By Dr. Becker
Well, the good news for many of us across the U.S. is we had a mild winter with above-average temperatures and not a lot of snow.
The bad news is warm winter weather means an early and heavy bug season, specifically for fleas and ticks.
These pests are surfacing from their dormant life cycles sooner rather than later this year.
In fact, many veterinarians are predicting a 2012 flea and tick season that will be the worst in a decade.
And it's already underway in some parts of the country.
No Need to Panic
Widespread panic is more or less what the sellers of chemical pest preventives would like to see as a result of an early and heavy flea and tick season this year.
But before you start having nightmares about massive flea infestations or blood-bloated ticks all over your dog -- which could easily prompt you to run out and buy every chemical pest agent you can find – take a deep breath.
Everything you need to do to control pests on your pet this year falls into these three easy-to-remember categories:
- Keep your pet pest-free
- Keep your home pest-free
- Keep your yard pest-free
I strongly discourage pet owners from automatically applying harsh chemical agents to repel or kill pests. I see animals every day at my Natural Pet clinic that suffer from the side effects of toxic chemicals and drugs they were exposed to for any number of reasons, including pest control.
And to make matters worse, many of these pets still get fleas and ticks even with the use of toxic chemical agents.
That's why I believe in using natural pest repellents and other non-toxic pest control methods whenever possible.
If you live where fleas and ticks are prevalent during the warmer months, vigilance in keeping your pet, your home and your yard pest-free should allow your four-legged companion to enjoy his summer right along with the rest of the family.
All Natural Tips for a Pest-Free Pet
If fleas are a problem, comb your pet with a flea comb at least once a day, every day during pest season. Do the combing on a white towel or other light colored cloth so you can see what's coming off your pet's coat and skin as you comb.
Flea 'dirt' (actually flea feces) looks like real dirt, but when suspended in a little rubbing alcohol or water will dissolve and release a red color (blood) allowing you to discern real dirt from flea dirt.
Drop the combings into a bowl or other container of soapy water and flush it down the toilet when your combing session is over.
Bathe your pet. A soothing bath will kill fleas (via drowning), help heal skin irritation, and make your furry companion feel more comfortable and less itchy. Also, clean animals aren't as attractive to fleas. Pick a non-grain (no oatmeal) shampoo specifically for pets.
Be aware that some pets have a condition called flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), which is sensitivity to flea saliva. This is actually a very common condition in dogs. It's not the bite of a flea that causes most of the itching, it's the saliva. And the saliva can cause irritation way out of proportion to the number of fleas on your pet.
That's why lots of dog owners assume the terrible itching their pet is enduring can't be flea related because they don't see any fleas. In fact, a pet with FAD can be made absolutely miserable from the saliva of just one or two fleas. And it can make her uncomfortable for many weeks – long after the fleas are dead and gone.
If ticks are a problem where you live, the best way to control them is through daily grooming and nose-to-tail body checks of your pet. You should examine your dog or cat closely for ticks whenever he's been outside, and at least once a day, regardless.
If you should find a tick attached to your pet, it must be removed carefully and safely.
Don't squeeze the tick, pull on it, press down on it, burn it, or otherwise try to kill it while it's still embedded in your pet. You don't want to inadvertently harm your dog or cat, and you don't want to cause the tick to secrete more saliva into your pet or leave pieces of the rostrum (the 'sticker') embedded in your pet's skin.
The safest way to remove a tick is with a twisting motion. Our Tick Stick tick removal tool is great to have on hand if you ever need to get a tick off your pet.
In addition to the above suggestions, I also recommend you make liberal use of an all-natural pest repellent like Natural Flea and Tick Defense, which is effective against flies and mosquitoes as well. It contains all natural ingredients -- safe oils and pure water.
Other safe alternatives to chemical pest repellents include cedar oil (specifically formulated to be applied to pets) and natural food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE) (both of which can be applied directly to your pet's skin and coat – follow label application instructions), and fresh garlic (it must be fresh, not processed -- work with your holistic vet to determine a safe amount for your pet's body weight).
Don't waste your money on garlic in pill form or brewer's yeast pills. The B vitamins found in brewer's yeast responsible for boosting the immune system can be naturally delivered by feeding your pet a meat based, living food diet. I don't recommend feeding allergenic brewer's yeast to pets.
Powdered garlic or garlic in tablet form has lost the medicinal component, Allicin, found in fresh garlic. Garlic pills can be dangerous to pets.
DE can also be added to your pet's food if your pet has internal parasites. DE is not effective against heartworms as they are present in the bloodstream, where DE isn't.
