Metro Pets

By Laura Peterson

It’s that time of year again for warm weather romps in the park and hiking trips in the country with our favorite four-legged pals. For many people, this time of year also means it’s time to pull out the Frontline to protect their beloved pooch from dastardly fleas and disease-carrying ticks. For others, the thought of harsh pesticides is troubling, but so too is the thought of flea infestation or Lyme disease. What are our options and how can we make the safest and most informed decision for our pets?

When it comes to flea and tick protection, Frontline Plus is the most recommended flea & tick control product by conventional veterinarians. Frontline contains the pesticide Fipronil. Once it is applied to your pet, between the shoulders, it is stored in the oil glands under the pet’s skin. The pesticide then continuously reapplies itself to the skin and hair through the hair follicles. Frontline boasts that its products are water proof (and self-grooming proof, for cats) and last for a month. According to Frontline’s website,”From the very first application, Frontline kills 98-100% of existing fleas in less than 24 hours and continues to provide fast-acting, long-lasting flea and tick control.” Frontline also claims to kill 100% of ticks on your pet within 48 hours. However, make note that Frontline does not repel fleas and ticks – it only kills those that come in contact with (or rather, bite) your dog. Frontline also warns on its label that “individual sensitivities, while rare, may occur after using any pesticide product for pets.” These sensitivities cannot be predicted, so use caution and discuss with your vet what to do in case your pet does have a bad reaction.

The problem with Frontline, aside from the rather questionable aspect of putting pesticide into your pet’s glandular system, is that the insects must bite your pet before coming in contact with the poison. The ticks die sometime within a 48 hour time-frame. During that time, your dog can be infected with Lyme, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, etc. So what’s the point? Frontline is a product that will help prevent your dog from causing flea infestations in your home and it will lower the possibility of diseased ticks harming the people that live with the pets. It doesn’t eradicate the possibilities – just lowers them.

K9 Advantix is another product marketed through vets for dogs. (Manufacturer advises, this product should never be used on cats!) K9 Advantix is for protection against fleas, ticks and mosquitoes. It contains the pesticides Imidacloprid and Permethrin. Unlike Frontline, K9 Advantix does repel ticks and mosquitoes, aside from killing them (the Permethrin is the repellent). It does not repel fleas, though it does kill them once they come in contact with your pet. Unlike Frontline, K9 Advantix can actually help protect your dog from being bitten by disease-carrying ticks, because of the repellent. K9 Advantix also claims to: repel and kill mosquitoes before they can bite, stop fleas from biting in less than 5 minutes, kill 98-100% of fleas within 12 hours, kill reinfesting fleas within 2 hours, and kill flea larvae in the dog’s surroundings. It seems like K9 Advantix is the better option over Frontline, but bear in mind this product is also administered into your dog’s glandular system, so if you are just freaked out by the thought of that, perhaps the all-natural solutions are your best option.

Nowadays there are more all-natural, commercial flea and tick remedies than ever. There are collars, sprays, shampoos and even recipes to make your own sprays, using essential oils. I’ll share a couple of my own recipes that have proven effective in flea and tick control.

Fresh Lemon & Rosemary Spray (For Dogs and Cats)
1 fresh lemon, thinly sliced
2 cups of filtered water
1 sprig of fresh rosemary

Place lemon slices and rosemary in a long, glass Pyrex tray. Cover with water and let sit overnight. In the morning, pour the liquid only into an empty spray bottle. Store unused spray in the refrigerator to keep it fresh, and use within two weeks.

To also repel ticks, add 30 drops of rose geranium oil to two tablespoon of vodka, and then add that mixture into the lemon-rosemary mixture.

Essential Oil Blend (For Dogs Only)
20 drops rose geranium, or palmarosa oil
3 drops citronella oil
3 drops rosemary or lavender oil
3 drops clove oil
3 drops eucalyptus oil
2 Tbsp. black walnut hulls tincture (alcohol base)

Mix all ingredients together, then add to one cup of water and blend in a spray bottle. (If you can’t find black walnut hulls tincture, then add oils to 2 tablespoons of vodka. You must use alcohol to mix the oils in with the water.)

These mixtures can be used to repel fleas, ticks and mosquitoes when sprayed on your pet every day during possible parasite exposure. Use it more often (every few hours) if your dog is swimming, or if you are in a heavy infestation area, just to be safe. Use yourself as a barometer — apply the mixture to yourself and see how mosquitoes, flies, bees, etc. stay away from you! The mixtures can also be used to get fleas off your pet by bringing your pet, the spray bottle and a flea comb outside. Spray your pet while combing. The fleas will jump off when this stuff hits them, so don’t do this any place you don’t want them landing! If you find a tick on your pet, try putting a drop of rose geranium oil right on that sucker and watch it bugger off in disgust. (So many puns; I love it!)

A word of caution regarding cats though — all of these essential oils, except rose geranium, should never be used on or around cats. Cats have a unique and sensitive physiology and oils that contain phenols or ketones can cause a toxic build up in the cat’s system. If you have a multi-species household, consider the lemon-rosemary spray, instead. Though rosemary essential oil contains ketones, using fresh rosemary in an infusion is not concentrated enough to harm your cat. By the way, cats hate the scent of ALL of this stuff and will not be happy about the situation when you apply it!

When it comes to all-natural flea and tick control, prevention is the key. Actually, prevention is the only thing the all-natural approach can offer, as it only repels bugs and doesn’t kill them. Using herbs, essential oils, home-prepared sprays or all-natural commercial products means a greater responsibility falls on the pet owner. Why? Simply because these methods require continual application to be in any way affective. Don’t get me wrong, I encourage the all-natural solutions and use them on my own pets, but it requires diligence on your part to remember to apply it regularly and to make sure you have enough prepared and on-hand when you need it. Be honest with yourself and make the best decision for you and your pets based on all the facts.

Don’t be afraid to ask your vet questions, either. That’s what they’re there for. Ask what they recommend and why they recommend it. Ask how the product works. Ask about side effects and what to do in the case of a bad reaction. Address all of your concerns so you feel confident in whatever decision you make. After all, this is your precious pooch we’re talking about here! Whatever you choose, make sure to use all necessary precautions and follow all instructions. None of these solutions work if they are not used correctly.

Once you have your chosen flea and tick protection in place, you can then relax and have a blast romping around in the great outdoors with your four-legged buddy all summer.

You should only buy Frontline and K9 Advantix from your veterinarian. (Check out the Frontline website out about counterfeit Frontline being sold: http://www.frontline.com/epa/)

Essential oils can be bought from most natural markets, like Whole Foods, Westerly on 54th & 8th Avenue, or at herbal store, Aphrodisia at 264 Bleecker Street.

Originally published June 2006
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