According to the Humane Society of the United States, in 2008, at least 1,600 pet deaths were related to spot on treatments with pesticides called “pyrethroids.” The Center for Public Integrity reports that pyrethroid spot-on treatments account for more than half of major pesticide pet reactions reported to the EPA over the last five years.
Pyrethroid-based flea and tick treatments are readily available in powders, shampoos, dips, sprays,a dn other forms, but they’re also linked to thousands of reported pet poisonings.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that some flea and tick products contain chemicals, specifically permethrins, that are “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”
Meanwhile, fleas and ticks aren’t only annoying, they can cause allergic reactions, welts, skin irritation, biting, infections, dermatitis, parasite infections like tapeworms, anemia, and even diseases that can be transmitted to humans. We need to help our furry friends get rid of these pests, but surely there are better options than these potentially dangerous pesticides?
Dangers of Flea and Tick Treatments
We think if it’s on the shelf, it should be safe, right? With the explosion of pet products on the market, surely there’s someone out there regulating what’s in them?
According to recent news stories, maybe not as much as we’d like. Over the past few years, many pet owners have reported serious side effects of flea and tick treatments, including seizures, tremors, and even death. Other reports include burning, open wounds, and vomiting. According to the EPA, in 2008, 24,000 incidents were reported related to spot-on flea and tick products. Of those, more than 250 major cases were reported, with 350 deaths.
Humane Society Provides Guidelines
The Humane Society notes that besides pyrethroid-based products, other potentially dangerous ingredients include organophosphate insecticides (OPs) and carbamates. According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), OPs and carbamates can harm the nervous system. One of the OPs that’s found in these products is “tetrachlorvinphos,” which has been classified by the EPA as being likely to be carcinogenic to humans.
The Society warns that if your flea and tick products contain “carbaryl” or “propoxur,” the product contains a carbamate, and may be potentially dangerous to pets and children. Propoxur is also considered to be a probable human carcinogen, and as of 2010, carbaryl was banned from use in new pet products. If you have older products, however, or buy some that have been on the shelf awhile, you may still see this ingredient.
What many consumers don’t realize is that pet products are not required to undergo field trials prior to approval. Products may be released on the market with limited testing, often on only one breed of dog or cat, which can underestimate the safety profiles for other breeds and even for humans. The EPA did state that they plan to require more rigorous testing of products, after the reports of so many problems with spot-on treatments.
Meanwhile, if you want to protect your pets (and therefore, your family) from fleas and ticks, there are other options. Try these tips for prevention first, then find treatments for those already affected below.
- Be anti-social. Dogs and cats catch fleas from other dogs and cats. Make sure your animals socialize only with others who are pest-free.
- Keep it clean. Pests like a little mess, so the cleaner you can keep your pet’s environment, the less likely he’ll catch fleas. Remember that if your pet has fleas, likely they are more of the buggers around your home. Vacuum the entire house frequently and steam clean in the spring and fall. Keep sleeping spots vacuumed and dusted, regularly wash your pet’s bedding in hot water, and mop floors often. Choose cedar chip bedding as cedar helps repel pests.
- Avoid dangerous areas. Ticks like damp, long grass and wooded areas, so if you want to reduce the risk of them hitching a ride on your pet, take a walk in more open areas. Keep your cat indoors if possible.
- Groom the yard. Keep your yard well-groomed and free of busy areas to cut down on fleas and ticks around your home. Consider getting rid of any bird feeding containers as birds can carry ticks. Natural insecticides made of wintergreen, rosemary oil and peppermint oil can help keep ticks out of your yard and garden.
- Bathe gently. Bathing helps eliminate pests, but do it too often and you can strip the animal’s skin of its natural oils, which sets up a dryer, better environment for bugs. Limit baths to once every month unless the animal already is infested—then try 1-2 times a week for 2-3 weeks. Just warm water on its own will help and won’t strip the coat so much—fleas have a hard time holding on in the water. Use warm water, and avoid chemical-filled flea and tick shampoos. Try natural shampoo options you may find from organic companies, or make your own by adding a few drops of eucalyptus to a bottle of natural shampoo or castile soap. Only use the mixture—don’t apply the oil directly to the animal’s skin. When bathing, pay special attention to areas between the toes, around the ears, as that’s where insects, particularly ticks, like to hide. Brush regularly between baths.
- Treat. If you see signs your pet is infested (frequent scratching, biting, wounds), it’s time for a treatment bath. Instead of using a pesticide shampoo, steep 2 cups of fresh rosemary in boiling water for 30 minutes. Strain and transfer the liquid to a bucket, add one gallon of warm water, and soak the animal thoroughly. Then let her dry naturally, preferably in the sun if you can.
- Make the coat unpleasant. Many natural oils can help deter pests from finding a home on your pet’s coat. Add a few drops of lavender, eucalyptus, rose geranium, lemongrass, or even a cut-up lemon to 8 ounces of water and mist over the animal’s coat for a natural deterrent. A third cup apple cider vinegar mixed with two-thirds cup water and used after bathing can also help. Some also recommend combining aloe Vera juice with cayenne pepper and spritzing on the animal’s coat.
- Remove. Once your pet has a tick, the best way to remove it is with 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. Check with your vet to be sure the tick didn’t transmit any diseases to your dog.
- Repel. Once your pet has fleas, bathe them thoroughly, first. Then try the essential oil spray mentioned above. Fleas also hate citrus, so you can cut up a lemon, lime, or orange, put it into a jar, cover it with boiling water and let it steep, then use that solution in a spray bottle on your pet a couple times a day for a few weeks. You can also dip the animal’s collar into essential oils of eucalyptus, tea tree, citronella, lavender, or geranium. Rope collars or soft cotton collars work best for this technique.
- Cat owners, beware! Since cats regularly lick their fur and are less able to process essential oils, it’s important to be very careful when using essential oil baths and sprays. Nutmeg, tea tree, peppermint, lavender, wintergreen, and citrus oils have some reports of toxicity in cats. Choose cedarwood, lemongrass, and rosemary instead, and be sure to always dilute in water and use only when needed.
Do you have a natural remedy for fleas and ticks? Please let us know!
“Flea and Tick Product Ingredients: What You Should Know,” The Humane Society of the United States, January 23, 2012, http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/resources/tips/flea_tick_OTC_pet_products.html.
“Pet owners warn of danger with flea and tick medication,” NewsChanel5, May 18, 2010, http://www.newsnet5.com/dpp/news/local_news/pet-owners-warn-of-danger-with-flea-and-tick-medication.