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Avoid Pesticides on your Dog or Cat

Excerpt from article by Dr. Karen Becker, Integrative Wellness Veterinarian


Avoid Using Risky Chemical Pesticides on Your Dog or Cat

A question I see pop up all the time on the Healthy Pets discussion forum, and one I hear a lot in my practice as well is, 'What's the best way to protect my pet from nasty pests like fleas and ticks?'

When it comes to the four-legged members of your family, finding a safe and effective pest deterrent is vital for their comfort and your peace-of-mind as well.

The dilemma most people face, me included, is how to successfully control pests without putting toxic chemicals all over your precious pet, your home and your yard.

Until now, a safe, practical and effective solution simply did not exist.

Recently, though, I discovered another option for both cats and dogs that not only controls pests very effectively, but just as important, it's natural, non-toxic, and requires no prescription.

But first, a little background.


Why I'm Against Using Harsh Chemicals on Pets

As a proactive Doctor of Veterinary Medicine who is also trained in homeopathy and acupuncture, I consider it one of my missions to help educate people on the advantages of natural animal care. My goal for your pets is to keep them in glowing good health rather than be forced to treat them for disease.

Every day in my practice I see dogs and cats suffering from the side effects of drugs or other toxic chemicals they've been given. Even worse, many of these poor animals still suffer from the condition the drugs were supposed to cure.

Applying harsh toxic chemicals to rid your dog or cat of annoying pests shouldn't be your only option. But for many of you, it has been.

In April of last year, the EPA issued an advisory about "spot-on" chemical pesticide products. These are products applied to the neck or back of dogs and cats as a flea and tick preventive.

The advisory was issued due to a significant increase in reported adverse reactions – everything from mild skin irritation to seizures and death. In 2008, over 44,000 reactions presumed to be tied to spot-on products were reported by pet owners, veterinarians, and other animal caretakers.

And the 44,000 reported incidents in 2008 was a significant jump from the 28,000 the prior year, and included 600 deaths.

In my opinion, the risks of these products are simply too great to warrant their routine (monthly) use. I encourage dog and cat owners to avoid these pesticides in favor of safer, more natural alternatives.


What the EPA Pet Spot-on Incident Report Revealed

Due to the EPA's concern over the number of incidents reported from spot-on use in 2008, they issued a report in 2010 that revealed the following:

  • Most adverse reactions were seen in dogs weighing between 10 and 20 pounds.
  • Reactions in mixed breed dogs were most commonly reported, however, the Chihuahua, Shih Tzu, Miniature Poodle, Pomeranian, Dachshund, Maltese, Yorkshire Terrier, and Bichon Frise seem particularly at risk.
  • Products containing the chemicals cyphenothrin and permethrin were especially problematic for small breed dogs. Cyphenothrin is found in spot-on repellents from many companies, sold both over the counter and through veterinarians.
  • Most incidents occurred in dogs under three years old, likely at their first exposure to a spot-on product.
  • Adverse reactions for both dogs and cats were primarily skin, GI tract, and nervous system related. Skin reactions included redness, itching, hair loss, sores and ulcers. Spot-on products found to cause these types of reactions included a major market leader.
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms included vomiting, diarrhea, and salivation. Spot-on repellents found to cause some levels of these symptoms included another major market leader, whose products have been sold by the millions at big box pet stores across the country.
  • Reported nervous system symptoms included lethargy, nervousness, ataxia (movement problems), tremors, and seizure.
  • A number of serious adverse reactions in cats were the result of the cat either being treated with a product intended for dogs, or through exposure to a treated dog.
  • Inert ingredients in spot-on products were generally assumed to contribute to toxicity.
  • Dosage ranges were considered to be too wide in some cases and product labeling was identified by the EPA as needing revamp in many instances.
  • The EPA's Companion Animal Studies guidelines are insufficient to predict the toxicity of spot-on products.

I'm sure you understand now why I avoid recommending any of these chemically-laden spot-on pesticides for your pets.

I realize many people like to use spot-ons because they are convenient and effective. But as far as I'm concerned, there's just too much evidence of potential unhealthy consequences for your pets.

Plus, as I've seen over and over again in my practice, pets still get fleas and ticks even when owners use some of the harshest spot-ons. It's also not out of the question that pests may be building up their resistance to some of these chemicals as well.

