It's that time of year again. We've gotten lots of questions lately about natural alternatives to chemically-based flea and tick preventatives. I'll bet you didn't know that there are some relatively easy eco-friendly and natural ways to keep those angry fleas and ticks away!
Some folks are wondering why they might consider a naturally based solution over the popular topical treatments often found at the vet. There are a few reasons why you may want to rethink using topical pesticides on pets, such as Imidacloprid or Fipronil; commonly used in topical applications prescribed at many veterinary clinics.
Some risks to consider...
Effects on Wildlife and the Environment
On the environmental front, both Fipronil and Imidacloprid have been found to be toxic to beneficial insects such as honeybees, and there have also been negative effects found in some species of birds and aquatic invertebrates. In addition, when certain insects are contaminated with this toxin, unsuspecting predators such as lizards are at risk as well. I find the unintended consequences of these pesticides to be the most worrisome. Furthermore, fleas can develop a resistance to these toxins leaving us with a bigger problem.
Effects on Humans and Pets
Extended exposure to these chemicals has shown negative effects in humans according to the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC). There is also concern of carcinogenic effects, but limited data exists on long term exposure. According to "Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats" Fipronil, Imidacloprid, Permethrin, and Pyriproxyfen have:
"...caused cancer in animals, altered thyroid hormone levels, caused seizures and severe skin disease...and many other effects."
It appears the greatest risk for people and pets is ingestion of these chemicals, or overexposure which would not occur if the products are used according to package directions...but is it worth the risk? My feeling is no! Why introduce potentially harmful substances into your living environment when there are some wonderful, effective natural solutions available?
Natural Flea and Tick Control Alternatives
Now that we've reviewed the 'why' let's look at the 'how'. I've heard of a few different methods to keep fleas and ticks at bay including topical essential oil-based solutions, treatment of the living area, and dietary modifications. We'll look at each option, and I'll share my own experiences too.
Treatment in and Around the Home
Weekly vacuuming /cleaning of floors and furniture can help pick up flea eggs, larvae and pupae before you have a problem. In addition, it's a good practice to frequently wash and dry linens and pet beds on high heat to eliminate development of flea eggs if present. Both Dr. Martin Goldstein and Richard Pitcairn (two wonderful holistic vets), recommend steam cleaning carpets at the start of flea season.
Natural borax has also been used with reported success. Depending on the source, the process varies a bit, but here's what most suggest: evenly sprinkle borax on carpets and furniture, allow it to sit for a day or so then vacuum it up and immediately dispose of it. Because borax can be harmful to pets if inhaled, it's a good practice to avoid the area treated until after it's been vacuumed up.
Natural, unrefined diatomaceous earth (DE) purchased from your local garden shop (not pool supply store) can also be used in moderation. Although direct contact is safe for pets and people, inhalation can cause irritation, so a mask may be helpful when applying it. Some suggest sprinkling it where the vacuum cannot reach. I've also used it to kill ants with some success inside and outside, but it is messy and very fine. Also note that DE is only effective when dry, so it may need to be reapplied if the area gets wet.
There are a number of essential oils that can effectively eliminate fleas and ticks including cedar oil, eucalyptus, peppermint, geranium, lemon, and citronella, and tea tree to name a few. Cats can be particularly sensitive to essential oils, especially tea tree, so check with your natural health practitioner or vet before using any new product. There are a number of ways to use essential oils to control fleas and ticks, but most frequently oils are added to shampoo, or mixed with water and sprayed onto your pet. Green Dog Market carries a few products with essential oils including Dr. Harvey's Herbal protection concentrate and shampoo, Natural Defense Squeeze-On treatment, and Wondercide spray. I've personally used all of these products successfully, and I'll share a little about each product.
My personal favorite is Wondercide. It's a simple organic ingredient list and has a number of uses, plus it smells nice. It's a cedar oil based spray, and is sprayed directly on the skin every 2-3 days or as needed. In addition to fleas and ticks, this product also kills and repels a number of insects including mosquitos, mites, and lice. As an added benefit, the cedar oil is good for the coat and soothes itchy skin. I've even sprayed a little on myself if it's particularly buggy outside!
Dr. Harvey's Herbal Protection products are organic and use both essential oils and herbal ingredients. Since there are a number of different oils and herbal extracts, it has a slightly herbal/medicinal aroma. These topicals are designed to soothe the skin as well as protect from pests. The witch hazel based spray can be applied to your dog, bedding and living space. Dr. Harvey's also offers an herbal concentrate that can be added to water and applied, or as an addition to shampoo. They also offer a protection shampoo that can be used in conjunction with the topical treatments for added protection.
Lastly, we have Sentry Natural Defense. This product is a essential oil based squeeze-on style like some of the conventional products we talked about earlier. It controls mosquitos, fleas and ticks, and uses peppermint, cinnamon, lemon grass, clove and thyme oil. Strangely, I think it smells like root beer (in a good way)! The squeeze-on is applied to the skin in a "stripe" down the pet's back. I found Natural defense to be an effective product. As a note of caution: essential oils are powerful ingredients. Because this topical is applied in a more concentrated form, there is a risk of skin irritation. I will wash or at least rinse off my hands after applying it, and will not allow Ellie to lick or 'nose' Chester or vice versa until it dries. If your pet has sensitive skin, you may want to try a test patch of skin, or one of the previously mentioned products first.
I am a big believer in preventative care, and a minimally processed, biologically appropriate , balanced diet provides the building blocks for the health of your pet. A physically fit dog or cat with a strong immune system is less vulnerable to pests (among other things)! Everything starts with diet! Ok, getting off my soapbox now...
Here are a few additions to your pet's diet that are not only beneficial to your dog or cat's health, but also may make them less yummy to fleas and ticks!
Garlic is a great addition to your pet's diet. I frequently add a crushed or minced clove or two to each meal. In addition to garlic, Dr. Martin Goldstein recommends brewers yeast orally and topically as fleas are repelled by the smell/ taste of these ingredients. In "The Nature of Animal Healing" He writes :"In all cases, I recommend two natural substances:garlic and brewer's yeast. Both exude odors or tastes that discourage fleas. And garlic is as close to a panacea as a natural product can get."
So there you have it! If you are looking to improve the health and well being of your pet while keeping those nasty pests at bay, we have some of these great options for you. Being a little more natural and eco-friendly isn't so hard, is it? Now, get out there and enjoy the Summer with your furry buddy!
And don't forget, we offer free delivery to Farmington, Avon, Bristol, New Britain, Canton, Unionville, Plainville, Hartford, and Newington.
Stay Green, friends!