Summer is in full swing now! I hope you and your pets are making the most of it. Hopefully you have been able to enjoy it free from fleas and ticks, as well. I get a lot of questions asking about effective, natural ways to control and combat them. Since August is the worst month for fleas, it seemed like the right time to share. And selfishly, now I can refer everyone who asks to this blog!
It is absolutely possible for your pet to live flea- and tick-free without dangerous chemicals. It just takes a small amount of effort on your part. In my opinion, it is worth it if it means not having to put those poisons onto and into my pets. It is alarming how the rate of cancer in dogs has skyrocketed in the past 10 years. There were enough neurological adverse reactions in our cats and dogs that the FDA issued an alert in September 2018 to veterinarians and pet owners warning of a potential neurological event. Animals were, and are still, experiencing muscle tremors, ataxia (a degenerative disease of the nervous system), seizures and even death. The FDA ASKED the manufacturers to change their labeling, to include wording about the potential risk. (not make it safer, just change the label) It included Bravecto tablets for dogs, and topicals for cats and dogs; Nexgard tablets for dogs; Simparica tablets for dogs. In April 2019, the FDA added Revolution Plus topical to the list.
These products are all made with Isoxazoline, a new chemical class of pesticides introduced in the 2010’s. Prior to this, the most popular products used were Frontline, which used the pesticide Fipronil (a class C carcinogen) and Advantage, whose main ingredient, Imidacloprid, was the world’s most commonly used pesticide, as of 1999. You should read about the ingredients. It is some scary stuff and I may have nightmares tonight after it all sinks in. I thought I generally knew what was in these. But after reading more in depth about them and how harmful they can be to us if we breathe it long term, or what it is doing to our soil and water, I am really saddened and alarmed. Especially when I know for a fact (because I use them) that most of what these poisons have been created for can be controlled with apple cider vinegar, diatomaceous earth and a host of other products provided by Mother Nature. The same stuff that cleans my house softens my laundry and even dresses my salad!
One line I can’t seem to shake is reading a description about Imidacloprid, which until 1999, was the world’s most commonly used pesticide. It was explaining why it is used for pest control. It reads, “Because Imidacloprid binds much more strongly to insect neuron receptors, this insecticide is more toxic to insects than mammals.” Not “safer for mammals.” But “more toxic to insects”. This is widely used on our food crops, fruit trees, lumber and lawns, just to name a few.
When you give your pet a topical or a chew/tablet, you are releasing insecticides and other chemicals into his bloodstream. A flea or tick must bite your pet in order for these neurotoxins to enter the insect and kill it. So, even if it kills the flea or tick, if your dog or cat is allergic to the flea or tick bite itself, as many animals (and humans) are, your pet may have an allergic reaction. The vet will want to put them on a medication to suppress it, which comes with its own set of side effects. It also does not protect you and your home from live fleas and ticks brought inside on your pets that may not have bitten them yet. Seresto collars work similarly. It is a polymer mix of two pesticides- Imidacloprid and Flumethrin. They are stored in the collar and released over your pet’s hair and skin surface over 8 months. The more active your pet is, the quicker the chemicals release.
I have always practiced what I recently coined “proactive, common sense” pet care. I am very observant of even the most subtle changes in them- usually the first sign that something is wrong. I weigh all the risk factors and research everything, exhaustively. I make decisions on their care based on the individual pet and try very hard to leave emotion and fear out it. But no matter what, their quality of life is always top priority. All three of our cats have different needs and are at different stages in their lives. Therefore, each is evaluated and their needs met. Our late beagle mix went camping and hiking with us often and had a dark, heavy coat. Ticks were nearly impossible to find on him, even with a tick comb. We stopped using topicals after a few years when we realized he would have adverse reactions to them for the two days after administering. He would also cower and try to hide when he saw the package every month, as did our cats at the time. (I was not as informed as I am now). Next, I chose to use a Seresto collar in the summertime with him. He had no outward reactions, but I have my suspicions about a few issues he had that we could never determine why they happened. Could it have been an adverse reaction to Seresto or the other topicals prior? We will never know. Just as we will never know how many dogs end up sick after years of exposure to these chemicals, or those harmed after even just one application.
Our Chihuahua, Pablo has a white coat, so ticks are easy to spot. He does not go in the woods and we do not have plans to camp with him, so his risk level for exposure is low. And he is only 6 pounds. I tried a Seresto collar on him and within an hour he was acting “drunk”, stumbling and obsessively trying to remove the collar. It was really frightening. Therefore, he is on a completely natural flea/tick protocol. In the two years he’s lived with us, he has never had a flea (neither have our cats) and I’ve removed one barely attached tick. That is pretty remarkable, if you ask me! I am actually quite proud of this. I worked a long time to find the winning combination.
