In our next post, we’ll discuss the risks associated with ticks, including Lyme’s disease, treatment and prevention. It’s important to note that this information is provided by a professional trainer and interested consumer, not a medical professional. Included in this post are ideas for less toxic flea management and treatment solutions as many of the most popular, mainstream products contain pesticides or insecticides that may be hazardous to not only your pets, but you as well. Please use this information as a starting point to inform your own research, and discuss any options you’re considering with your veterinarian.
Basic flea primer:
- Fleas thrive in temperatures of 65-80 degrees with a relative humidity of 75 to 85%.
- Dogs and cats come in contact with fleas through contact with other animal hosts, including wild animals, and the environment.
- Fleas travel by jumping onto the host and typically attach to the belly and legs.
- Fleas are dark-colored and approximately the size of a pin-head.
- Adult fleas can live for up to 115 days on a host, but only about 2 days without the host.
- At any given time during the flea lifecycle, approximately 1% of the population is comprised of adults, with the other 99% comprised of egg, larval, and pupal-stage fleas.
- The flea bite is what causes intense itching; this is worse in some animals than others.
A tell-tale sign of a flea infestation is flea dirt, dark specks comprised of the digested blood meal. To determine if your pet has flea dirt, place several specks on a paper towel and moisten them. If they turn rust/red this is an indication that the dirt is dried blood and fleas are present. If you do have an infestation, it’s recommended you treat the host and the environment in order to destroy fleas at all life stages.
How do I know if my dog should be treated with a preventative?
This is a personal decision that every pet owner must make after doing some research and consulting their veterinarian. Veterinarians’ opinions vary widely—some recommend it as a standard protocol, and others only recommend it if the pet’s lifestyle and environment truly require it. Especially here in Minnesota, where the winters are long and cold enough to kill off mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas, it’s important to weigh the risks of on-going chemical exposure and the chance that your pet and your home may become infested. Some factors to consider:
- Indoor-only cats are unlikely to need flea preventative, unless they share space with extremely active outdoor working dogs (e.g., hunting dogs that spend a lot of time in the field).
- Do you frequent a dog park? You don’t know where these dogs have been or if they’ve been treated. It might be a good idea to use a preventative if your dog has regular exposure to unknown dogs and in an environment where it’s more likely that fleas may be present (in the dog park).
- Does your dog spend a large amount of time outdoors? If your dog just goes out for regular potty breaks, walks, and some play time, prevention may be overkill. However, if your dog spends a large amount of time outdoors, (such as working SAR or hunting dogs) his exposure risk is increased.
If you wish to use a chemical flea treatment or preventative, consider the following options that are safer relative to topical insecticide treatments:
Program: Contains the chemical Lufenuron which interrupts the flea life cycle by killing the eggs and is typically administered via a tablet, food additive, or injection. There have been reports of vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, lethargy, and itchy skin in some dogs and cats following use of this product. With no offspring, the flea population dissipates as the adults die off and no new fleas are hatched. This causes a steady drop in the flea population, with the adults living on the dog finally dying of “old age” after about 60 days.
Sentinal: Combines Program (above) with Interceptor heartworm preventative, providing an effective way to control fleas, heartworm, ascarids, hookworms, and whipworms.
Capstar: Contains the chemical Nitenpyram and is considered a drug rather than a pesticide, administered via an oral tablet, this drug kills adult fleas with no residue. There is little if any risk to humans.
Chemicals to avoid: Organophosphates and Carbamates
There is a lot of conflicting information available about the safety of chemical flea treatments/preventatives, but one good rule of thumb is that if the packaging contains extensive warnings about handling the product, it should probably not be absorbed into your pets’ skin, especially if there are other options available for treatment. Two families of chemicals called “organophosphates” and “carbamates” are particularly dangerous and should be avoided. These chemicals operate by interfering with nerve signals of the insect. Unfortunately, the interference may not be limited to the insect, but can affect humans, dogs, and cats. Evidence suggests that exposure to these chemicals could potentially increase a person’s risk for developing Parkinson’s Disease and cancer. Because children are typically in closer contact with the family pets and kids’ nervous systems are still developing, they are particularly vulnerable.
Between 2000 and 2006, use of six of the organophosphate chemicals was discontinued, but one of them is still commonly found: “tetrachlorvinphos.” The six that were removed are: chlorypyrifos, dichlorvos, phosmet, naled, diazinon, and malathion. The potentially hazardous “carbamate” chemical is called propoxur.
