Preventing Fleas, Ticks and Mosquitoes
by Dr. Michael W. Fox
This topic is important because of the adverse reactions many animals have to the new anti-flea and tick medicines;
the environmental and public health risks of these chemicals; the suffering of animals allergic to fleas and other insects;
and the increasing risks of tick-born and other insect-transmitted diseases.
Since these new chemical compounds (and also the heart-worm preventive medicine, ivermectin) are excreted in
treated animals' stools, fecal material should not be left in the open or flushed down the toilet, but be bagged
and put in with separated, biodegradable household garbage to go to the hopefully well contained and managed municipal
The holistic approach to flea and tick control detailed below helps reduce the need to give your
dog or cat potentially harmful new anti-flea and tick medicines (as pills, spot/drops on the skin, sprays, dips and collars). These new medicines do not eliminate ticks and fleas, and when there are many, the additional control measures detailed below must be adopted anyway.
Pesticide-releasing collars are especially risky since the chemicals are inhaled as well as absorbed by the animals and anyone sitting close to and petting the animal, especially children. These systemic insecticides that variously kill and disrupt the development of fleas, ticks, and other insect parasites, have to be ingested by the insects for them to work. This means that they must have at least one meal of your pet's blood before getting the poisons circulating in the blood stream. in the medicated pet's blood into their systems.
The US government's Environmental Protection Agency announced in May 2009 that it will conduct a thorough investigation of topical anti-flea and tick products used on dogs and cats. Some 44,000 reports of adverse reactions were received by the EPA in 2008.
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A HOLISTIC APPROACH
My holistic approach to keeping fleas and ticks at bay consists of: Daily checking with a flea comb, closely examining between the animal's toes, and ear-folds, noting any tell-tale shiny, black, coal-dust like specks. These will turn reddish-brown on a piece of wet white paper if they are flea droppings of digested dog or cat blood.
Any fleas and unattached ticks caught in the comb can be quickly disposed of by dunking the comb in a bowl of warm, soap-sudsy water. Attached ticks should be removed by grasping the tick with tweezers as close to where it is attached, using a straight pull---twisting will break off the neck of the tick and leave its head buried in the animal's skin.
Next, vacuum all areas where the animal goes in the house every week thoroughly, and put cotton sheets over favored lying areas, such as sofas, carpets and floor surfaces with deep cracks or crevices where flea larvae can hide and mature. Roll up and launder these sheets in hot water every week.
Dust your dog or cat with diatomaceous earth. Rub it deeply into the fur all along the back, base and entire length of tail, and behind neck and ears. This is a super-fine, harmless powder of fossilized microscopic sea creatures. It purportedly kills fleas and their larvae by desiccation. (Birds often dust-bathe, probably to get rid of feather mites in this way.)
Liberally sprinkling this same material, or borate powder ( treated with a static charge specifically to act as a safe insecticide that also acts as a flea desiccant), on floors, carpets and in wall crevices, then vacuuming up after 24-48 hours, and repeating every 2-3 weeks during flea season, will help keep the home environment clear, provided animals living there do not roam free and come home infested.
When control-measures break down and fleas are found on the animal and cannot be kept at bay with regular flea-combing and other controls in the animal's environment, one of the safer flea-control products are those containing the oils and essences of chrysanthemum flowers that paralyze fleas, and are considered the least toxic to animals of all the insecticides; namely natural pyrethrins and synthetic pyrethroids. Repeated spraying, powdering or shampooing is often needed since not all paralyzed fleas die on first exposure.
For a seriously infested house, use insecticidal aerosols or "foggers" as a last resort, rigorously following all operator instructions: Or call in a professional exterminator, and either put your animals in a boarding facility or motel during home-extermination only after each has been treated with a relatively safe pyrethrin-based anti-flea shampoo. Alternatively rub diatomaceous earth of the approved type for animal use on your pet.
A second round of fogging the house and shampooing/dipping the animals may be needed since flea pupae developing in cracks and crevices in the house may not be killed during the first treatment and may subsequently hatch out and start biting people and animals in the home.
CLEAR AWAY BUG HABITAT
Clean all porch, yard, patio and garage areas of old mats, debris, brush and dead vegetation where fleas and ticks may hide and flourish, especially in those areas where animals like to lie: and remove all old tires, plant pots and other objects where rain-water may collect, including clearing blocked gutters, and drain or fill areas where water pools, in order to control mosquitoes. Please avoid using ultra-violet light attracting, electrocution bug-zappers, and spraying insecticides that kill millions of beneficial insects, and instead put citronella candles out on the patio and garden areas as repellants, use yellow, non-insect attracting light bulbs outdoors, and put up insect screens on porches and repair door and window screens.
A small lamp with a 20 or lower wattage bulb angled low over a large flat dish of soapy water or vegetable oil will become a heat-magnet and trap for hungry fleas in an empty house, and this can be an alternative, when set up in different rooms, to fumigation, while on vacation or purchasing a new home where there were animals.