That's why I strongly believe in using a more natural pest repellent formula combined with a regimen of daily grooming and nose-to-tail body checks of your favorite furry friend.

And speaking of body checks ...

There is one thing I cannot stress enough. No matter what pest control solution you use, you must examine your pet daily, particularly for ticks. Even if you're applying some of the harshest chemical solutions on the market (which I don't recommend), your pets can still wind up with little blood suckers embedded in their coat and skin.

I realize this is not what most pet owners want to hear, but I've seen it all too often in my practice regardless of what repellent is used.

With all this in mind, let's get into more details on some of these common pests, how they can affect your dog or cat, and my recommendations on the best natural protection system for your pets.


Be On the Lookout for Annoying Fleas

When it comes to fleas, the 'cat flea' is the most common, representing about 85% to 95% of all household fleas found in North America.

But despite its name, the cat flea can infest both cats and dogs, and humans. Other fleas include what are called the 'human flea' and the 'dog flea.'

Outdoors, fleas tend to hide themselves underneath leaf piles, decks, or porches. Inside, they like to burrow into any available dark place such as cracks in flooring, crevices, and even underneath furniture cushions.

Even though fleas can live in colder climates, they're most often found where temperatures range from 65° F to 80° F and where there's high humidity (75-85%).

If you live in a warm, damp climate, you'll especially have to be on the lookout for fleas landing on your pets and you. I have more coming up on natural ways to protect your pets from fleas and other pests as well.


How Ticks Get Attached to Your Dog or Cat

Probably number one on my list of disgusting and bothersome pests affecting dogs and cats are ticks.

So, what exactly are ticks?

The bottom line ... ticks are external parasites that require blood from their host (your cat or dog, or even YOU), to sustain life. Ticks generally live in wooded areas, bushes, undergrowth, meadows, and clearings. But they can also be found anywhere there is grass.

Ticks attach and embed themselves to their host in areas where the skin is thin.

They insert their rostrums (tube-like structures covered with backward-pointing spikes) into the skin and secrete saliva substances which allow them to anchor tightly to your dog or cat.

Ticks come in various types and sizes.  And some are so tiny they can very difficult to see.

Remember those body checks I mentioned earlier? I highly recommend you examine your pets on a daily basis and take the proper action to remove ticks.

And because I don't want your pets to suffer needlessly, I've put together a natural protection system for you.

More on this system coming up, but I can tell you one of the most important aspects of my solution is examining your pet every day and taking action. The only good news with ticks (if there really is any), is they generally have to be attached to your pet for at least 24 hours before they start becoming a real issue.

But remember, ticks can move from your pets to you ... Who wants to deal with that?


How Fleas and Ticks Pick Your Pet

To understand how to best prevent these pests from attacking your dog or cat, we need to look at how they detect their victims. Without a detection system, these bugs have a hard time finding a suitable host to latch onto.

Fleas and ticks have several mechanisms they use to detect their hosts ...

  • Odor (olfaction)
  • Taste (gustation)
  • Molecular detection or non-specific chemo-receptors (chemical sense)
  • Sense the temperature gradient around the host (thermoreception)
  • Detect air movement
  • Perceive moisture (hygroreception)
  • Perceive light energy (photoreception)

By far, one of the most important detection mechanisms is odor (olfaction). Fleas and ticks have olfactory receptor neurons narrowly tuned to specific odors they innately search for. Their simple olfactory systems consist of about 20 sensilla located on their first pair of legs.

If this simple odor detection system senses something other than what it's been tuned for, the fleas and ticks will reject the host.

And this is the premise behind many of the flea and tick repellents on the market today. They mask the specific odors on your pet that pests are searching for in the environment. If the formula is effective, fleas and ticks cannot smell, taste, or even identify the host they're looking for. So, they simply ignore your dog or cat.

The problem is some of the most effective products in repelling fleas and ticks contain harsh chemicals ... many of them toxins. And that's why I don't recommend their use.

But I do realize people still need an effective way to protect their pets from nasty pests. That's why I put together what I believe to be one of the safest and most natural protection systems I know of.


Think Fido is Safe from Mosquitoes? Think Again ... 