All Natural Tips for a Pest-Free Home
Your first line of defense against a flea infestation in your home is to keep your pet pest-free using the suggestions outlined above.
Vacuuming all the areas of your home your pet has access to is a given in controlling fleas indoors. Vacuum the carpet, area rugs, bare floors, upholstered furniture, pillows, your pet's bedding and even your own if your pet sleeps with you.
Use the crevice tool and other nifty attachments to vacuum along the baseboards and around the corners and edges of furniture. Don't forget to vacuum hard-to-reach places like under furniture, beds and closet floors.
Dump the contents of your vacuum as soon as you're finished and get them out of the house.
If feasible, designate a single sleeping area for your pet – preferably one you can clean easily. Fleas accumulate in pet sleeping spaces, so if you can limit those, it will be easier to control the situation.
Your dog's or cat's bedding should be vacuumed daily and washed frequently.
You can apply a light dusting of food grade diatomaceous earth (DE) on your carpets, bare floors, and pet bedding. Make sure the DE is food grade, not pool filter grade as the latter is toxic if ingested.
Like diatomaceous earth, cedar oil can be applied to your environment and pet bedding, as well as directly on your dog or cat. It is an all-natural insect repellent. Pestigator.comi has a wealth of information about the use of cedar oil as well as a wide variety of cedar-based products for indoor, outdoor and direct pet application use.
You can apply sodium polyborate powder to your carpets and wood floors to get rid of fleas at the larval stage. Instructions at Fleabusters.comii state you should keep pets and children out of the room while you're applying the product, but they can come into the area safely immediately afterward. The powder works for a year once it's applied unless you have your carpets steam cleaned.
All-Natural Tips for a Pest-Free Yard
Keep your grass mowed, weeds pulled, and bushes trimmed. Clear away debris as it accumulates and do regular inspections of your property for places where pests are apt to hide and multiply.
Food grade diatomaceous earth can also be used to control pests in your yard. However, it doesn't work immediately and must be reapplied frequently (monthly for best results). To use dry with a powder applicator you'll need about 1 pound per 500 square feet. You can also mix it up as a paste and apply it with a hose-end sprayer, using 2 tablespoons per gallon of water.
Mosquito Barrieriii is an all-natural, liquid garlic based solution that can be sprayed on your lawn. Its repellent effect should last about a month according to the manufacturer.
Nematodes are microscopic roundworms that eat flea larvae. Many people have had success using them in their gardens and yards to keep the flea population under control.
Under the right conditions, nematodes work quite well. They can be applied with a lawn sprayer and have been known to reduce the flea population by 80 percent in 24 hours.
More research is needed, but it seems nematodes are most effective in moist, sandy soil away from direct sunlight. The worms don't survive in the hot sun. (Fortunately, neither do fleas.) Nematodes can be purchased at some pet stores, nurseries and online.
When a Chemical Preventive or Treatment is Unavoidable
I can't overemphasize the need to avoid the unnecessary application of chemical products due to their known and suspected levels of toxicity.
However, if you're faced with a situation in which you have no choice but to use a chemical pest preventive on your dog or cat, here are some ways you can reduce the danger, especially of spot-on products:
- Follow dosing directions precisely. 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 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 at my practice. Many of my clients are able to apply one round of chemicals in the spring and another in late summer and completely avoid infestation while dramatically reducing the frequency of chemicals used.
- Monitor your pet closely 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.
You can get milk thistle through your holistic vet, who should also guide you on how much to give your pet depending on age, weight and other prescribed medications. I recommend one dose daily for seven days following any flea, tick or heartworm application.
I also recommend chlorella, a super green food that is a very powerful detox agent. Your holistic vet should also advise you about how much chlorella to give your pet.
If you use both these cleansing products throughout the summer, you can help protect your pet's liver from the toxic effects of chemical pest preventives.
The Bottom Line
No matter what combination of pest repellent systems you use, including chemical agents, your pet can still attract pests and parasites. In fact, even animals loaded with chemicals to the point of toxicosis can still, for example, acquire heartworm.
My advice is do all you can to avoid pests, relying on natural preventives as much as possible, and then have your vet run a SNAP 4Dx test every six months to check for the presence of heartworm and tick-borne diseases (Lyme, Anaplasmosis, and Ehrlichia).
Also, again thanks to the mild winter we had, I'm seeing a lot more positive fecal results for GI parasites. I recommend you have your vet check a sample of your pet's stool twice a year as well.