By Guest Blogger Linda Snyder
Many pet owners took note this spring when news reports questioned the safety of topical flea prevention treatments for pets. These headlines were sparked by US Environmental Protection Agency efforts to clarify the labels and instructions on those products.
Since my 13-year-old Border Collie, Buddy, had been suffering from seizures, I was reluctant to expose him to anything that I wasn’t sure was completely safe. So I embarked on a quest to find safe, natural means of keeping fleas off Buddy.
My first research suggested that diatomaceous earth (DE) is great for killing fleas in the house. It’s a white powder made from the fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of algae. When fleas come into contact with DE, they dehydrate and die within 72 hours.
There are two types of DE: pool grade and food grade. Pool-grade DE contains toxic insecticides that should NOT be used on pets. A pet-safe DE will be labeled as “food grade.”
To kill fleas, dust your pet with food-grade DE (avoid getting it into your pet’s eyes or lungs), and sprinkle it onto your pet’s bed and carpets, vacuuming any excess.
I also discovered pet wipes that contain essential oils such as lemongrass and cinnamon and can be used on puppies and kittens. You simply wipe your pet’s fur every few days and after your pet becomes wet (e.g., after a bath). Unlike DE, which kills fleas after they land on your pet, essential-oil wipes repel insects before they reach your pet’s skin. These same essentials oils are also available in a spray to be brushed into your pet’s fur.
Holistic veterinarian Dr. Doug Knueven of Beaver Animal Clinic suggests putting nematodes on the lawn to conquer fleas. These beneficial parasitic insects are harmless to humans and pets and can be applied to lawns and gardens as a safe alternative to pesticides. The nematodes will eat boring insects and larvae, including flea larvae and tick eggs, and work especially well in cool shady areas.
“Nematodes are a natural way of killing fleas,” says Dr. Knueven. “They help to keep the flea population down. Ultimately, fleas that get onto our pets come from the yard.”
Toni Shelaske of Healthy Pet Products on Perry Highway is also a fan of nematodes for flea prevention for her dog. “Nematodes work,” Toni says. “I use them in my own yard.”
Toni offers some other suggestions in the war on fleas.
First, regular bathing of your pet will drown fleas, and Toni recommends using a pet shampoo containing neem oil, which is a natural insect repellant. It’s also important to check your pet’s fur to ensure that a renegade flea hasn’t broken past these barriers.
For preventing ticks, Toni suggests black walnut hulls, which are available from health food stores and can be sprinkled onto your pet’s food. It takes six to eight weeks for the black walnut hulls to become effective in a pet’s bloodstream, but they have no adverse side effects.
“I urge you to use chemical flea treatments as minimally as possible,” Toni adds. ”Prevention is the best medicine, so let’s do what we know is right for our best furry friends!”
Finally, a strong application of common sense is always useful. Keep your pet out of tall weeds or piles of dried leaves, which are favorite hangouts for ticks, especially in the fall.
And remember that products marked “natural” are not always 100 percent safe. Nature creates toxic substances too, so read product labels carefully. And when in doubt, consult your veterinarian about the safety or use of any pet products.
These are only some of the ways to naturally protect your pet from fleas and ticks. As for me, I feel better knowing that my Buddy’s dog days of summer have included neither fleas nor unsafe chemicals.