Like a lot of folks, you probably can’t stand fleas and ticks. But you may not be any fonder of the toxic chemicals used and recommended by veterinarians.
While spot-on and oral medications are attractive for their convenience, they’re not great for your pet. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reviewed thousands of complaints from consumers about the adverse effects of flea and tick products on their pets—from hair loss at the application site to severe illness and death. Every EPA-approved product had caused harm. New labeling standards were subsequently issued, but the real problem—the toxic ingredients—were left unchanged.
Flea and tick collars don’t work, and can cause skin irritation and hair loss.
The safest flea and tick control methods are actually the simplest and most old-fashioned.
1. Maximize overall health.
A healthy pet is far less attractive to pests; so first and foremost, feed a natural diet. For our carnivorous cats and dogs, the best option is a raw meat diet using fresh, organic ingredients. Use a balanced recipe or a complete commercial food. If raw isn’t on the menu, get the best quality food you can. Supplement with omega-3s, digestive enzymes, and probiotics that are specially formulated for pets; and add extra B-vitamins to any diet (fleas and ticks don’t like the taste). Brewer’s yeast is a great source that animals like.
2. Reduce exposure.
The more time animals spend outside, the more opportunity pests have to latch on.
3. You are your pet’s No. 1 defense.
Nothing beats performing a daily exam of your pet for fleas and ticks. Ticks can infect a dog or cat with a host of diseases such as Lyme disease, which can also be transmitted by fleas and mosquitoes. They prefer attaching themselves to moist, warm areas of the body, but they might be found wandering anywhere on a dog prior to feeding.
If you find an attached tick, don’t use matches, petroleum jelly, or caustic products—they will only cause it to burrow deeper. Don’t squeeze the tick’s body; and avoid touching it with your hands. Use tweezers to grasp the head as far down as possible, and pull straight up, gently, until it releases. Drop ticks into a container of isopropyl alcohol to kill them.
For fleas, use a fine-toothed flea comb to check for fleas and flea dirt; have a container of warm soapy water standing by to rinse the comb and quickly drown the fleas. Fleas are annoying and persistent. For every adult flea you see, there are dozens of eggs, larvae, and cocoons concealed in carpets, pet bedding, and furniture. You must treat your home, yard, and pet to get ahead of fleas; just treating your pet or the house won’t do it.
Outside, keep grass mowed and shrubs trimmed (this will also discourage ticks). Sprinkle diatomaceous earth under bushes, decks, and any other spots where your pet likes to hang out. Beneficial worms and insects like ladybugs will also help keep fleas and their larvae in check.
In the house, vacuum frequently, and discard the bag or clean the canister immediately so fleas don’t hop back out. Wash pet bedding at least weekly. You can also use diatomaceous earth or boric acid products on carpets and furniture to dry out flea eggs and prevent future generations from hatching. If you use a natural flea powder, work into carpets and cloth items thoroughly, then vacuum to prevent airway irritation to people and pets.
4. Bathe pets weekly.
In severely infested areas, bathe your pet weekly with a natural repellent soap such as Organix South Theraneem Pet Shampoo. Herbs like fleabane and neem are great adjuncts to bath time. Soap up around the neck first, to prevent the nasty critters from escaping up to the head. Leave the lather on for a few minutes, then rinse well. Shampoos won’t repel fleas; they only work on fleas that are already on your pet.
If fleas and ticks are seasonal in your area, start your preventive routines early. If you’re in a year-round area, never let down your guard! It’s well worth the effort to keep your pets and family safe and comfortable.
Jean Hofve, DVM, is a veterinary consultant and co-author of The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care.