When I first started to research this article, I had no idea how big a business flea and tick control is. If you want to control fleas and ticks, you can buy shampoos, wipes, powders, tags, sprays, spot-ons (like Frontline, Advantage), sprays, collars, essential oils, supplements, yard chemicals, house chemicals, foggers, bombs ... You can get these in pharmaceutical, naturopathic, homeopathic, herbal , and flower essences varieties.
The internet includes thousands of pages trying to give you advice. They are trying to sell you products as well. How do you know if the information they are providing is valid or just intended to sell you their product?
For instance, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are now concerned with the use of spot-on flea control products (product is put on dog in spots down their spine). Since 2009, the EPA has intensified its evaluation of these products because of the number of reported bad reactions. These reactions could include skin burns, seizures, and in some cases, death. The EPA does not advise pet owners to stop using spot-ons but asks them to use caution. It is most important to talk to a veterinarian about the use of the products. You must follow all the directions/warnings on the package. The risk seems to be higher for small dogs under 3 years of age.
Here are some flea facts:
- Although there are over 1900 flea species, we are only concerned with one - the cat flea. This guy is responsible for 95% to 99% of canine infestations.
- Heavy infestations can be lethal. Apparently, through heavy infestations, the cat flea can kill animals as large as dairy calves. Fleas are blood sucking critters and can cause slow but life-threatening blood loss (flea anemia) particularly in animals who are already fragile.
- Flea bites can also result in allergic dermatitis and/ or tapeworms.
- They make your dog miserable - reason enough for flea control.
As for ticks:
There are more of these guys to be concerned about and they cause far more damage.
- Black-legged or deer ticks transmit Lyme disease and Anaplasmosis. Lyme disease causes arthritis, fever and neurological signs. Anaplasmosis causes lameness, joint pain, fever, lethargy and loss of appetite.
- American dog ticks transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever. It causes inflammation and death of blood vessel tissues.
- Brown dog ticks transmit babesiosis (similar to malaria), ehrlichiosis and tick paralysis.
- Babesiosis attacks blood cells causing anemia. Your dog may have fever, weakness, lethargy, pale gums and tongue, red or orange urine and jaundice.
- Ehrlichiosis goes through 3 stages:
- Acute - occurs most often in the spring and summer with fever, bleeding disorders, and vasculitis. red or purple spots, enlarged lymph nodes, discharge from nose and eyes, and edema in legs and scrotum.
- Subclinical - has no outward signs and can last for the remainder of the dog's life.
- Chronic - weight loss, pale gums due to anemia, bleeding, enlarged lymph nodes, shortness of breath, coughing, abnormally large production of urine, excessive thirst, lameness, retinal hemorrhage, inflammation of the eye and neurological disease.
- Tick Paralysis is caused by a toxin released through the saliva of the female tick. The toxin affects the nervous system. It causes a loss of voluntary movement by affecting the nerves that connect the spinal cord and muscles.
Here are some sites that address fleas and ticks:
- This site provides information to veterinarians. It addresses allopathic (Western) approaches: http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&S=0&C=0&A=545. It provides you with the primary ingredients for the product. The key here is to find out more about the flea killing/sterilizing ingredients. For instance, Advantage uses Imidacloprid for flea killing and Pyriproxifen for flea sterilizing. Pyriproxyfen is a newer chemical. There isn't a lot of data on it. But EPA testing on rodents showed decreased body weight and toxicity in the offspring of animals exposed to the chemical. Imidacloprid over stimulates the flea's nervous system, causing a spastic paralysis and then death. Spot-on products are causing seizures in some dogs. Is there a connection between seizures in dogs and overstimulation of the nervous system in fleas? I haven't found a definitive answer to that. And their page on ticks: http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&S=0&C=0&A=2311
- This is the FDA site. It provides info on:
- when to treat for fleas
- tips for using flea and tick products
- some cautions with spot-on products: http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm169831.htm
- This is the Humane Society page on buying flea and tick products. It also provides cautions about spot-on products. http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/resources/tips/
- And, here is their site for tick removal. http://www.humanesociety.org/
- Healthy Pets is clearly marketing a product. I have not used it and am not suggesting you try it. But the site provides you with the logic behind why
you might want to consider something other than the standard allopathic/pharmaceutical approach. http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/
- Acupuncture4animals is a holistic vet site. This site gives you information about how to support your dog's system if you choose to use pesticides. One of her points is that the liver clears a lot of the junk out of your dog's system. Supporting the liver function while your dog is on pesticides for fleas might be a good thing to do. I disagree with the use of diatomaceous earth recommended on this site. It could get into the dog's eyes and scratch or cut them. http://www.acupuncture4animals.com/Flea_and_Tick_Control.html
- Diseases caused by ticks can be identified by periodic vector-borne disease screening. This vendor site gives good information about canine vector borne diseases. It is marketing a product to veterinarians.
But be aware
The most common cause of poisoning in dogs and cats is from insecticides. The majority of the exposure comes from flea/tick products. Overstimulation of the nervous system (see flea/tick sites 1, above) is the most common symptom.
- Early symptoms:
- excessive salivation
- change in personality
- Next stage:
- muscle tremors
- change in pupil size (contracted pupils)
- vomiting and diarrhea
- Severe poisoning:
- stiffness, paralysis
- seizures are common.
- Death occurs from cardiovascular and respiratory failure. Symptoms generally progress rapidly and can persist for days or weeks.
So what is the best option for your Kerry
The information available is overwhelming. But here are some things to think about.
The use of a specific flea/tick control program clearly needs to be tailored to your specific dog.
- Is he a puppy?
- Does she have a seizure disorder? Is he sensitive other products produced by the pharmaceutical industry?
- Is she allergic to some foods or shampoos?
- How bad are the fleas/ticks in your area? Can you use minimal approaches (area does not have a large flea/tick population - climates with cold winters)? Do you need a very strong program because you live in the warm, humid climate which fleas love?
- Does your dog engage in activities that expose them to ticks? For instance, trips to the woods and running through high grass.
- Are there things you can do to support your dogs system while he/she is on flea control products?
For Rourke, the Kerry who lives with me, I will look at the following:
- Rourke is 13, somewhat frail because of pancreatitis.
- His system is reactive to many things.
- He seldom leaves the property and other dogs do not come on our property. Cats, however, don't view the 6 foot chain link as a deterrent. Raccoons, squirrels, and opossum visit us with great regularity.
- The grass is cut weekly (except for a small tall grass, frog-safe space)
- I notice fleas mostly in October and November. It can vary in terms of intensity based on what kind of winter we had. This winter was mild with little snow and no extremely cold weather. We are likely to have more fleas this year.
- I am a fan of alternative approaches to dog health care.
- Since Rourke's health has deteriorated, he is bathed once a month rather than twice.
- I brush Rourke every-other day.