There’s no doubt about it, keeping fleas and ticks off our pets (and out of our homes) is important for both our health and our sanity. Ticks can carry and spread serious illnesses like Lyme disease, and fleas are not only creepy, but they can also transmit diseases to humans and pet alike. Where the question actually lies is, which flea and tick control methods are the best solutions?
What Flea and Tick Control Methods are the Best?
We’ve all seen advertisements for flea and tick-killing chemicals that can be applied to pets’ skin or given as a chew, but do these conventional flea and tick remedies expose our pets to unnecessary toxins and endanger their health?
As a doctor, I long ago took the Hippocratic oath to “do no harm,” and my philosophy for humans and pets alike is to, whenever possible, avoid potentially dangerous chemicals and opt instead for alternatives that are as natural as possible and also effective. This led me to investigate natural flea and tick prevention for pets. To learn more, I consulted with Dr. Steven Tobin, a holistic veterinarian in Connecticut, where Lyme Disease from deer ticks is highly prevalent.
According to Dr. Tobin, “most modern flea and tick repellants are actually poisons…” They are not true repellants in that they don’t actually keep parasites off of pets; instead, they are insecticides (such as fluralaner and fipronil) that work by poisoning the fleas and ticks that have already bitten your dog or cat.
For me (and Dr. Tobin, I imagine), there are a few issues here which make topical flea and tick control agents or chews a tough pill to swallow. First, your beloved dog or cat has insect poison circulating through its body. Although it’s not strong enough to kill your pet, chronic exposure to an insecticide can be hazardous to pets’ health. Fipronil, the active ingredient in some topical tick and flea treatments has been classified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a “possible human carcinogen.” And in Sept. 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an alert to pet owners and veterinarians about potential neurological affects that could happen after using flea and tick control products made with isoxazolines, a class of chemical pesticides including fluralaner and afoxolaner. If you read labels, you’ll see these as the active ingredients in numerous flea and tick remedies that are applied topically or come in chew form.
Another reason I’m not on board with these flea and tick insecticides is – as Dr. Tobin also pointed out – that pets must get bit by fleas or ticks for the poisons to actually do anything. Since it may take up to 48 hours for a tick to transmit the Lyme Disease spyrochete to its host, this isn’t a terrible strategy for Lyme prevention, but it won’t protect against viruses that ticks can immediately pass on to the pets and humans they attach to. And you still may end up with ticks in your house should they leave your pet’s fur before attaching.
What about vaccinations against Lyme and other insect-borne diseases? Dr. Tobin says, vaccines are most effective against viral diseases, not great against bacterial diseases, and provide poor protection against protozoal and fungal diseases. Hence, he doesn’t advocate for vaccinating against bacterial diseases like Lyme.
And if you’re wondering whether flea and tick collars are a good option, I’d say no, especially if you have young children in the home. Most flea and tick collars contain toxic pesticides as well. According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC):
“High levels of pesticide residue can remain on a dog’s or cat’s fur for weeks after a flea collar is put on an animal. Residue levels produced by some flea collars are so high that they pose a risk of cancer and damage to the neurological system of children up to 1,000 times higher than the EPA’s acceptable levels…We found that residues from two pesticides used in flea collars—tetrachlorvinphos and propoxur, among the most dangerous pesticides still legally on the market—were high enough to pose a risk to both children and adults who play with their pets.”
The NRDC did note that, among all the chemical flea and tick control methods, pill or chew form is the safest option – “These usually contain the least toxic pesticides, and better yet, they don’t leave a residue on your pet or in your home.”
Given the potential risks and inefficacy of these conventional flea and tick treatments, it’s certainly worth exploring some holistic flea and tick prevention measures to protect your precious pet’s health while avoiding unnecessary toxin exposure.
Natural Flea and Tick Prevention for Dogs
To best safeguard your pet, Dr. Tobin recommends using agents that are true repellants – i.e. they work by keeping ticks and fleas off your pet’s fur instead of killing them after the insects bite and draw blood.
