Rethinking Flea and Tick Prevention, Part Two: Green & Healthy Alternatives

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In the first part of this series, I shared some unsettling truths about toxic chemicals found in many popular flea and tick prevention products. Though many vets stand by these prescription and over-the-counter products that are widely available to consumers, they contain toxins that pose serious health problems in both pets and their humans. In the second and final part of this series, I’ll share with you several greener and healthier alternatives to keep your pets and families safe and pest-free.

GreenPaws recommends protecting your pets and families by avoiding toxic chemicals and controlling fleas through regular use of a flea comb, bathing, and vacuuming. Weekly baths and washing pet bedding in hot water can help get rid of existing fleas and their eggs, as will regular vacuuming. Organic herbal flea shampoo such as Only Natural Pet Herbal Defense contains natural herbal extracts known to repel insects. Only Natural also makes tablets containing brewer’s yeast and garlic, both of which improve the immune system and repels fleas and ticks.

child and dog

You can also use many different herbs and extracts to make your own sprays, shampoos, and flea dips. There are lots of great DIY recipes online. I recommend starting here. But use caution when experimenting with essential oils – not all are safe for animals or people. The Natural Resources Defense Council lists cedarwood, lemongrass, peppermint, rosemary, and thyme among the safest choices. NRDC suggests avoiding any product containing pennyroyal oil, as it can cause severe reactions such as seizures, coma, and even death in animals. Even oils such as citrus, cinnamon, clove, tea tree, lavender, and eucalyptus oils should be used sparing because they can cause allergic reactions in humans and animals.

Some people also report great success with organic coconut oil, which gets rid of dog odor with its anti-viral and anti-fungal properties in addition to killing parasites, including fleas, ticks, and even mange.

Food grade Diatomaceous Earth, a fine flour-like powder, is another natural, nontoxic flea and tick prevention option. Microscopic fossilized diatoms, or algae, DE has sharp edges made of silica, a component of glass. Fleas and other insects crawl across the microscopic diatoms, which cuts through the waxy exoskeleton surface, causing death by dehydration. It’s important that you use food grade DE and not the kind used for pool filtration systems, which can be dangerous to breathe in due to its very finely ground consistency. Don’t leave DE on your dog or cat’s fur for a prolonged period of time, as it is very drying to the skin. Before you try DE, please learn more online.

If you find that you need something more aggressive, it has been suggested that flea control in pill form, including lufenuron, nitenpyram, and spinosad, is safer than products that leave reside on skin and fur. It’s important to understand that these products will stop larvae from hatching, but will not kill adult fleas. Understanding the complex stages of the flea lifecycle is helpful when it comes to ridding them from your home.

I want to mention one more thing you can do to protect your pet from ticks. Tick-borne Lyme disease is at an all-time high, possibly due to climate change. It’s considered an epidemic in some regions, particularly in the northeastern United States. When it comes to protecting your dogs from Lyme, consider vaccination. While there aren’t Lyme vaccines available for humans at this time, dogs are actually one of the select few that can be vaccinated against Lyme. As your vet for more information.

Child playing with his pet dog, a blue heeler image from BigStock.

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