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Winning the War Against Fleas and Ticks the Natural Way
With summer upon us, many of my clients and readers of my column, The Holistic Pet, are interested in controlling external parasites (fleas and ticks) as naturally as possible. Here’s an example of a question a reader recently asked.
“Dear Dr. Shawn: Currently my dog Muffin is taking Program orally and Frontline applied to her back each month, per her veterinarian’s recommendation. Additionally, she takes monthly Iverhart orally for preventing heartworms. I’m concerned about using all of these chemicals. I’ve never seen fleas or ticks on her and would rather not use these products unless she really needs them. Do you have any advice?”
As I explained to this reader, in my practice I see way too many pets being treated with chemical flea and tick products. Most of these pets have very little chance of ever seeing a flea or tick! Here’s my personalized approach to parasite control. IF a pet really needs these chemicals, I’ll use them short term (1-3 months as needed.)
Conventional methods usually involve chemical collars, sprays, topical spot-on products, and dips. Collars are notorious for being ineffective in controlling external parasites on pets; however, a new tick collar containing the chemical amitraz is effective in preventing ticks from attaching to the pet and is usually safe to use short-term. Sprays, spot-ons, and dips are effective. However, many pet owners worry about health hazards to themselves and their pets from exposure to the potent chemicals contained in the products. While the occasional use of the products can be safely recommended for pets with potential exposure to large numbers of fleas and ticks, in general the more natural methods are safer for pets. In my practice, this means most of my patients rarely if ever need flea and tick prevention (my own dog and cat have never been administered these products.)
I prefer to prevent fleas and ticks by treating the yard with beneficial nematodes (they work better than chemicals; natural pyrethrums or diatomaceous earth can also be used.) I then recommend an herbal flea and tick shampoo containing citrus oils; the pet is bathed 1 to 2 times weekly for several weeks until the parasites are controlled. Remember that fleas and ticks do not die upon contact with shampoo. Rather, the shampoo works over time. This is why I suggest leaving the shampoo on for at least 20-30 minutes before rinsing. Also, pay special attention to the area between the toes and around the ears, since ticks love to hide here! Between bathing, I recommend either an herbal collar (containing an herb such as citronella,) a natural insecticide spray, or an herbal powder, containing natural pyrethrum made from chrysanthemum flowers.
Regarding regular heartworm prevention, it’s important to keep dogs and cats on this! In most areas of the country this means monthly administration on a year-round basis (check with your doctor to determine the recommendation for where you live.) There is no proven natural preventive, so we need to use the approved medications. If you use the oral monthly products, these are quite safe and only remain in your pet’s body for a few days following administration.
If you see a tick on your pet’s body, it’s a good idea to remove it. To remove a tick, here’s an easy idea that really works. Grasp the tick as close to the dog’s body as possible using tweezers. Gently but firmly apply a continuous pulling motion until the tick loosens from the pet. Place the tick in a jar of alcohol to kill it. Never handle the tick as it can transmit the same diseases to you (Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease) as to your dog. In my practice, dogs with tick exposure get a blood test in 30 days to make sure the tick has not transmitted these diseases to them.
By following these tips, including feeding a natural diet free of byproducts and chemicals, using a regular health maintenance formula to boost the pet’s immune system (my current favorite is Vim & Vigor by PetCentrx,) and limiting the amount of vaccines your pet receives, you’ll be doing a great job in keeping your pet healthy and the parasites off of your pet.
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