RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced it would be reviewing the safety of liquid flea and tick products due to mounting reports of illnesses in dogs and cats, including seizures, irritation, and hair loss, among others. Cats are particularly vulnerable to insecticides, and also fall ill when exposed to chemicals used in dog treatments. “Just a few drops of concentrated permethrin, present in many spot-on treatments designed for dogs, can be lethal to cats,” says Steven Hansen, DVM, ASPCA veterinary toxicologist and senior vice president of animal health services.
These spot-on solutions, typically applied between the pet’s shoulder blades or along their spine, are pesticides that do effectively keep fleas and ticks at bay, but could have unwanted side effects. A recent EPA study also found that many of the pesticides used in the products turn up in household dust. Natural Resources Defense Council says many of these neurotoxin flea and tick chemicals are potentially dangerous to not only our pets, but also to developing children who come into direct contact with the pesticide after it’s applied to a pet, or inhale or ingest the contaminated household dust, particularly when crawling on the floor.
Keeping ticks away from your animals is a worthy goal, though. Depending on the type of tick latching on to your pet (or you), it could carry diseases like Lyme disease (the fastest-growing infectious disease in the country), bartonella, or other co-infections. Here’s how to deal with ticks on your dog without using questionable pesticides. Even if you choose to use a chemical repellent on your dog, you can still use these tactics for extra safety. (Cats tend to groom themselves more meticulously, ridding themselves of ticks more easily without human help—plus, many animal advocates suggest they be kept indoors, for their own safety and to prevent predation of local birds.)
1. Practice prewalk grooming. Brushing your dog before you go outside for a walk or job gets rid of excess hair and mats, so you can find ticks more easily when you return.
2. Stay away from the danger zones. Keep your dog’s play area free of high grass, where the teeny bloodsuckers are just waiting to latch on. Ticks also thrive in shady areas and in woodpiles, so it’s best to keep your dog out of these parts of your yard. Also, keep the lawn mowed low in spots where your dogs most like to hang out, to deter a tick invasion.
3. Go herbal. If you like, you can sprinkle a canine herbal repellent onto your dog’s coat and massage it in. Just wash your hands afterwards, and read the label beforehand to make sure none of the ingredients will harm any cats you have in the house. It’s also important to note that not everything labeled “natural” is always safe. Products containing linalool or d-limonene can cause serious side effects in some pets. (As a general rule of thumb, never use any dog flea or tick products on cats, or vice versa.) And never use human products containing DEET on your animals—it’s toxic to them.
4. Before going into the house, perform a thorough examination. Use a flea and tick comb to scan your dog’s body for ticks, but pay particular attention to ticks’ favorite hideout spots—around your dog’s ears, armpits, and paws, suggests Arden Moore, pet expert and author.
5. Don’t panic if you find a tick. Put on a pair of gloves to protect yourself from harmful bacteria the tick could harbor, and grab a pair of tweezers (ideally, a pair you’ve designated for pet use only). Grasp the tick’s body near the head, and pull straight up and out, slowly, and without twisting, to remove the bloodsucker. Kill the tick by dropping it in a jar of rubbing alcohol, and dab the affected area on your dog’s skin with (different) rubbing alcohol.
6. Take care inside. Your tick prevention doesn’t stop outdoors. In the house, vacuum frequently and wash pet bedding once a week, preferably using plant-based detergents that are less harsh on the environment.
7. Evict mice. Make your property inhospitable to mice, who, along with deer, carry ticks. Make sure outdoor garbage cans are always covered, and store pet food inside sealed containers. Depending on where you live, you might try inviting kestrels, small (and beautiful!), mice-devouring hawks, to your area with a kestrel box.
8. Build your dog’s immunity. While the jury’s still out on this one, some pet owners who make their own, natural dog food for their pups say they pull fewer—or no—ticks from their animals after switching to a homemade diet. If you decide to make your own dog food, just be sure to know what you’re doing, and talk to your vet or consult a holistic pet expert first—some ingredients can be lethal to your pet, and you have to make sure they’re getting the proper ingredients to stay healthy. To help you get started for once-a-week home-cooked meals and treats, check out Real Food for Dogs: 50 Vet-Approved Recipes to Please the Canine Gastronome (Storey Publishing, 2001).
Filed Under: PET CARE
Published on: July 7, 2009