Healthy pets, no fleas
by Sylvie Farrell of Mothers & Others, with reporting by Aisha Ikramuddin
How to control fleas without resorting to chemical warfare
s my two terriers frolic in their new farmhouse and
run wild on two acres of land (they let my husband and me live there, too),
we find ourselves doing epic battle with possibly the greatest nuisance
known to man and beast: fleas! Mind you, Sophie and Hamlet's previous life
in a New York City apartment did not exempt them from these biting buggers.
One thing all pet owners must come to grips with: if you are going to own
pets with hair - whether in or out of doors - you are going to have fleas.
Once you resign yourself to this, you can set about controlling your flea
population without resorting to chemical warfare.
Most chemically-based products pose a real danger to
the health of your pet, your kids and yourself. After all, a pesticide flea
collar is nothing but a poison necklace around your pet's head. It emits
a constant toxic cloud that your pet inhales, as do you and your kids every
time you hug or kiss your pet. And what about those insecticidal flea and
tick shampoos and powders, sprays and dips? Labels warn you not to get them
on your skin, to use rubber gloves and wash your hands. Yet the instructions
also tell you to work them into your animal's coat, where they absorb into
your pet's skin and are licked!
This is not the answer. As Alisa Mullins reported in
Animal Times magazine (July/August 1995), she accidentally poisoned her
cat, Pepper, to death with flea dips, powders and shampoos. Signs of pesticide
overdose in your pet can include vomiting, diarrhea, trembling, seizures
and respiratory problems. Check labels carefully, advises Mullins, who now
uses only non-toxic flea remedies on her cats and dogs. As for pet owners
who apply these pesticides to their pets, the California Senate Office of
Research has warned against exposure to pesticides during pregnancy or infancy,
which may impair neurological development and contribute to childhood leukemia.
What to avoid
Flea collars. The Cancer Prevention Coalition (CPC), which informs
the public about preventable exposures to carcinogens, lists many brand-name
products as containing either carcinogens or neurotoxins, or both. These
include certain flea collars by Longlife, Hartz, Pet Agree, Sergeant's and
Zodiac. In addition, several of these products may have adverse reproductive
Flea & tick dips, sprays, powders, foggers and bombs. Foggers
and bombs are flammable, and poison the atmosphere so pervasively that they
should be completely avoided. One infamous flea-and-tick repellent, Hartz
Mountain Blockade, caused 26 known pet deaths in 1987 and at least 200 dog
and cat poisonings. The EPA forced Hartz to list warnings about tremors
and vomiting on the label, but Blockade, which contains the pesticides DEET
and fenvalerate, is still on the market. According to the Washington Toxics
Coalition (WTC), an environmental organization working to reduce reliance
on toxic chemicals, other active ingredients in anti-flea products include
dichlorvos (or DDVP, found in Duokill, No-Pest, and Duravos), propoxur,
diazinon and carbaryl nerve poisons that may cause adverse, long-term health
effects in both pets and humans.
What doesn't appear on labels, due to "trade-secret"
laws, are the inert ingredients - solvents and petrochemicals that make
up to 90 percent of a pesticide's mix and are often toxic. These toxic substances
include xylene, methyl bromide, benzene, asbestos, DDT (a by-product of
the manufacture of certain pesticides) and toluene. The New York State Attorney
General's office has listed some of the effects of toluene as including
headache, abdominal pain, nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, hallucinations,
anemia, liver disorders, central nervous system dysfunction and skin, eye
and respiratory irritation. Many of these symptoms have been found among
flea dip users in a survey conducted by the California Department of Health
Services Hazard Evaluation System.
CPC lists the following products in their chronic health
advisory column as containing carcinogens or neurotoxins, or both: Ace Hardware
Pet & Home Flea & Tick Killer; Cardinal Flea & Tick Shampoo
118 and Shampoo for Cats and Kittens; Daltek Timed-Release for Cats and
Kittens and Organic (sic) Flea Spray for Cats and Dogs; Enforcer Flea &
Tick Powder, Shampoo and Spray; Flea Stop Pet; Four Paws Flea and Tick Shampoo
and Foam Dry Bath.
NOTE: CPC measures all the above products in various
ways. Some pose "minimal risk"; CPC advises "caution"
against using others at all. "Minimal risk doesn't mean you should
use a product frequently - there can be cumulative effects," says Keith
Ashdown, outreach director of CPC. For more detailed information, including
exact names and product numbers, write CPC with your question or buy their
Safe Shopper's Bible (520 N. Michigan Ave., Ste 410, Chicago IL 60611).
