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Here Come the Bugs!

June 07, 2011 | 13,757 views
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Flea and Tick PreventionPet pest season is upon us!

Per the HuffingtonPost.com:

Everyone knows how maddening it is to have fleas invade your home! Not only do they make your pet itch -- they can make you itch too! Pet parents may not think seeing one or two fleas is a bad sign, but as Banfield Animal Hospital's Dr. Klausner explains, "for every flea that's on the dog, there's about ten thousand sitting on the rugs and living in the environment in the house."

It's time for pet owners to gear up for battle with the fleas, ticks and mosquitoes that arrive with warm weather.

Please note: My recommendations below for pet pest prevention and control differ greatly from the advice given in this article.

Dr. Becker's Comments:

As regular readers of my newsletter know, I'm not in favor of chemical pest preventives as the only means of protecting your pet, human family members or your home from fleas, ticks and mosquitoes.

Chemical preventives like those mentioned in the HuffingtonPost.com article have side effects and can be dangerous for your dog or cat. The fact is there is NO chemical-based pest control pill, dip, solution, shampoo or collar that is without the potential for side effects.

Just because a treatment is applied to or worn on the outside of your pet doesn't mean it's safe. What goes on your pet goes in your pet. Products applied to the skin or worn around the neck get into your dog's or cat's body either by absorption or ingestion during grooming.

Let's Not Forget the EPA Warning about Spot-on Flea/Tick Preventives

Two years ago, the EPA issued an advisory about 'spot-on' products applied to the neck or back of pets to prevent fleas and ticks.

The advisory was the result of a dramatic increase in adverse reactions to these products – reactions ranging from mild skin irritation to seizures and even death.

In 2007, there were 28,000 reports by pet owners, vets and other animal caretakers about reactions to spot-on products. Just a year later in 2008, that number jumped to 44,000 reported reactions, which included 600 deaths.

Manufacturers of spot-on products responded predictably to the EPA advisory – they maintained no cause-and-effect relationship between their products and adverse reactions had been established. However, the first-hand experience of people who used the spot-on preventives on dogs and cats pointed to the extremely high likelihood of a connection between the products and over 44,000 reactions in a single year.

In my opinion, the risks of these products are simply too great to warrant their routine (monthly) use. I encourage my dog and cat owner clients to avoid these pesticides in favor of safer alternatives.

Safer, Saner Flea and Tick Prevention

Fleas and ticks invade unhealthy animals first. One of the most important things you can do to make your dog or cat unattractive to bugs is to help him be optimally healthy.

A few additional things to consider:

  • Cedar oil is long-recognized as a flea eradicator, and products exist that are specially formulated for cats and dogs.
  • Natural, food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE) helps to remove fleas and ticks from your pet’s body. Never apply the powder to the face where contact with pets’ eyes could happen. DE does not provide any protection against heartworm larvae, which are found in your pet’s bloodstream (not GI tract).
  • Fresh garlic can be given to dogs and cats to prevent internal as well as external parasites. Work with your holistic vet to determine a safe amount for your pet’s body weight.

For Those Who Must Rely on Chemical Pest Repellents ...

If for some reason you find yourself in a situation where you simply can't avoid using a chemical pest preventive (like if you are infested with fleas), please do your beloved dog or cat a huge favor and follow these tips to reduce the toxic risks to your pet ...

  • Be very careful to follow dosing directions on the label, and if your pet is at the low end of a dosage range, step down to the next lowest dosage. Be extremely cautious with small dogs, especially if you own one of the breeds reported to be at high risk for adverse reactions. And do not under any circumstances apply dog product to your cat.
  • Don't depend exclusively on chemical treatments. Rotate natural preventives with chemical ones. An every other month rotation works well for many pet owners. In many parts of the country owners find they can successfully control ticks with two doses a year: one in the spring and one in the late summer.
  • Make sure you are addressing your pet's environment; vacuuming daily or every other day and washing bedding can dramatically reduce hatching flea larvae in your pet's environment.
  • Regular grooming, including daily tick checks and flea combings can remove parasites before they are able to attach or bite and become a problem. If you find a tick, make sure you remove it completely and safely.
  • Monitor your pet for adverse reactions after you apply a chemical product – especially when using one for the first time.
  • Since your pet’s liver will be tasked with processing the chemicals that make it into the bloodstream, it can be very beneficial to give your dog or cat a supplement to help detoxify her liver. I recommend milk thistle, which is a detox agent and also helps to actually regenerate liver cells.
  • Another product I recommend is chlorella, a super green food that is a very powerful detox agent. Your holistic vet can advise you about how much milk thistle and chlorella to give your pet, when, and for how long.

Mosquitoes and Heartworm

As you might guess, I'm also not a fan of year-round chemical heartworm preventives except in rare situations. Beyond the toxicity and side effects of these chemicals, there is also growing concern about heartworm resistance to the drugs used against them.

If you live in a region of the U.S. where mosquitoes are prevalent and you've confirmed with your vet that your dog's risk of exposure to heartworm disease is high, my recommendations follow:

  • Try the natural route using heartworm nosodes, other homeopathic treatments, herbal and dietary supplements under the guidance of a holistic veterinarian, with heartworm testing every three to four months .
  • If your dog is healthy, with good kidney and liver function, you can use a chemical preventive at the lowest effective dosage, compounded if necessary for dogs that weigh at the low end of dosing instructions.

    Give the drug at six-week intervals rather than four, for the minimum time necessary during mosquito season (see map here). You can use the map to calculate the months you need to begin and discontinue prevention based on temperatures in your area. Always have your vet do a heartworm test before beginning any preventive protocol.

  • Skip the all-in-one products claiming to prevent every known GI worm and external parasite. The goal is to use the least amount of drug that successfully prevents heartworm. Monthly deworming for GI parasites is unnecessary and these added chemicals increase the toxic load on your pet.
  • Follow up chemical treatment with natural liver detox agents like milk thistle and SAMe, with input from your holistic vet. Don't add to your dog's toxic load by giving chemical flea/tick preventives the same week you give the heartworm preventive.
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