When the weather gets warmer, the Bay Area comes to life. Dogs spend more time outdoors. People spend more time outdoors. Insects that were dormant for much of the winter are more than happy to join in on the outdoor activities. After a mild winter and a rainy spring, fleas and ticks can be all too prevalent. In fact, a recent trek on a short but dog friendly Bay Area hiking trail resulted in a total of 17 ticks (mostly on clothing).
Fleas and ticks can be more than an annoyance. A severe flea infestation can cause anemia from blood loss, allergies and even tape worms. Ticks can cause infections and even potentially life threatening Lyme disease and several other illnesses.
There are many ways to prevent and treat fleas and ticks:
For our parents’ and grandparents’ dogs, over-the-counter flea collars might have been the norm. These potentially carcinogenic treatments have been banned in California, but are still sold throughout much of the US. Some flea and tick treatments that are sold in pet stores and by veterinarians work as neurotoxins. The jury is still out on these medications, but for fast and effective treatment, they are hard to match. For dogs who hike or spend a lot of time in long grass and wooded areas, these topical treatments can be the most reliable. They are not recommended for dogs who have neurological problems, such as seizure disorders.
If your dog’s flea problems are manageable and he’s not spending a lot of time in the long grass, a little prevention can be the only tool you need. Heidi Hill, owner of the Holistic Hound in Berkeley, recommends several measures that can help keep your dog comfortable and insect-free.
Don’t underestimate the value of a flea comb — They are inexpensive and regular combing can keep fleas at bay as well as let you know about an impending problem.
Treat the environment — Use food grade diatomaceous earth both inside and outside the home. It will actually kill the fleas. It is even safe to use in a pet’s food to kill parasites. Nemotodes are a microscopic worm that live in soil. They will eat the flea larvae. Both are available in several retail outlets, including home improvement stores.
Natural treatments — There are several topical treatments that are made from essential oils and herbs. Some work better than others. Try them out. Discuss them with your veterinarian or a proprietor of a quality pet store. As a plus, most smell nice. On the downside, they can be very expensive.
Supplements — There are natural supplements that can change the taste of your dog’s blood, making in unappealing to insects.
Diet — According to Hill, healthy dogs are less likely to attract fleas and ticks. Give your dog a high quality dog food. Hill said a raw food diet may be best, but “there is no one diet that works for every animal”.
The trick to natural treatment is consistency. Rather than the once-a-month treatment required by prescription treatments, natural treatment requires diligence and can be costly.
Fleas and ticks are beginning to become resistant to the prescription treatments, so many people are choosing to supplement them with natural treatments. For example, they use flea combs as part of your normal grooming regimen. They might also spray natural flea and tick repellant on their dog before embarking on a hike. After the hike, be sure to thoroughly check your dog for ticks. If you find ticks, remove them carefully and slowly, making sure the head comes out with the rest of the tick.
Talk to your veterinarian about the alternatives. See what works for you and for your dog.