Despite what many folks believe, it's very important to realize mosquitoes can also be just as bothersome for your pets as other pests.  So, why take any chances when there are some simple things you can do to help avoid mosquitoes? 

To cut down on the mosquito population around your home and on your pet, here are some simple tips to help reduce exposure to these flying pests:

  • Eliminate as much standing water as possible around your home and yard
  • Clean your rain gutters out on a regular basis
  • Aerate ornamental ponds and decorative water gardens
  • Keep your pets indoors during early morning and early evening hours when mosquitoes are thickest
  • Avoid wet marshes and thick wooded areas

As hard as you try to avoid them, you still may have to deal with mosquitoes.  But first, let's talk about some other common sense things you can do to keep pests from bugging your pet.


Take Charge with a Total Pet Protection Program

To truly keep your dog or cat safe from fleas, ticks, mosquitoes and other annoying critters, a repellent is only one part of a total program of protection.

There are several other things I recommend you adopt as part of a successful pest control program ...

  • Feed your pet a balanced, species-appropriate diet — Parasites are drawn to the weakest hosts they can find. Feeding high quality food to dogs and cats improves their health and strengthens their immune system. So creating a balanced, nutritionally sound diet is the first place to start. In fact, I wrote a book called Dr. Becker's Real Food for Healthy Cats and Dogs.
  • Give frequent baths — Bathing your pet with a natural, non-toxic pet shampoo will not only help keep pests away, it will also make it convenient for you to check your pet from head to tail. Cats usually don't like baths, but they pretty much keep themselves clean with grooming. If your kitty doesn't mind a bath, then by all means give her one regularly. This is especially true if your cat spends time outdoors.
  • Grooming and brushing — Regular brushing or combing (with a flea comb if fleas are the problem) will help you find pests on your pet's fur and skin. Plus, it makes their coat look fantastic and it can provide a great bonding experience. Despite what many people believe, lots of cats love to be gently brushed or combed.
  • Tidy up your indoor environment — There are many ways pests can find their way into your home. They fly in, crawl in or ride in on pets and people. Keeping your floors, drapes and furniture clean and vacuumed will help prevent fleas and ticks from anchoring themselves in cracks and crevices. Change out your vacuum bag frequently as pests can survive the trip through the hose. And finally, keep your pet's bedding as clean as possible.
  • Examine your outdoor environment — Since tick, flea, and mosquito infestations start outdoors, take the time to inspect the area around your house and take action where you can. For example, ticks and fleas thrive in bushes and undergrowth. Keep your grass cut and leaves raked to limit the places around your home where pests can hide and breed.
  • Visit your vet regularly — Your holistic vet can be a great partner in keeping your dog or cat in optimum health, which will reduce the likelihood your pet will be an attractive host for pests.  Remember to use these suggestions as part of an overall program to control pests that invade your pet's environment. There's no foolproof way to insure your dog or cat is never bothered by another pest, but with these precautions in place, the problem – if you have one -- will be minimized.


And now on to more weapons for your war on pests ...

My Criteria for the Ultimate Pest Repellent

Since you know my strong feelings about avoiding any sort of chemical-based pest preventive, I guess it's about time I let you in on my recommendation.

Let's start with my checklist for what I would consider the ultimate flea, tick, and mosquito deterrent and removal package ...

  • Must not contain any synthetic chemicals
  • Does not produce toxic effects when pets lick their skin
  • Contains all natural ingredients formulated by nature – I prefer natural, safe oils and pure water.
  • Is available without a prescription and safe for daily use
  • Has a pleasant odor but is designed to create an undesirable scent to pests' sensory systems
  • Is clean, with non-sticky ingredients that work effectively to repel fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and pesky flies – Some competitive products don't include deterrents for mosquitoes and flies.
  • Needs to be safe to use on pet bedding and does not stain fur
  • Must include effective and safe ways to remove ticks from pets.

That last item on my checklist is one often forgotten. I've seen it too many times in my veterinary practice -- regardless of what preventive repellent is used (chemical or natural), your pet may still attract ticks once in awhile, and you need a safe, effective way to remove them.

Having a solid plan to regularly examine your dog or cat and remove pests on the coat or skin is a key component of my total pet protection solution.