Nobody wants their dog to get fleas. Ticks are no picnic either. Some of us have dogs with pretty severe flea allergies, which complicates matters even more. Unfortunately, conventional flea and tick products are really just chemical pesticides.
You might be thinking, “Well, OK, they’re chemicals. But can they really be that bad? After all, I get these from my vet.” Let’s look at three common active ingredients found in pharmaceutical flea and tick products and you can decide how you feel about their safety.
Dr Deva Khalsa VMD, citing the EPA’s Pesticide Division, says that fipronil enters the body and can be contained in the fat, organs, urine and feces of dogs. Plus, according to Khalsa, lab tests have shown that with longterm exposure at low doses, fipronil has the potential to cause nervous system and thyroid toxicity, thyroid cancer, altered thyroid hormone levels, liver toxicity, kidney damage, convulsions, whining, barking, crying, loss of appetite, locomotor difficulty, reduced fertility, fetus mortality, smaller offspring, loss of hair at or beyond the point of application, moist inflammation, chemical burn and itching.
Freaked out yet? Well, we’re not done. When exposed to light, fipronil breaks down into a molecule called fipronil-desulfinyl which, according to the EPA, is ten times more toxic than the fipronil itself. This means you don’t want to put the plastic vials of fipronil products in the sun; don’t let your dog bake in the sun after application; and avoid the sun for short-haired dogs using fipronil products.
Pyrethrins and Pyrethroids
Many people think the pyrethrins (naturally occurring compounds from the chrysanthemum plant) and pyrethroids (the synthetic counterpart) are less hazardous than fipronil. Sadly, that is not the case.
The Center for Public Integrity found that from 2002 through 2007 at least 1,600 pet deaths from pyrethroid spot-on treatments were reported to the EPA. That’s nearly double the number of reported fatalities linked to flea and tick products without pyrethroids. CPI’s project was based on an analysis of 90,000 adverse reaction reports. Keep in mind that many adverse reactions are not reported so the actual number could be much higher, according to Khalsa.
Pyrethroid spot-on products also accounted for more than half of the major pesticide pet reactions, including brain damage, heart attacks and seizures.
Imidacloprid is a systemic insecticide found in flea and tick products that acts as an insect neurotoxin and belongs to a class of chemicals called the neonicotinoids, says Khalsa.
Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticides acting on the central nervous system of insects with lower toxicity to mammals. In lab studies, imidacloprid has been found to cause thyroid lesions and liver toxicity, increase cholesterol levels (which is commonly seen in the bloodwork of hypothyroid dogs), and has the potential to damage the kidneys, liver, thyroid, heart, lungs, spleen, adrenal, brain and gonads.
As a neurotoxin, it has caused incoordination, labored breathing and muscle weakness. When this drug was tested after its debut in 1994, researchers found an increase in the frequency of birth defects in mice, rats and dogs, says Khalsa.
Not a real pretty picture, is it? So, is our only option to let our beloved dogs suffer with the terrible discomfort of a flea infestation or the disease risks that ticks bring? Fortunately, no. There are options…
The Natural Approach to Keeping Your Dog Healthy
A big holistic motto is: Healthy dogs attract less fleas. And they’re better protected against ticks. While that may be frustrating when you’re in the middle of a serious flea infestation, it’s a good place to start when you’re not in the thick of things.
Here are some ways to get there, according to Dr Khalsa:
- Feed a raw, whole foods, species-appropriate diet. Learn more about feeding pets a raw diet.
- Avoid chemicals, including pesticides, fertilizers and toxic cleaners. Learn more about non-toxic cleaners that are safe for your dog.
- Minimize vaccines and pharmaceutical drugs – yes, even those specifically designed for flea and tick prevention for dogs. Learn more about over-vaccination.
- Give finely diced fresh organic garlic every day. Allow it to sit for 10 minutes before adding it to your dog’s meal. A large dog can eat two decent-sized cloves of garlic daily while a small dog can have one small clove. Also, use a non-detergent shampoo like a Castile soap-based dog shampoo so that you don’t strip the garlic essence out of his fur. Learn more about feeding your dog garlic.
- For dogs who are more at risk for fleas and ticks because of their environment, try amber collars, electromagnetic tags, spray your dog’s underside lightly with a natural protective spray like a cedar-oil-based one, and/or sprinkle food-grade diatomaceous earth into your dog’s coat.
See our recent article to learn more about five great uses of diatomaceous earth for your dog.
Natural Flea And Tick Products: Essential Oil Repellent Recipes
Essential oils can often come to the rescue when it comes to repelling fleas and ticks. The two kinds of insects are repelled by different oils, so if your dog needs protection against both fleas and ticks, use one of the following blends in the morning and the other in the afternoon to avoid over application. Application frequency depends on how healthy your dog is, even when using a safe homemade tick repellent. Extremely healthy dogs eating a natural raw diet may only need an application of flea or tick repellent oils once a week.
These essential oil recipes for natural tick repellents are from Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals: A Comprehensive Guide to the Use of Essential Oils and Hydrosols with Animals by Kristen Leigh Bell.
Make the Switch to Natural Tick Prevention!
Remember: Any tick repellent for humans or dogs can cause harm. But there are safe natural alternatives for flea and tick prevention… It all really starts with a healthy dog eating what he’s supposed to be eating – a raw, species-appropriate diet. Beyond that, there are organic tick repellents and other natural solutions that, with a little experimentation, can help keep your dog tick and flea-free.