The summer is marching on and alas, so are the fleas! Auckland has a terrible time with fleas all year round but the warm summer months are certainly the worst. Fleas are not just a nuisance, our dogs need to be flea free, not only to relieve the itching and scratching but also to prevent health risks such as secondary skin infections, tapeworm infestations and anaemia.
There are several ways to tackle fleas and there are advantages and disadvantages to most of them. Interestingly, a flea control method that suits one dog, may not be as effective or as well tolerated on another, so it is a case of working through various options until you find the regime that works for you.
Pesticides - By far the most common method of flea control is the regular use of licensed flea control products from vet clinics. These include the topical ‘spot’ dose products, as well as pills. There are now pills available that provide 3 months’ worth of protection in one dose. The advantage of using these products is the speed and reliability they offer, as well as the reassurance that the products have had to pass rigorous testing in order to be licensed. Most dogs tolerate these products but you must be careful to get the correct dosage for your pet’s weight and follow the instructions when using them.
For owners who wish to avoid using pesticides on their dogs, there are other methods to consider.
Mechanical - An interesting mechanical means of battling fleas is Diatomaceous earth. Sold as a powder, it is derived from fossilised phytoplanktons. The powder is brushed into a dog’s coat and when a flea comes into contact with it, the particles stick to the flea, damaging the joints and dehydrating them so that the fleas ultimately die. This method is harmless to the dog, and although it requires more effort than a squirt on the back of the neck, it is non-toxic and works well for many households.Another mechanical method is of course the good ol’ flea comb but there are not many dog owners who have the time or energy to manually de-flea “Fido” especially if Fido is an Old English Sheepdog!
Nutritional - Some dog owners report good results from nutritional supplements containing brewers yeast among other things. The powder is added to their food daily with the goal of making the dog less attractive as a host. However, be careful to avoid supplements that contain garlic as garlic is toxic to dogs. In fact dogs and cats cannot digest any foods from the allium family; garlic, onion, shallots, leeks, chives. Eating garlic can cause the potentially fatal condition Haemylitic anaemia as well as gastro intestinal damage. Even feeding small amounts of garlic can lead to cumulative toxicity over time.
Essential Oils - There are a number of essential oil flea products on sale in New Zealand and many shampoos that incorporate essential oils into their formulations. There are many testimonies regarding the effectiveness of various oils as repellents but care must be taken to avoid toxic effect from oils applied to the skin. A little known fact is that oils such as Tea Tree contain turpines which transfer through the skin impacting much the same way as if ingested. It is very easy to overdose a dog when you consider that a safe dilution rate for tea tree is only 0.1% to 1%. Many essential oil flea products contain significantly higher concentrations that can make a dog very sick. Always remember that just because a product is natural or organic, it does not necessarily mean it is non-toxic.
Homeopathic - Homeopathic remedies, however, are non-toxic and have no withholding period, a point illustrated by their popularity on organic dairy farms (the milk is not affected/discarded when a cow has been treated homeopathically).Homeopathy is also used by many dog owners. As a homeopath and co-founder with Dr Brett Christian of the BioPet range of remedies, I am very proud of our flea product, BioPet Fleas, which is formulated to desensitise dogs to the itch and irritation of flea bites. Administered via your dog’s water bowl, your dog receives a small dose every time they drink. For dogs that don’t use a water bowl i.e. they drink from more ‘creative’ water sources, the drops can be shaken on to a treat and given twice daily instead. Some dog owners report fewer fleas on their dogs when using BioPet Fleas but even so, it is not marketed as a repellent. Each dog owner needs to objectively assess the impact of a treatment on their pet.
For my own dog, I use a combination of the approaches listed above. Despite her very small size she is apparently delicious to fleas so I have to work hard at keeping her flea free. I also make sure I treat my grumpy old cat at the same time, as cats are often the main culprits in secretly hoarding flea communities. He’s a cat that is very difficult to medicate, placid and cuddly 99% of the time but a ginger ninja when it’s de-flea day. I swear he can read the note on the calendar and slopes off to hide in the prickly hedge.One final point; do wash your dog’s bedding regularly. After washing, put the bedding into the dryer on hot for 15-20 minutes to kill any flea eggs and larvae. Note, this includes any ‘unofficial’ dog beds that your pup might frequent.There are many other products and methods that I don’t have room to mention. The important thing is to find a regime that works for your dog. Here’s to a very happy summer free from the harassment and hazards of fleas!
Fiona Lane BA, Dip Ed, Dip Hom (Animal Health)
Tel: 09 410 2621
For a full range of natural homeopathic remedies we have in store at Urban Dogs please ask a staff member.