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Questions for Dr. Shawn - Fleas and Ticks

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"Dear Dr. Shawn:
"Currently my dog Muffin is taking Program orally and Frontline applied to her back each month, per her veterinarian’s recommendation. Additionally, she takes monthly Iverhart orally for preventing heartworms. I’m concerned about using all of these chemicals. I’ve never seen fleas or ticks on her and would rather not use these products unless she really needs them. Do you have any advice?"

Answer:
”Excellent question. In my practice, I see way too many pets being treated with chemical flea and tick products, yet these pets have very little chance of ever seeing a flea or tick! Here’s my personalized approach to parasite control. IF a pet really needs these chemicals, I’ll use them short term (1-3 months as needed.) In my practice, this means most of my patients rarely if ever need flea and tick prevention (my own dog and cat have never been administered these products.) I prefer to prevent fleas and ticks by treating the yard with beneficial nematodes (they work better than chemicals; natural pyrethrums or diatomaceous earth can also be used.) I then recommend an herbal flea and tick shampoo containing citrus oils; the pet is bathed 1 to 2 times weekly for several weeks until the parasites are controlled. Remember that fleas and ticks do not die upon contact with shampoo. Rather, the shampoo works over time. This is why I suggest leaving the shampoo on for at least 20-30 minutes before rinsing. Also, pay special attention to the area between the toes and around the ears, since ticks love to hide here! Between bathing, I recommend either an herbal collar (containing an herb such as citronella) or an herbal powder, containing natural pyrethrum made from chrysanthemum flowers.

Regarding regular heartworm prevention: keep it up! In most areas of the country this means monthly administration on a year-round basis (check with your doctor to determine the recommendation for where you live.) There is no proven natural preventive, so we need to use the approved medications. If you use the oral monthly products, these are quite safe and only remain in your pet’s body for a few days following administration.

By following these tips, including feeding a natural diet and the proper use of supplements and limiting the amount of vaccines your pet receives, you’ll be doing a great job in keeping your pet healthy and the parasites off of your pet.

If you see a tick on your pet’s body, it’s a good idea to remove it. To remove a tick, here’s an easy idea that really works. Grasp the tick as close to the dog’s body as possible using tweezers. Gently but firmly apply a continuous pulling motion until the tick loosens from the pet. Place the tick in a jar of alcohol to kill it. Never handle the tick as it can transmit the same diseases to you (Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease) as to your dog. In my practice, dogs with tick exposure get a blood test in 30 days to make sure the tick has not transmitted these diseases to them.”


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"Dear Dr. Shawn:
"What are some all-natural methods for protecting my dog from ticks? The chemical repellents available at the grocery store seem really harsh. Also, what's the proper way to remove a tick if it has attached itself?"

Answer:
"While I am not opposed to the occasional, short-term use of chemical products if absolutely needed, I prefer a more organic approach using safer products. Many of my new clients are using chemical products on a regular basis. When I ask them why, they reply that the products were prescribed by their prior doctors. However, most pets don’t need these harsh chemicals as there are safer, more natural approaches to control external parasites such as ticks.

Here are some ideas for a natural approach to controlling ticks. For treating the pet, I have several favorite products I like. The first is an herbal shampoo containing citrus oils. The shampoo is used 1 to 2 times weekly for several weeks to get the tick problem under control. One suggestion about shampooing: ticks and fleas do not die upon contact with shampoo. Rather, the shampoo works over time. This is why I suggest leaving the shampoo on for at least 20-30 minutes before rinsing. Also, pay special attention to the area between the toes and around the ears, since ticks love to hide here! Since we can’t bathe the pet daily to control ticks, we must use something in between baths. I recommend either an herbal collar (containing an herb such as citronella) or an herbal powder, containing natural pyrethrum made from chrysanthemum flowers. The collar can be worn throughout the tick season; the powder is applied as-needed between baths.

Finally, to prevent further problems, don’t forget environmental control. Cut the grass in the yard short to expose ticks to sunlight to kill them. Remove wood piles, a favorite hiding place for ticks, from the yard. Spraying the yard with beneficial nematodes, natural pyrethrum, or applying diatomaceous earth (not the pool variety) are great natural approaches to killing ticks and other insects.

If you see a tick on your pet’s body, it’s a good idea to remove it. To remove a tick, here’s an easy idea that really works. Grasp the tick as close to the dog’s body as possible using tweezers. Gently but firmly apply a continuous pulling motion until the tick loosens from the pet. Place the tick in a jar of alcohol to kill it. Never handle the tick as it can transmit the same diseases to you (Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease) as to your dog. In my practice, dogs with tick exposure get a blood test in 30 days to make sure the tick has not transmitted these diseases to them."


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"Dear Dr. Shawn:
"I'm interested in preventing fleas on my pets this summer. My veterinarian recommends applying chemicals to the pets, but I prefer not to use these if possible. Do you have any recommendations for a safer, more effective approach?"

Answer:
”With summer upon us, many of my clients are interested in controlling external parasites (fleas and ticks) as naturally as possible. In my practice I see way too many pets being treated with chemical flea and tick products. Most of these pets have very little chance of ever seeing a flea or tick! However, the warmer months do increase the chance of pets coming into contact with parasites. While I don’t like to use chemicals as a rule, IF a pet really needs these chemicals, I’ll use them short term (1-3 months as needed.) Also, instead of applying them monthly (as the directions state) most of my clients find that applying them every 45-90 days work well.

