base of the tail and the “armpits” you can rid it of fleas. Dr. Pitcairn suggests the same repellent, but calls it a “lemon skin tonic,” which he says can also be used as a general skin toner and treatment for mange.
- Aromatherapy Repellent: This repellent is made by adding lavender and cedarwood essential oils to pure almond carrier oil as the base. This is then shaken well and spread over the pet’s skin to keep the fleas away. You can also make effective flea collars by rubbing an essential oil of eucalyptus, tea tree, citronella, lavender or geranium on webbing, a rope collar or even a doggy bandana.
To battle fleas on your dogs from the inside out, GrandmasHomeRemedies and Dr. Pitcairn suggest adding a small amount of garlic (too much garlic can harm your dog) or brewer’s yeast to your dog’s food to repel fleas. “Garlic when fed to your dog works wonders. This is because its smell is excreted through the skin, making it ‘inhospitable’ for the fleas,” writes GrandmasHomeRemedies. “Another good alternative is natural apple cider vinegar that makes the skin more acidic and unpleasant to fleas and ticks.”
Pitcairn says in his book that it’s common for animals in poorest health to attract the most fleas. So overall, make sure to feed your pet a good diet and keep his immune system at an optimal level with the proper vitamins and supplements.
Natural Treatments Against Fleas and Ticks for Your Home and Yard
Fighting off fleas usually starts out with treating the affected animal, but shouldn’t stop there. All of those efforts might be for nothing if the rest of your home isn’t treated. Fleas can “escape” your pet and find hospice in other parts of your home, and hang out until they get the next opportunity to jump onto your beloved pooch. In order to prevent re-infestation, treat your home and yard thoroughly as well.
The following is a list of ways you can treat your home to ward off fleas. The list is a compilation of suggestions from Pitcairn, Rosin and GrandmasHomeRemedies:
- Spread cedar chips in and around your pet’s bedding, and along your fence and other outdoor areas
- Wash your dog’s bedding regularly in hot, soapy water and add eucalyptus essential oil to the final rinse
- Vacuum your home thoroughly and sprinkle a fine layer of ordinary table salt over the upholstery and carpets
- Steam clean the carpets if possible
- Use nematodes for the yard (make sure to research the correct one for your yard)
- Plant the herb tansy around your pet’s pen to repel fleas
Dr. Pitcairn advises parents to keep up maintenance on their lawns by mowing and watering their grass regularly. As he explains, shorter grass lets sunlight hit the soil and heat it, which in turn kills flea larvae. Also, watering the grass will drown fleas. Pitcairn also insists that you shouldn’t discourage ants in your yard. These little guys love to feast on flea eggs and larvae. They can become your best ally in this process.
If your dog has a special area that he enjoys sleeping in outdoors (a patch of grass or dirt), what Pitcairn calls “bare-earth sleeping spots,” you can sterilize that area by occasionally covering it with a heavy black plastic sheet on a hot day. “Rake up any dead leaves and other debris first,” says Pitcairn. “The heat that builds up under the plastic does an excellent job of killing fleas and larvae.”
Pitcairn also suggests using agricultural lime on grassy or moist areas. This will help dry up the fleas. Always remove leaves and debris before doing so though. Lastly, you can use the herbal flea powder described above to spread around your yard as well. If none of these methods seem to work for your pet and the flea infestation persists, be sure to consult with your veterinarian. At this point, it may be safer to use flea medications to help stop the infestation and prevent the potential spread of disease. To make it a more comfortable experience for you and your pet, bring your dog to the veterinarian for the first treatment. Have the veterinarian explain the process of applying the spot-on medication. Applying the treatment at the vet’s office might put your mind at ease in case any adverse reaction occurs.