What’s the Best Approach to Treat Fleas and Ticks?
Story by Dr. Alexandra Barrientos, DVM, Earth Angels Veterinary Hospital
Photo courtesy of Honey Birch Farms
Pet owners living in the Hudson Valley have all pondered the best approach to protect our pets from fleas and ticks, and I am often asked for advice on the matter. Deciding between the ever-evolving synthetic insecticide preventatives can be daunting. Collars, topical drops and oral chews are constantly advertised. The temptation to utilize an easy-to-feed or to apply an “aggressive” pesticide over a more natural product requiring more frequent application is understandable, particularly when dealing with serious concerns like Lyme disease, flea-bite allergies and infestations; however, the nagging thought that pesticides are not good for our pets, the environment or us always surfaces.
Sooner or later, most pet owners find out that the fight against ticks and the diseases they can bring (including Lyme disease) takes a lot more than using one product, natural or not. I have a growing concern about the safety of synthetic pesticides such as Frontline, Advantix, Revolution, NexGard and Bravecto—which are absorbed by oil glands and remain in body fat—because no one knows their cumulative long-term effects. We should not forget the footprint left in the past by similar lipophilic pesticides like DDT/Agent Orange. If you are one of the many concerned pet owners looking for nonsynthetic alternatives, or wanting to add to the protection given by the synthetic pesticides you are currently using, you will find it helpful to know that there are effective natural products that you, your pet and the environment may benefit from.
An effective tick-and-flea-control protocol requires addressing the pet, as well as the environment, in a lasting manner. Consider the outside area where you and your pets spend most of your time. The ideal would be to keep deer, mice and all other tick-carrying animals away, but if a fence is not doing the job or it is not an area that lends itself to fencing, then spraying may be the next step in reducing insect exposure. Lawn treatments done with pyrethrins (chrysanthemum-flower-derived chemicals), as well as organic tick treatments composed of benign natural ingredients, are proving just as effective as synthetic pesticide applications. They even have residual control lasting from 30 to 60 days. Adding well-known insect-repellant trees, plants and products like cedar, rosemary, lemongrass and their mulch to your landscape will also help to improve insect control.
There are many natural repellant sprays and shampoos containing plant oils specifically formulated to be safe for your pet. Pop’s Pet Organics, Honey Birch Farms, Earth Animal Bug Spray, and Vetri-Science are all great examples. Their products have a variety of well-known plant oils including eucalyptus, neem, citronella, rosemary and the like, blended into effective combinations, as well as natural flea-and-tick-control supplements that may be given orally. PetAlive and Earth Animal Internal Powder (or tablets) are examples of excellent formulas that work with the aim of changing pets’ blood chemistry so that they are less “tasty” to insects. Another unique and effective way to repel parasitic insects is through aromatherapy. Kiki & Friends’ Bug Stuff, with catnip and cedar wood, is quite the “buzz” with my aromatherapy-inclined pet owners. I realize that some of these products are not locally made, but it was more important for me to give you a variety of products that work.
As a practicing veterinarian, I use and recommend all of the above natural and synthetic products, while as a parent I’m concerned what my children and grandchildren will face as a result of using the heavier pesticides. Whenever I see children hugging their pets, I marvel in the beauty of the human-animal bond, but I also wonder about how many chemicals their young skin may be absorbing from these products. We will no doubt have to answer to this in the future.