PROTECTING YOUR PET
Spritz your dog or cat daily with a floral scented shampoo or hand soap, diluted in warm water, rubbing it into the fur and ear-tips and let it air-dry. A half cup each of organic cider vinegar and warm water can be a good bug-repelling spritz. This will change the scent signal of your companion animal and may help deter insect pests. A drop each of oil of lemon and eucalyptus, neem and karanja, or cedar, cinnamon and peppermint (or trial mixture of various combinations of same ) in a cup of warm water, shaken vigorously and then rubbed on the fur, especially around the ear tips to also repel biting and flesh-eating flies, may significantly help repel fleas, ticks and mosquitoes from dogs. Do not use these oils in cats who are self-groomers and could become ill especially from neem, after ingestion. If not well diluted, these oils can cause some dogs great distress because of irritation or fearfulness over the new scent.. It is advisable to put only a little of the mixture on one spot on the animal to begin with. Alternatively, put one drop of each of the selected essential oils on the upper side of a cotton bandanna around the dog's neck when going outdoors.
The lemon and eucalyptus oil combination has been recently approved for human use by the FDA as a safe and effective alternative to DEET to repel mosquitoes. But be prudent especially with cats and some dogs who should not be allowed to lick off these various sprays or hand-applied emulsions. Slicing a lemon and placing it in a cup-full of boiling water and after letting it stand overnight will provide a quick emergency potion that can be rubbed into an animal's fur and let dry to repel fleas and other insects.
A bed for your companion animal that has been stuffed with cedar shavings mixed with crushed neem leaves and bark, and dried bunches of rosemary and lavender may help deter fleas and keep them off an animal lying on such a bed. Few animals to my knowledge are allergic to these various plant materials. Pennyroyal has been advocated as an herb that helps repel fleas, but has fallen into disuse because it can be toxic if swallowed.
There is no need except under the most unsanitary, tropical and sub-tropical conditions, to have to use potentially life-threatening, health-impairing and environmentally harmful chemicals to ward off fleas, like these new and very expensive anti-flea and tick and other parasite-eliminating drugs, that could put your animal's health at risk and be of greater environmental risk than the benefits that you may derive from the erroneous belief that these new products will mean your pet will never have fleas or ticks. Only too often, in spite of using these products, animals get severe allergic reactions to flea bites/saliva, commonly called 'hot spots', such that they are then routinely put on steroids, thus compounding the attendant risks of these products, especially to animals' immune and neuro-endocrine systems. Possibly the safest of the new topical treatments is Summit VetPharm's Vectra 3D to use when all other control measures fail. The product contains permethrin and dinotefuran, the formula for dogs and puppies being highly toxic for cats and kittens, for which a separate formulation is available from the company.
Users of these and other topical and oral products to control fleas and ticks should follow manufacturers' instructions exactly to minimize risk, and to never treat a sick or otherwise immunocompromised animal. Over 44,000 reports of adverse reactions to topical anti-flea and tick products were compiled by the US government's Environmental Protection Agency in 2008. For details, see BioSpotVictims.org.
Healthy animals are less attractive, for reasons that science has yet to determine, to fleas and other external and internal pests and parasites, whose whole existence is one of opportunistic survival and multiplication.
Dogs and cats on the kind of 'junk' foods that are still widely sold are far more prone to fleas and other parasitic and infectious health problems than those who are on a wholesome, whole-food diet, ideally organically certified and of course nutritionally complete. So many are not, so I strongly advocate the use of the following inexpensive nutrient supplements.
HOW TO FIGHT FLEAS AND TICKS
- I advise giving Brewer's yeast or nutritional yeast (not Baker's or bread-making yeast); about one tea-spoon per 30 lb body weight mixed into the animal's food every day, plus half a teaspoon of cinnamon per 30lb body weight. Begin by giving only a pinch of these nutriceuticals so the pet will get used to them. Most love them.
- A tea-spoon of Flax seed oil per 30 lb body weight will also help improve skin and coat condition (though cats do better on organically certified fish oil).
- For most breeds of dogs, but not for cats, one garlic clove per 30 lb body weight, chopped up daily and mixed into the food, may also help increases resistance or deterrence to fleas and other opportunists from the insect world.
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Fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, bighting flies and other insects whom we hate and fear are far more ancient than we and our animal companions. Our irrational flea-phobias and tick-terrors reinforced by pesticide manufacturers that advertise nightly on TV to billions of viewers world wide to convince us of the need and wisdom of buying their poisons.
We should try to keep these creatures at bay with the least harm to all. And that entails a holistic approach to animal health, a kind of ecological diplomacy based upon the ultimate empathy of enlightened self-interest. This involves companion animal's emotional/ psychological as well as physical well being, (the two being inseparable in making for a well functioning immune system).
This means an optimal environment for companion animals that is not so stressful as to impair their immune systems, and that they are not already genetically compromised, or are victims of a lack of care-taker empathy and understanding.
Nor are they deprived of a wholesome diet and appropriate health-care maintenance by veterinarians.