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Do Natural Tick and Flea Remedies Really Work?

For pet owners, summer is not just a time for playing fetch, it’s also the time for ticks and fleas. In fact, the 2012 season is predicted to be one of the worst on record. Thanks to the warm winter temperatures we experienced, ticks and fleas are out in full force earlier than in previous years. So what’s the best way to safeguard your pets?

On the one hand, chemical, over-the-counter remedies may require less effort on your part, but may pose long-term health risks. On the other, all-natural methods may not work as well (or at all), but may be safer for the rest of the family.

A report published in April 2009 by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), “Poison on Pets II: Toxic Chemicals in Flea and Tick Collars,” found that many over-the-counter insect control products for pets can cause “serious health consequences to pets and humans,” including cancer and neurological conditions, even when used as instructed. The report also found that high levels of pesticide residue can remain on a dog or cat’s fur for weeks after a flea collar is put on the animal. Flea and tick medication that comes in pill form is thought to be safer, as there is less risk of transferring the chemicals to humans through touch.

But despite the number of reported cases of side effects and poisoning as a result of the use of chemical flea and tick treatments, harsh chemicals are still allowed to be sold in stores. According to the Humane Society for the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency only began reviewing pet medication in 1996. Plus, unlike the FDA guidelines set for sale of drugs for humans, pet medications do not need to undergo extensive field trials before being approved for sale — often, tests are performed on one breed of cat or dog, making it difficult to predict how the chemicals will affect large-scale and human populations.

According to a March 2012 report from Planet Amazing, an EPA-registered manufacturer and packager of family-friendly and environmentally safe pesticides, choosing organic over chemical is beneficial because insects have begun to develop resistance to the chemicals that are typically used to stop them.

So is au naturel the way to go?

When it comes to treating an outbreak of fleas, veterinarian technician Theresa Sirois says not likely. Sirois has been a vet tech in Maine for a little over 12 years and explained to me that “the natural methods just don’t work because fleas get out of control so fast.”

Sirois recommends using a product such as Frontline, which is non-toxic (not non-chemical) and 99% effective when applied correctly. “Other people will certainly have varying opinions, but the Frontline Plus seems to be the only thing that treats the pets and your home without having to flea bomb, which is not good for people or pets,” she said.

Applying medication like Frontline in addition to a more natural solution may also work, but the medication seems to be the fastest-working method for flea control. “We did use a natural flea bath when we moved into an apartment that had fleas, and that worked well in conjunction with the Frontline. But honestly, i just wanted the bugs gone and my kids not to be itchy, so we started the Frontline Plus right away.”

Using a non-toxic method of removing ticks and fleas can help rid your pet from pests without it being harmful to your animal if they lick their coat (which is likely to happen at least a bit). Look for packaging that doesn’t come with warnings such as “Hazardous to humans and domestic animals,” and you should be okay, says Sirois.

Though Sirois believes effective treatment is best left to medicines such as Frontline, when it comes to prevention, it seems everyone agrees that all-natural treatments are a safe bet. According to a post published by Stacey Joy Hershman, a holistic veterinarian from Natural Vet for Pets in New York, all-natural treatments can help build up a pet’s constitution, leaving them less susceptible to fleas.

Beyond basics like regularly washing your pet’s bedding, vacuuming, and brushing your pet with a flea comb, here are some other things you can add to your prevention checklist:

1) Dietary Changes

Brewer’s yeast is made from a fungus and is often used to brew beer (hence the name) but can also be helpful to keep ticks and fleas away from your pets. You can mix a small amount in with your dog or cat’s food — it’s healthy and safe for them to eat. A study published in 1983 by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association did show that there was little effect in adding brewer’s yeast to your dogs diet.

Garlic, which is thought to help repel fleas and ticks, can also be added to your dog’s kibble (don’t add to your cat’s food, garlic is not safe for them). In his column for the Poughkeepsie Journal, veterinarian Dr. Fox, says garlic is safe for dogs in small amounts when it is served with their food, not separately.

Starting your pets on this diet adjustment before the summer — and flea and tick season — begins, is recommended.

2) Essential Oils

Another way to help prevent any tick or fleas from taking up home on your dog is to use essential oils. It’s not recommended to use on your cats because their skin is more sensitive, but the added benefit of a fresh-smelling dog while repelling fleas is a good mix. Oils such as rose geranium oil or a combination of lavender, Eucalyptus, and apple cider vinegar as a spray can be a good alternative for those who prefer a more holistic approach to repelling fleas and ticks, but check with your veterinarian before using. Using cedar oil or cedar chips in your pets bedding can help keep the pests away from your dog and stop the worry about infestation.

3) Citrus oil:

It’s been said that fleas and ticks HATE citrus smells. Scents such as lemon, oranges, and grapefruit can not only stop them from taking up home on your pet, but will also send them running if they are there. Dabbing the essential oil on your dog’s collar or rubbing a freshly squeezed orange or lemon right on your pup’s fur leaves them smelling great to us, and not so great to fleas and ticks.

4) Diatomaceous Earth:

For cats who cannot tolerate essential oils or citrus scrubs, diatomaceous earth (DE) may be a good option, as well as a good remedy for dogs infested with fleas. DE powder is comprised of micro-skeletons of deceased diatoms, which are a type of algae, a natural substance that works by dehydrating fleas. The powder can be applied to the carpet in the home or directly on your pet’s fur. It’s recommended that both you and your pet wear a mask while applying this powder — because while this product is organic and safe, you don’t want to get the powder in your lungs.

5) Drown Them:

Water really does work on fleas and is one of the best methods for removing fleas from your pet. Though tedious, there is no worry about harmful chemicals or any long-lasting effects from treatment. Since fleas grab onto the hair shaft, covering them in water makes them slip and they drown. Using a gentle detergent or shampoo infused with some essential oils (like citrus) can go a long way in removing fleas.

Also, if your pets spend a lot of time outdoors, be diligent in checking for any signs of ticks so you can remove them quickly. Proper technique is important for removing ticks and fleas, so make sure that you are acquainted before you do it yourself.

In the end, the decision comes down to what you believe is right for your pet. Discuss the various options with your veterinarian in order to determine the best way to prevent and treat fleas and ticks.

:: Are you worried about the upcoming and predicted nasty flea and tick season? ::

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Photo credit: modified from â˜º Lee J Haywood on Flickr

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