As you can see from this flea activity map, some areas of the country have a year-round problem. States on the west coast, the desert southwest, along the gulf coast and in the southeast experience flea activity all twelve months of the year.
Several other states only get a month or two break from pests in the dead of winter.
Controlling the bugs that bug your pets, and often the human members of your family as well, is challenging. But before you decide to treat your dog or cat more often or year-round with a chemical pest preventive, it’s important to understand the risks to both your animal and other family members.
According to the Los Angeles Times:
“Flea collars and sprays may seem like an easy solution, but they often contain chemicals that can harm your pets, your children and you.”
“Many flea and tick formulations are safe when used as directed, but two alarmingly toxic chemicals are found in some products. Called tetrachlorvinphos and propoxur these chemicals are potentially harmful to pets and their humans at the levels found in today's flea collars.
The humans at greatest risk from these chemicals are young children, especially toddlers who spend a lot of time hugging, stroking, and sleeping with their pets.”
Tetrachlorvinphos (TCVP) is found in cat and dog flea/tick collars, powders, and sprays. Propoxur is used only in the collars. Flea collars release chemicals onto your pet’s fur around the neck area, and then Fluffy or Fido spreads them around whenever they groom, scratch or lick their bodies. This of course means pets are ingesting the chemicals as well.
Both propoxur and TCVP have the potential to cause cancer in humans. TCVP is an organophosphate – organophosphates are thought to be neurotoxins that can result in childhood problems like learning disabilities and hyperactivity.
Of particular concern is the risk to kids that spend two or more hours a day in close contact with a pet or pets. Per the L.A. Times:
“Many consumers assume that whatever is on store shelves must be 100 percent safe for use around pets and children. But both these chemicals have significant health risks.
Though still allowed for use in flea collars, propoxur has been banned for use in homes for other pests, although the State of Ohio last year asked EPA to approve it for residential use to treat bed bugs. The EPA denied the request in June, citing the unacceptable risk to children.”
It’s important to keep in mind that chemicals developed to kill certain living things inherently hold the potential to harm or kill other living things. Any word ending in –cide means death: homicide, suicide, patricide, germicide, insecticide, pesticide.
In the case of chemical flea and tick preventives, we are dealing with pesticides – that’s why the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is mentioned so often in discussions of these products. Pesticides fall under the EPA’s jurisdiction.
In my experience, many pet parents assume they are ‘medicating’ a dog or cat when they give chemical pest preventives (not that over-medicating is a good idea, either). In most cases, what they’re actually doing is applying a poison that kills things.
Remember that what goes on your pet winds up inside him, too, either by absorption through the skin or ingestion through grooming.
‘Spot-on’ Products: A Safer Alternative?
In a word, no.
In 2008 over 44,000 adverse reactions to spot-on products – everything from mild skin irritation to death – were reported by pet owners, vets and other animal caregivers. This was a significant increase over prior year reported incidents and included the deaths of 600 precious dogs and cats.
Two other ‘killer’ chemicals found in spot-on products – cyphenothrin and permethrin – created serious problems for many small breed dogs.
Adverse reactions in both dogs and cats ran the gamut from skin inflammation to GI tract problems to nervous system disorders.
Even the inert (inactive) ingredients contained in the products were found to contribute to toxicity. In addition, dosage ranges on many of the products are too wide and product labeling is insufficient to guarantee safe use.
In my opinion, the risks of spot-on products, flea collars, powders, sprays or other pest preventive applications are simply too great to warrant their routine use. I encourage my dog and cat owner clients to avoid these pesticides in favor of safer alternatives.
So How Do I Keep Fleas Away from My Pet?
Fleas, ticks and other parasites look for unhealthy animals first. One of the most important things you can do to make your dog or cat unattractive to bugs is to bring her to a state of optimal health.
A high quality, species-appropriate diet is the foundation upon which your pet’s good health and long life must be built.
A few other things you might also consider:
- Cedar oil is a long-recognized flea eradicator, and products exist that are specially formulated for cats and dogs.
- Natural, food-grade diatomaceous earth 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.
- 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.
Guidance for Anyone Still Using Chemical Pest Repellents on Pets
If for some reason you find yourself in a situation where you simply can’t avoid using a chemical pest preventive, 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.
- 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.