As spring flowers bloom, something else is growing in your backyard and the neighborhood park too – the flea population. If you have a dog or cat that roams outside, you don’t want your pet bringing home any new friends in their fur. But the flea and tick control products your vet probably encourages you to use are typically toxic.
The Natural Resources Defense Council found that the residue left on fur weeks after a flea collar is put on are so high they pose cancer and neurological risks up to 1,000 times what the Environmental Protection Agency deems acceptable for children – not to mention the more than 40,000 reports of adverse reactions in pets per year. As much as I don’t want tiny bugs in my house, I want dangerous chemicals smeared on my dog who often sleeps in my bed. So is there a safe flea and tick control solution out there?
Less Dangerous Solutions
Propoxur and tetrachlorvinphos are two of the most dangerous pesticides used for pets. The NRDC is working hard to get them taken off the market. Until then, avoid them and look for less harmful products on the non-profit’s GreenPaws Flea and Tick Product Directory. Popular brands like Frontline and Advantage fall into the use sparingly category.
The least offensive category includes low-risk pesticides like Pyriproxyfen and S-Methoprene – they’re still chemicals and not 100 percent safe, but if you’re the type of person who likes to go green in baby steps, this is a good, comfortable place to start. Also low-risk are essential oil formulas, which might sound benign, but surprisingly many can cause trouble especially in high concentrations. Reactions in pets include severe dermatitis, muscle tremors, seizures and vomiting. Citrus oils including oil of limonene are the most mild.
A Natural Approach
If you’re brave and willing to put in the extra effort, some experts say you can keep fleas away without any chemicals or essential oils. However, chances are your vet will discourage this au naturale practice. The key to a flea-free pet is being clean. OCD-style clean. You’ll need to comb your pet daily with a flea comb and dip the comb in soapy water between strokes. Monthly baths are also important. If you can keep your pooch still with suds on, wait 10 minutes (or as long as you can) before rinsing shampoo so it has time to kill any bugs.
You should also wash the areas your pet sleeps weekly, whether it’s a pet bed or your bedding. If you have carpeting, you should vacuum regularly and throw away or empty the vacuum bag each time. If you have a yard where your pet plays, pick up some nematodes at your garden supply store – they’ll help keep the fleas away naturally, but remember, that doesn’t mean your dog can’t pick up a flea in the park or at the dog run. If your dog does get fleas despite your efforts, expect a hefty professional cleaning bill to de-bug carpets, linens and furniture.
And here are three other steps you can take to find a safer, more sustainable way to keep fleas and ticks off your pet.