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA),
the publisher of Animal Times, has compiled a non-toxic, six-step regimen
for attacking - and winning - the battle of the flea that I have used with
total success for years - even when I lived in California and my dogs lived
outdoors during summers of epidemic fleas.
Pet diet and skin care. Feed your pets fresh, whole foods - try to
avoid meat by-products, preservatives and artificial colorings. Add either
brewer's or nutritional yeast, fresh garlic or flaxseed oil (found at health
food stores) to pet food for skin health and flea repellent. My dogs Sophie
and Hamlet love the taste.
I use PETA's recipe for the skin: slice up two lemons
and pour nearly boiling water over them, then soak overnight. The next day,
strain the liquid and pour into a spray bottle. The dogs get spritzed liberally
and then the solution is massaged into their coats. Citrus oil kills and
repels fleas and the pooches smell great, too. I spray their bedding, as
well. Cats hate to be sprayed and find citrus offensive, so for felines,
make a solution of one ounce pennyroyal oil (also found at health food stores)
with 18 ounces of water. Sponge this solution onto kitty and massage it
into the coat. You can also spray dogs with this solution - they don't mind.
WARNING: Be sure to dilute pennyroyal - it can be toxic to pets if used
alone. Skin that is irritated from scratching and flea bites can be soothed
by applying aloe vera, nature's miracle healer.
Treatment for your house and yard. Most flea eggs are
laid on bedding, not the living host. So commit to vacuuming rugs, floor
cracks and furniture frequently, every two to three days, during the peak
flea seasons - summer and fall - especially if there is an abundance of
rain. Flea eggs can still hatch in the vacuum bag, so invest in extra bags
and change them after each use. In severe cases, rugs should be steam-cleaned.
May 5th is "Be Kind to Pets Week": give your pets the gift of
cedar-filled beds, which repel fleas, with removable covers that you can
launder often. You can also place sticky paper flea traps and a small light
bulb in a darkened room to attract fleas. For the yard, WTC recommends beneficial
nematodes - tiny worms that infect and kill flea larvae. They can eliminate
over 90 percent of larvae in 24 hours following the first application.
Anti-flea sachets. Fleas detest the scent of lavender, mint, rosemary,
sweet woodruff and cedar: use sachets of these fragrances between couch
Pet baths. Bathe pets with gentle herbal shampoos. Pesticide shampoos
are overkill, since simple soap and water will kill fleas if the soap is
left on for about 5-8 minutes.
Flea combs. Use a fine-toothed flea comb to catch fleas, dipping
comb into a bowl of soapy water after each sweep through your pet's fur.
Low-toxicity pesticides. In cases of overwhelming infestation, try
low-toxicity pesticides derived from natural sources. Pyrethrum, or pyrethrins
(crushed chrysanthemum blossoms), is toxic to humans, pets and beneficial
insects. However, WTC recommends Pet and Premise, an insecticidal soap made
by Safer, Inc., which contains small amounts of pyrethrums that do not pose
great risks. It is available in retail stores. Permaguard, by Pristine Products,
combines diatomaceous earth with pyrethrins, and can be used on carpets,
pets and outdoors in the grass. NOTE: not to be confused with the synthetic
pyrethroids, which are potent neurotoxins.
Limonene, a frequently-recommended extract from mandarin
orange and lemon peels, has caused tumors in male rats, according to WTC,
which advises using shampoos or area sprays containing linalool, another
citrus derivative, instead. However, linalool can cause respiratory problems
and should be used outdoors or with good ventilation.
Diatomaceous earth (DE) kills fleas by drying them out.
DE, a non-toxic, chalky powder made of fossilized algae, can be sprinkled
on carpets and lawns. It can be found in garden supply stores. CAUTION:
DE is a lung irritant if inhaled.
As an alternative to the "poison necklace,"
Natural Animal, Solid Gold, Nature's Best and Nature's Way herb-based flea
collars have as their active ingredients different combinations of eucalyptus,
citronella, pennyroyal, rue, cedar, sesame, and natural fragrances. While
the herbs don't actually kill fleas, they can repel them.
Approached systematically, the all-natural approach
to non-toxic pet care is easy, truly effective and the only way to go if
you care about the health of your pets, your family and the planet (not
to mention yourself).
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