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We all want our dogs to live long and well, so how do we control problems like ticks and fleas while protecting our dogs from chemicals in flea and tick medications that could potentially cause short and long-term adverse reactions?
There are many things to consider when deciding to use chemicals or more natural means for flea and tick prevention on your dog. Let's discuss some of the potential risks of using chemical-based treatments as well as some more natural methods available so you can feel confident and informed when it comes to making the best choice for your dog.
It's important to understand how flea and tick treatments work in your dog's body
Ticks and fleas are not only a nuisance to your dog, but can also carry diseases. Ticks can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis. Fleas can transmit tapeworms and Bartonella infections (cat scratch fever). In addition, both ticks and fleas can cause skin irritation, hot spots, and hair loss. All things you don't want for your dogs.
The chemicals used in most flea and tick medications are pesticides. These pesticides are designed to kill insects on contact. They work by causing nerve damage in the insect, which leads to paralysis and death of the pest.
The pesticides don't deter or repel fleas and ticks, instead, whether ingested as a chew or applied as a "spot-on," your dog's blood becomes a toxic pesticide for fleas and ticks, and a tick or flea has to bite your dog to be poisoned. That then starts killing fleas/ticks within about 48 hours. (So there's also no guarantee your dog won't be infected by the bite.)
Unfortunately, these same pesticides may also have adverse health risks for your dog.
Once in your dog's system, these chemicals may cause a variety of problems, including:
- Skin irritation
- Gastrointestinal upset
- Excessive drooling
- Muscle tremors
- Difficulty breathing
Again, all things we don't want for your dogs. In some cases, these reactions can be mild and will resolve on their own. However, in other cases, they can be severe and even life-threatening. If your dog is experiencing any of these symptoms after using flea or tick treatments, it's important to seek veterinary care immediately.
How to ditch the traditional flea and tick chemicals
After widespread reports and research studies on the dangers of common flea and tick products, the FDA issued a warning to pet owners and vets on several brands and the neurological toxicity and serious adverse reactions some of these products can cause. The FDA warning includes popular, well-known brands - Bravecto, Nexguard, Simparico, and Cridelio in various forms both oral and topical treatments. (The full list of brands/flea & tick products here.)
Similar neurological toxicity incidents and adverse reactions can also happen with a flea and tick collar unless it's an all-natural herbal collar. Traditional pesticide-releasing tick and flea collars like Seresto have been shown to cause many of the same dangerous effects on dogs as the FDA alert medications (see USA Today report here... note: Seresto and similar collars release their pesticide over time to keep your dog's coat covered with toxins on an ongoing basis to kill fleas and ticks.)
The best flea and tick prevention shouldn't potentially risk your dog's health
There are many natural options available for flea and tick prevention that don't come with the same risks as chemical pesticides. And, some of these natural options can actually be more effective than their toxic counterparts.
Here are the 3 best flea and tick prevention tactics that have kept my crew flea and tick free for the past 5 years...
Natural Flea and Tick Tactic 1: EM collars
My #1 answer to preventing ticks and fleas. Effective Microorganism collars (EM collars) are made with white clay pipe beads with microorganisms baked in that naturally repel ticks and fleas. They're used around the world, especially in Europe, in agriculture and organic farming to keep crops and livestock healthy and free of pests without dangerous chemicals. And now they're woven into collars to keep our pets safe!
Natural Flea and Tick Tactic 2: Herbal supplements/food additives
I like a Canadian product called Earth MD Flea & Tick Prevention that is much like the US-based Earth Animal Flea & Tick Daily Internal Powder - they're a combination of vitamins and minerals added to your dog's food to both fortify your dog's immune system against health problems and to repel ticks by changing your dog's odor to one that ticks/fleas detest, thus preventing fleas and ticks from being too eager to choose your dog as their host.
Natural Flea and Tick Tactic 3: Herbal sprays/ topicals
Several good sprays and topical treatments/"spot-ons" that are all natural and made of natural herbs and essential oils are available now. They've been diluted to be safe for dogs (always needed with essential oils) but repel ticks and fleas.