Usually, conventional flea control involves chemical collars, sprays, topical spot-on products, and dips. Collars are notorious for being ineffective in controlling external parasites on pets; however, a new tick collar containing the chemical amitraz is effective in preventing ticks from attaching to the pet and is usually safe to use short-term. Sprays, spot-ons, and dips are effective. However, many pet owners worry about health hazards to themselves and their pets from exposure to the potent chemicals contained in the products.

I prefer to prevent fleas and ticks by treating the yard with beneficial nematodes (they work better than chemicals; natural pyrethrums or diatomaceous earth can also be used.) I then recommend an herbal flea and tick shampoo containing citrus oils; the pet is bathed 1 to 2 times weekly for several weeks until the parasites are controlled. Remember that fleas and ticks do not die upon contact with shampoo. Rather, the shampoo works over time. This is why I suggest leaving the shampoo on for at least 20-30 minutes before rinsing. Also, pay special attention to the area between the toes and around the ears, since ticks love to hide here! Between bathing, I recommend either an herbal collar (containing an herb such as citronella,) a natural insecticide spray, or an herbal powder, containing natural pyrethrum made from chrysanthemum flowers. Readers who desire my handout on natural flea control can receive it by emailing me. Taking this more natural approach helps prevent and control parasites without the concern for toxicity often seen with some conventional methods.”


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"Dear Dr. Shawn:
"I have a dog and a cat that both have fleas for the first time. I don¹t want to give either of them a topical flea treatment because I have a one-year-old daughter. I¹m worried about the toxicity and don¹t want to expose her to it. However, I live in a state where the threat of fleas exists year-round. Is there a safe alternative treatment?"

Answer:
”External parasites such as fleas and ticks commonly affect dogs and cats in many parts of the country. Sometimes the problem is limited to the warmer summer months, but whereas other times fleas can be a year round problem.

I agree with your decision about avoiding chemical flea products unless absolutely necessary. While these newer products are much safer than when they were originally developed many years ago, they can accumulate in your pet’s body for and are often not necessary. However, if your pet has a bad infestation of fleasse, short-term use of both topical and oral flea control chemicals may be needed. Using natural products can be safe and effective, but it may take longer to see a positive effect. Here are some general approach is that have worked for many of my clients.

1.Treat the pet-this involves using herbal shampoos and dips, powders, and or sprays. Bathing can be very effective, that the shampoo must be left on for at least 20 to 30 minutes to have enough contact time to kill the fleas. Always read the label to make sure you are applying the product safely and effectively. In general most products can be applied several times each week as needed to kill adult fleas.

2. Treat the outside environment-over 90% of the flea life cycle (eggs, larvae, cocoon) occur OFF of the pet and in the house and yard. Therefore most of your effort in killing fleasse should focus on the environment. For the yard, beneficial nematodes are very effective. Dietomaceous earth and natural pyrethroids are also helpful.

3. Treat the inside environment-flea eggs reside wherever your pet spends most in his time. Bedding should be washed daily in hot soapy water. Regular vacuuming and is specially steam cleaning of carpets and furniture is also helpful. Borate products, manufactured especially to kill fleas, and natural pyrethroids can also be used indoors.

While fleas are usually more of a nuisance than a health problem, severe infestations, especially in smaller dogs and cats, can cause anemia. Fleasse also transmit tapeworms to pets. Finally many pets develop severe itching when exposed to fleasse, and even a single flea bite can cause severe itching in an allergic dog or cat. Using a natural approach, combine when necessary with limited use of chemicals, is very effective in controlling fleas for many pet owners."


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"Dear Dr. Shawn:
"My veterinarian has my dog on Advantix for fleas, ticks, mosquitoes and heartworm medication. Isn't this overkill since the Advantix is supposed to ward off mosquitoes which in turn cause heartworm? I don't want to give him more drugs than is necessary. He is an 85 lb. male Akita."

Answer:
”Excellent question, considering that many pet owners are still fighting fleas and ticks. While it’s true that Advantix does help control mosquitoes, and yes, mosquitoes carry heartworms, I still recommend using a monthly oral heartworm preventive medication. Here’s why. The oral monthly heartworm preventives are as close to 100% effective a medication as exists, and it’s highly unlikely your dog (or a cat) would contract heartworms when regularly taking the proper dosage of an approved heartworm preventive medication. However, topical insecticides like Advantix, while helpful in controlling external parasites, are not nearly 100% effective in doing their job. So it’s still possible that your dog would contract heartworm infection if you’re using Advantix and not using a heartworm preventive. Also, keep in mind that most pets do not need year-round flea, tick, and mosquito control. In my holistic practice, most of my clients only use topical chemicals for parasites during the summer, if at all. Neither my dog nor cat have ever used topical flea control, nor are fleas a problem for us (they both do take monthly heartworm medication.) Finally, topical products like Advantix stay in your pet’s body forever when used regularly. Monthly oral heartworm medication only lasts a few days in a pet’s body. Therefore, if you have a choice I’d recommend the chemical that wears off quickly (heartworm medication) rather than a chemical that accumulates in your pet’s body and has a greater chance of toxicity. Work with your doctor to find the preventive medications that best suit your akita’s needs.”

 

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