Other chemicals to avoid: flea collars that list tetrachlorvinphos or propoxur as the chemical ingredients, or permethrin-based products (e.g., K9 Advantix) and tick control products containing amitraz. Please check the labels of any current or potential flea treatments you’re considering for these chemicals.
The most common topical preventatives:
Revolution: A topical flea and tick treatment that kills the adult insects, containing the chemical “Selamectin,” a relatively new insecticide with little information available. Early evidence suggests that Selamectin has very low toxicity in mammals and other chemically similar compounds have not been found to be carcinogenic. Residue is transferrable to humans, but is likely to be nontoxic.
Advantage: A topical treatment that kills the adult flea on contact and contains the chemical “Imidacloprid” which disrupts the nervous system of sucking insects. Because it binds more readily to insect nervous systems than animal, it is thought to be relatively safe for use for the dog and human.
Frontline Plus: A topical treatment that kills the adult flea and contains the chemicals “Fipronil” and “S-Methoprene.” Fipronil is considered a possible human carcinogen. In flea treatments, it works to block a neural pathway. The chemical binds less readily with mammalian nervous receptors than insect receptors. S-Methoprene halts the growth of the exoskeleton in developing insects. This chemical had little effect on humans.
K9 Advantix: A topical treatment that kills the adult flea and contains the chemicals “Permethrin” and “Imidacloprid.” Permethrin is one of a class of synthetic chemicals, called pyrethroids, that are derived from natural chemicals found in chrysanthemums. However, the synthetic varieties are significantly more potent than those that are naturally occurring. Permethrin has been classified by EPA as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans” and is suspected to disrupt the endocrine system. Exposure to this chemical may cause numbing, tingling, or a burning sensation. Permethrin is known to be very toxic to cats, causing muscle tremors, seizures, salivation, vomiting and even death. Veterinarians caution against using permethrin containing products if there are cats in the home.
Imidacloprid disrupts the nervous system of sucking insects. Because it binds more readily to insect nervous systems than animal, it is thought to have a less toxic effect on humans, though it still may have some effect.
To determine what chemicals are in other flea treatments and their associated risks, check out this product guide.
Managing the infestation in the environment and on the host
Remember, you must rid fleas from your home and/or yard and not just from the host if you want to truly break the insect life cycle and end the infestation.
Use a flea comb to regularly comb your pets’ coat to remove fleas. Fleas caught in the comb should be drowned in soapy water. Regularly bathe your dog in warm, soapy water. Any soap will help rid the fleas; a special flea shampoo is not required, and may be harmful if it contains pesticides or chemicals.
Wash bedding in hot water once a week as fleas and their eggs tend to accumulate where the dog sleeps.
Carpets and Floors
- Vacuuming removes fleas and eggs from carpets, floors and crevices. Make sure to vacuum on and under furniture and in corners. Immediately throw away vacuum bags so the fleas don’t escape.
- Severe infestations may require steam cleaning and/or the use of sodium borate (Borax), or food grade diatomaceous earth, both of which are sprinkled on carpeting and kill adult fleas by puncturing the exoskeleton and sucking the moisture out of them. It’s recommended you wear a dust mask when handling any product that could be inhaled.
- Steam mop hard floors and make sure to get into the corners as this is where fleas tend to congregate.
- Make a flea trap. Place a shallow bowl of soapy water beneath a night light near your dog’s sleeping area. Adult fleas are attracted to the heat and drown in the water. Electric flea traps are also available.
Fleas don’t survive in hot, dry areas—so don’t worry so much about addressing the sunniest, driest spots in the yard. Treat your yard with Predatory Nematodes that prey on flea larvae and pupae as they are developing in soil. They are a natural and non-toxic option commonly available at garden supply stores.
- A small amount of garlic added to the dog’s food each day may help repel fleas and ticks. Below are the recommended amounts:
- 0 to 15 pounds – half a clove
- 20 to 40 pounds – 1 clove
- 45 to 70 pounds – 2 cloves
- 75 to 90 pounds – 2 and a half cloves
- 100 pounds and over – 3 cloves
Note: Onions are toxic to dogs, do not feed onions to your dog, and do not use garlic or onion with cats.
- Food grade diatomaceous earth flour can also be consumed as a natural wormer.
- An animal that is susceptible to flea infestation may not have a strong immune system to begin with. Consider changing to a higher quality diet and/or adding a vitamin/mineral supplement or brewer’s (nutritional) yeast.
Check out our next blog post where we’ll cover the risks associated with ticks, including Lyme’s disease, treatment and prevention.
Natural Dog Health Remedies: http://www.natural-dog-health-remedies.com/natural-flea-control.html