In my years managing the pet food store, I would occasionally hear about a negative experience with Seresto. But since Bayer bought Monsanto last year, I have been hearing many stories about very bad reactions to the collars. I also know people who have ordered them from Amazon and received fake, ineffective collars.
We need to look at pesticides the way we’ve begun to look at antibiotics. We are creating drug- and chemical- resistant pests and organisms through our overuse. These chemicals are polluting our soil, air and waterways and putting our health at serious risk. And what is even worse is how long it takes before a chemical deemed “safe” is found to be harmful. For instance, tetrachlorvinphos (TCVP) was previously used for pest control. Scientists now believe it is a very harmful carcinogen to both humans and animals. The time is now to change our thought process. I always tell people I count chemicals rather than calories. It is just as important in the quest for optimum health.
So with all of the scary stuff out of the way, let me share some inexpensive, effective, and best of all, chemical-free options, that are not only safe for your pets, but also for your family, home and the environment. And they are EASY!
Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV):
Fleas and ticks, as well as mosquitoes, hate the smell and taste of ACV. Therefore it makes an effective repellant to spray on your pet when they go outside. You may also add it to bath water and use as a final rinse at bath time.
For spray: Use 8 ounces of water, 4 ounces of ACV. Add to a spray bottle, shake and spray. If your dog is scared of the spray bottle, spray into your hands and rub onto coat. AVOID face. To “supercharge” the spray you may add some DOG SAFE essential oils, such as lavender, lemongrass, geranium, neem or catnip oil. 5-10 drops of each per bottle should do the trick. Neem oil is great for dogs with smell sensitivities. Catnip oil is also an effective mosquito deterrent. Neem oil and catnip oil are both also safe for cats, since they are not true essential oils.
For bath: Add 1 cup to 1 gallon of bath water. Bathe as usual.
For rinse: After final bath rinse, mix 1 cup ACV to 1 gallon water. Pour diluted ACV over pet, being careful to avoid head and face. Massage into coat. Do not rinse. Towel dry. The vinegar odor dissipates when dry.
Fleas and ticks also hate citrus. Just be aware that lemon juice can lighten dark fur.
Lemon, orange and grapefruit are all effective. Lemon works best, since it has low sugar content. You can spritz any of these fresh juices onto your pet’s fur, carefully avoiding eyes and head.
Lemon juice may also be added to bath water and used as a final rinse. Use 1 cup lemon juice to 1 gallon of water. Do not rinse. Towel dry.
There are some truths and some myths about garlic being toxic to dogs and cats. While this can be true, it takes 12 whole garlic bulbs per 10 pounds of dog to cause health issues. That’s A LOT of garlic! Fleas and ticks hate the smell and taste of garlic, making it an effective deterrent. Besides that, many dogs LOVE the taste. (mine love it) Fresh garlic contains a beneficial chemical called allicin, which is produced when the clove is crushed or chewed. These properties only last 8 hours, which is why dried, powdered or pills are not as effective against flea prevention.
For medicinal quantities, dogs only need 1/8 teaspoon for toy breeds, 1/4 teaspoon per 15 pounds of dog per day. (this is less than 70 times the toxic level) I add garlic to every meal my dog eats and have been for years. We’ve never had an adverse reaction.
One of the reasons I am not a fan of vitamins or supplements is that the majority of them come from China, as does a lot of our garlic today. All “B” vitamins are manufactured in China, unless you are getting them from a company such as Standard Process. All the vitamin packs that are added to pet food, including foods sourced in the U.S., come from China.
Some people believe in using brewer’s yeast to fight fleas. The problem that can arise is that brewer’s yeast is very allergenic. And the main reason it is used is for its concentration of “B” vitamins, anyway. Feeding foods rich in B vitamins is more sensible.
One of my all-time favorite products on Earth is FOOD GRADE diatomaceous earth (DE). It has so many benefits. But using only food grade is very important. You cannot use pool grade for your pets or yourself. The powder is too fine and is harmful to breathe. Food grade is also a fine powder but can be used safely.
DE is deadly to any insect yet completely harmless to animals. DE’s mode of action for insect and parasite control is strictly mechanical. The microscopically sharp edges contact the insect or parasite, and pierce their protective coating, so they soon dehydrate and die. The larvae are affected in the same way.
What is so great is it can be used internally and externally. It can also be used around your home and yard. A little goes a long way. And it is very economical and easy to find at any rural, lawn /garden and home improvement stores.