Look on the labels for combinations of ingredients fleas and ticks are repulsed by that can include scents such as lemongrass, cedar, citronella, and lavender.
If your dog spends a good bit of time outside and on hikes and woodsy walks, keep natural tick spray by the door. Refresh their tick spray each time they go out as well as in the car before hikes.
What about organic coconut oil for both fleas and ticks?
Organic coconut oil is another scent ticks and fleas are repelled by, as well as being a nourishing moisturizer and barrier for your dog's skin and paws. Coconut oil also kills fleas and ticks already present by covering and suffocating them. If you find yourself with a flea infestation already on your hands, you can kill fleas on your dog and calm his/her skin by slathering coconut oil all over your dog, leaving it on for 8 hours before washing it off, and the result will be dead fleas and a well-moisturized dog.
Bonus for dogs with sensitive skin
It goes without saying but to underscore - when you switch from chemicals to a gentle, natural flea or tick treatment (from tick spray to tick shampoo to a tick collar), you will see any dog's sensitive skin vastly improved whether dry, itchy skin and redness in general or dryness around eyes and paws. In addition to all the other negatives that come with chemicals, they strain the protection of your dog's immune system and tend to trigger allergies.
Remember that no single treatment is a 100% full-proof
Whichever approach you choose, don't forget your frequent tick check after being outside. The same goes for fleas if you have reason to believe your dog has been near fleas.
Even if you do everything right, sometimes a tick or flea might get past your defenses. Don't freak out - just remove it (following the proper removal protocol to avoid infection). If you have concerns that your dog might have contracted Lyme disease from a tick, please see your veterinarian as soon as possible.
3 go-to, simple, inexpensive flea and tick protection tools to have handy...
- A flea comb is a super useful, inexpensive tool to always have on hand when you want to do a thorough check of your dog for fleas or the tell-tale flea dirt (reddish brown "dirt" that's actually flea excrement, ugh).
- Natural tick/flea shampoo is another go-to for ongoing tick/flea control and certainly when you find evidence like flea dirt. You always want to control fleas before they have a chance to move in, start laying eggs, and become full-on flea infestations. (Which happens quickly with fleas.) Natural flea & tick dog shampoo is a great foundation for keeping your dog clean and clear of fleas and ticks.
- If a tick does manage to attach to your dog, a basic tick remover tool is good to have quick access to when you need it. It's inexpensive, easily available, and simple to use for removing ticks intact. And remember to apply some unfiltered apple cider vinegar right after to guard against infection.
Even if you take all the above precautions, it's a good idea to keep an eye on any bites as well as your dog's general health and demeanor after being in tick-prone areas. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, please see your veterinarian right away.
Ticks are most active during the warm months but can still be out and about looking for their next meal during cooler weather if the temperature is above freezing. So it's always a good idea to remain vigilant about tick and flea checks, even during the winter months. Lyme disease is serious and can have devastating effects on dogs (as well as humans). The good news is, with early diagnosis and treatment, Lyme disease is often entirely curable in dogs.
How to support your dog's longevity
The best defense against fleas and ticks is a strong offense - that means being proactive about keeping them away from your dog in the first place. But if you do find yourself dealing with a flea or tick infestation, hopefully, these natural solutions are helpful for you to get rid of them quickly and effectively, without resorting to harsh chemicals.
As always, the best thing you can do for your dog is to keep them healthy and strong so their immune system is up to the task of warding off all sorts of invaders, including fleas, ticks, and the diseases they transmit. A wholesome diet with plenty of fresh, whole ingredients is key. Daily exercise, plenty of fresh water, and lots of rest are also vital for keeping your dog in tip-top shape.
In short, the best first step to protect your dog from fleas and ticks is to keep them healthy and strong so their immune system can do its job. If you have any concerns about your dog's health, please see your veterinarian right away. They know your dog's individual needs best.