For fleas, you might be surprised to hear that the formulation of garlic and brewer’s yeast is safe for dogs, since there’s been controversy over whether garlic is toxic to dogs. Specifically, the debate is about a compound found in alliums like garlic called thiosulphate that can make dogs, and especially cats, sick by affecting red blood cells. Dr. Tobin says that, while giving cats onions for a long period of time can result in anemia, moderate use of garlic in dogs is fine. The only problem you may encounter is the pungent aroma, but if you can get past that, garlic can be a good natural flea and tick repellent!
Dr. Tobin has a few favorite natural tick repellents, the first being black walnut hull extract. He originally heard of this solution from a forester who reported that she and her dog took a dropper-full of the extract at each meal, which kept them virtually tick-free. Once she ran out of the extract, they started picking up noticeably more ticks on their outings. Over the next few seasons, Dr. Tobin spread the word about black walnut hull extract’s tick-repelling power and got great feedback from those who tried it.
The second holistic tick repellent Dr. Tobin recommends is a homemade tick spray made from ½ ounce cedarwood oil mixed with a pint of rubbing alcohol. Before outings, give your dog one spray under the neck and one spray on the back of the neck – it’s not necessary to saturate the whole coat. This will repel ticks for about four hours, so be sure to reapply if you’re going to be out all day or overnight. (In case you’re wondering what Dr. Tobin recommends to keep humans free of ticks, it’s this same homemade tick repellent spray with the addition of rose geranium and citronella oils.)
Natural Flea and Tick Prevention for Cats
Tick prevention is seldom a problem in cats, as they tend, through constant grooming, to keep themselves free of ticks. Cats that don’t go outside (indoor cats), don’t live with dogs that bring fleas or ticks into the house, and don’t go visiting with feline friends won’t be at risk for ticks. Outdoor cats and indoor/outdoor cats, on the other hand, can pick up fleas and ticks outside and bring them in. For these cats, Dr. Tobin recommends a spray of the homemade tick repellant spray mentioned above, or – better yet – a wipe, with the diluted cedarwood spray.
Parting Thoughts on the Best Flea and Tick Control Methods
Remember, no flea and tick remedy is 100% effective, so the most important action you can take to prevent flea and tick infection and disease is a careful body check for you and your pets whenever you’ve spent time in wooded areas. The sooner you find and remove a deer tick on you or your pet, the lesser your chance of infection with Lyme. So, keep on top of checks!
At the end of the day, we do the best we can with flea and tick prevention – and whichever method you choose has to be the one that works best for you and your family.
One way to help pets stay healthy through flea and tick seasons is to boost their immune systems naturally through highly nutritional diets and targeted supplements like probiotics. Just like us, pets are what they eat, so it’s best to give them clean, high-vibrational, sustainably-produced foods full of nutrients their bodies thrive on. I love these freeze-dried pet treats, made with just one healthy, grain-free ingredient – raw, Atlantic-caught wild salmon, turkey heart, chicken breast or bison liver – to pamper pets while helping their bodies perform at an optimum level.
From my heart to yours,
- Sinatra, Drew. Are Your Flu-Like Symptoms Really Signs of Lyme Disease? Healthy Directions, last accessed June 25, 2019 at https://www.healthydirections.com/are-your-flu-like-symptoms-really-signs-of-lyme-disease
- Gollakner, R. Fluralaner. com, last accessed June 25, 2019 at https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/fluralaner.
- National Pesticide Information Center. Finopril General Fact Sheet. Last accessed June 25, 2019 at http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/fipronil.html
- Parasitipedia.net. ISOXAZOLINES for veterinary use in DOGS and CATS against fleas and ticks. Last accessed June 25, 3019 at https://parasitipedia.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2668&Itemid=2951
- Parasitipedia.net. FLURALANER: SAFETY SUMMARY for VETERINARY use in DOGS & CATS (BRAVECTO). Poisoning, intoxication, overdose, antidote. Last accessed June 25, 3019 at https://parasitipedia.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2867&Itemid=2970
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Animal Drug Safety Communication: FDA Alerts Pet Owners and Veterinarians About Potential for Neurologic Adverse Events Associated with Certain Flea and Tick Products. FDA.gov, Sept. 30, 2018.
- National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Poison on Pets II – Toxic Chemicals on Flea and Tick Collars. April 2009, last accessed June 26, 2019 at https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/poisonsonpets.pdf
© 2019 Stephen Sinatra, M.D. All rights reserved.