Internal parasites can be controlled by giving Diatomaceous Earth internally. To be most effective, DE should be fed for at least 30 days, to catch all newly hatching eggs or the cycling of the worms through the lungs and back to the stomach. In the summer, I give my animals DE daily. For the cats I add some to their dry food bag, seal it and shake it well to distribute it easily. It will help keep the food free of insects, keep it fresher by inhibiting the oxidation process and kill any general odor the food may have. And if the cats go outside, it will kill any parasites they may have in their guts. It is also used for weight loss so it’s a great option for overweight pets, especially cats. Many humans add DE to their smoothies as a weight loss tool.
Pets over 50 pounds, give 1 tablespoon a day. Dogs under 50 pounds give 1 teaspoon a day. They cannot be harmed by eating too much, however.
DE can be rubbed into the fur to effectively kill fleas and ticks. Apply lightly, carefully avoiding face. Rub into coat and be sure to get to skin. It can work on pets in as little as 2-4 hours.
Here is a great “supercharged” flea powder you can make:
Use equal parts DE, Neem in dry form and yarrow root in dry form. Mix and rub into coat, avoiding eyes and face.
DE can be applied to carpeting, bedding, and furniture if you find your house is infested. Keep in mind it can take up to 3 days to work, so leave it on before vacuuming. Always apply lightly. It is very fine and can be challenging to vacuum if applied too heavily. Remember to empty vacuum canister and tightly seal trash bag. Promptly take outside. In the summertime, I add a small amount of DE to my vacuum canister. That way if any fleas may have found their way inside my house, I can effectively sweep them up and kill them while in the canister.
DE is an excellent odor absorber. Sprinkle some in the litter boxes along with regular littler for added odor absorption. (this work so well! And it is much less expensive than baking soda)
DE can be sprinkled liberally all over the lawn to kill fleas and ticks. I always do this the day before I entertain to help reduce the risk of ticks. I also regularly sprinkle this in front of my entry doors and the perimeter of my house and garage. I found that I have a lot less insects making their way inside, such as ants and stinkbugs, than I used to.
Wondercide is a commercially available repellent AND killer. It is essential oil based. It comes in a few different versions. And it works on every insect I’ve ever had- ants, mosquitoes, flies. They also make soap and yard spray. This is quickly becoming my FAVORITE. It is safe to use on humans, too, and it smells great. It is widely available online and through independent retailers.
Possibly the best way to keep fleas and ticks away from your pets is to keep their immune systems strong and healthy by providing a balanced diet that includes fresh, whole foods. Fleas and ticks seek out compromised immune systems, for instance those dogs with a “corn chip” odor (usually caused by yeast or starch). Those pets are irresistible to pests. There are also effective supplement powders made with spirulina, garlic and other immune boosters to help ward off pests. My very favorite is Earth Animal internal flea powder. Both my dogs loved the taste and it is easy to use. Earth Animal also makes a very effective essential oil-based collar, for dogs and cats. It last for 3 months and costs around $15. The combination of the internal powder and the external collar have proven very effective for many, including ours.
Make sure to keep grass cut and weeds away from areas your pet frequents. Never stack wood against your house and remove perennial plants at the end of the season. Ticks thrive in a moist, warm environment, so remove any dead leaves from yard.
Frequent vacuuming and washing sheets, bedding, rugs and pet’s bedding will keep “stragglers” from roaming around your house in search of a new host.
Frequent tick checks- both pets and humans- is imperative during tick season, especially during their “booms”- spring and late fall. Be extra vigilant around tail base, neck and ear area, inside ears, around eyes and between toes.
There is also a blood test you can request from your vet. Instead of the yearly heartworm test, for about $10 more you can get a 40x or Accuplex Check done. This not only tests for heartworm, it also tests for tick/disease exposure. That way you can be proactive before it turns to Lyme.
The Lyme vaccination is not one I choose either. It is a very strong vaccine and comes with some potential health complications. It also does not stop ticks from attaching. I actually know multiple dogs that have been vaccinated but still contracted Lyme disease.
On the rare occasion mine get a bite, I use colloidal silver on the bite wound and also give silver internally for a week after the bite, just to be on the safe side. Colloidal silver is a natural antibiotic. I use it for nearly everything, pet and human!
So, I hope you feel more empowered about winning the battle against fleas and ticks now. Yes, they are dangerous and need controlled. But, like most things concerning our pets, we do not need to be gripped by fear. A little common sense and effort can keep your pet safe from both pests and chemical exposure.
See you next month!