Well there’s one good thing about the New England cold spring seasons, and it’s that bugs lay dormant that much longer. As soon as the temperatures climb, it’s time to figure out your plan for flea and tick prevention. All dog owners should be thinking about heartworm prevention too. Heartworm preventative works retroactively remember; it kills any larvae that exist in your dog already. Many of us only give heartworm preventative during the warm months (looking backward one month, the daily temperature is 70 degrees or above). If you don’t use a year round heartworm preventative you’ll want to schedule an appointment with your vet for a heartworm test, and you can pick up the preventative at the same time.
As far as fleas and ticks, you’ve got some choices to make. At Fetch/Fish & Bone, we try to help you support your pet’s health holistically first, and if that isn’t what you are looking for, then (in the world of flea and tick prevention anyway) we have the big guns for you as well (Frontline and Advantix). However, keep in mind that a chemical product all by itself often doesn’t work! For flea and tick prevention, whether you go all-natural or chemical, you really need to think in terms of multiple layers of defense. Best defense is to use as many layers as possible. All of the products mentioned below (except for diatomaceous earth) are available in our stores, over the phone, and within a month or two, on Fish & Bone’s new website.
First layer of defense: protect the immune system with a natural diet that is appropriate for your pet. Foods with low quality ingredients, or that have artificial preservatives, dyes and flavors wear down the immune system. Why is that relevant? Because fleas and ticks are parasites, and they seek out weak ‘hosts’ before healthy ones. The weaker your animal is, the more susceptible he or she is to being a target for fleas and ticks, and mosquitoes too. Come visit either store and make my day by asking me if we can talk about pet food J
Second layer: Supplement a healthy base diet with an anti-oxidant rich vitamin, mineral and essential fatty acid supplement that will further strengthen the immune system (you should actually be adding this to your pet’s food year round); and with a supplement specifically designed to repel fleas and ticks.
Essential fatty acids are important to protect skin cells, which are irritated by flea bites. Many times the ‘itch’ is caused by an allergic reaction to a flea bite, rather than the fleas themselves. Help minimize the itch by lubricating the skin cells from the inside out. The EFAs in fish oil are ‘long chain’ fatty acids, and are better absorbed by dogs than flax oil. Don’t bother with capsules unless you can’t get your pet to take fish oil straight; remember, you are paying for that extra step of making the gel caps. And with oils, you get what you pay for. Cheap oils may be heavy with mercury and PCBs, and they can be rancid or oxidized from exposure to too much heat in transport or storage. Rancid oils smell bad; never use an oil that smells bad. For my dog Zip, I use Wholistic Pet Salmon Oil or Nordic Naturals Pet Cod Liver Oil. Why those two brands? Because both companies are clear about the purity and handling of their oils. Neither are fishy-smelling. The Wholistic Pet is more viscous, and it’s pink; the Nordic Naturals is clear and a little bit thinner. Prices similar. I love both companies. Local- and regional-vores, Wholistic Pet is a New Hampshire company J.
This is our first year selling Earth Animal’s Healthy Powder (also in tablets, and yeast-free Herbal Powder) but I am expecting great results. Dr. Sue & Bob Goldstein, the vets behind the label, have been holistic vets for a long time. Their Healthy Powder shifts the blood chemistry (B vitamins, selenium) to not only support the immune system but also to make the blood ‘bitter’ to biting insects. I’m using the Healthy Powder on Zip too.
Third layer: choose a potent natural flea and tick (and mosquito too while you are at it) repellent. Ingredients like neem, eucalyptus, rosemary, erigeron, rose geranium, cedarwood and tea tree oil are some of the active ingredients to look for. My go-to repellent is Quantum Herbal Products because they are very clear about their manufacturing process (6 month distillation of essential oils), and they are so un-marketing oriented. I’ve been using it for 10 years now. It’s also highly recommended by Dr. Martin Goldstein (you may have seen him on Martha). Ark Naturals, and Buzz-Off are also great picks. I’ve just brought in Earth Animal’s flea and tick repellant, and I trust it’s as good as Quantum unless I hear otherwise. Most products will last a couple of days between application, but I always re-apply, especially to legs, neck, belly and hindquarters, before walking in high grass or in woods. Or the Shoo Tag, which alters the magnetic field around your pet (or you…there are Shoo Tags for people too) to repel fleas, ticks and mosquitoes. Seriously. We brought in the Shoo Tag based on customer testimonial; and, there’s a guarantee on the tag. If you are not satisfied for any reason, you can return it to the manufacturer for a full refund (one per household). I’m going to try one this year.
Fourth layer: Shampoo as needed with a natural flea and tick repelling shampoo, or use your usual shampoo and follow with a natural spray or an herbal dip like Cloud Nine by Halo. Soapy water removes fleas and their eggs, and kills them by washing them drown the drain. Be careful about shampooing too often as that can cause more itch by drying out the dermis.
Fifth layer: monitor the situation by brushing and flea combing regularly. You will see how well your flea and tick prevention plan is going by penetrating the coat, and you can physically remove any fleas and ticks. You’ll need a few good tools: a brush and comb, and tick remover. Everyone absolutely needs a flea comb. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. The teeth need to be extremely tightly spaced though, and it helps if the comb is stainless, or white or pale in color, so that the little black buggers will show up easily. Ticks, too, are tiny before they have eaten and become engorged. Brush thick coats first, outside preferably, or in the garage. It’ll be easier to follow up with the flea comb. When flea combing it’s a good idea to have a bowl of soapy water nearby. After every pass of the comb, dunk it in the soapy water. Why? Because the soap changes the surface tension of the water, and the fleas will fall in the bowl and drown. If you come across an attached tick, use a tick remover tool rather than tweezers. The tweezers can leave the head intact, and you want the whole tick to come off your animal. Once you have removed the tick, if you are concerned that it might be a deer tick carrying Lyme’s Disease, you can save it in a ziplock baggie and send it to Maine Medical Center’s Disease Lab for testing.
Sixth layer: wash pet bedding often in hot soapy water, and vacuum more than usual. When vacuuming, you can place an inexpensive chemical flea collar in the vacuum bag to kill any ticks, fleas or eggs that have been sucked up; otherwise, you will need to throw away the bag each time to ensure you aren’t providing a nice spawning ground for parasites in your vacuum.
Seventh layer: Line thresholds to outside doors, and the perimeter of warm, moist rooms like the bathroom (which fleas prefer) with diatomaceous earth. DE is made up of the skeletons of diatoms (one-celled creatures). The skeletons are microscopically thorny, and they puncture the exoskeletons of all kinds of insects. Once the buggers have come in contact with the DE, they slowly dehydrate and die. It’s not a quick fix, but it does interrupt the life cycle; and it’s safe for allergic households. If you use DE, be careful not to shake it into the air; it can scratch the esophagus if inhaled. You can buy DE at natural gardening centers.