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Safe Solutions for flea control -
 
The Cancer Prevention Coalition and California Department of Health say many flea products contain carcinogens, neurotoxins, or both. The Washington Toxics Coalition says these nerve poisons can cause long-term health problems.(1) The Illinois Poison Control Center, a national authority on toxins, receives thousands of calls each summer reporting flea pesticide poisonings of cats and dogs. In her book The Nontoxic Home, author Debra Lynn Dadd writes, [M]ost pet poisonings are the result of the organophosphate and carbamate compounds used to control fleas. She warns, Whatever you do, do not use chemical sprays, powders, or collars on your animals. Cats and dogs (and their owners) are frequently poisoned by these pesticides. ... Flea collars create a toxic cloud around your animal 24 hours a day.(2)
 
The active ingredient in most commercial flea products is a form of nerve gas. Labels warn not to get it on your skin, to wash your hands after applying it, and to keep it away from children. But they go on to tell you to work it thoroughly into the animals coatas if his or her skin would not absorb the chemical poisons, too!(3)
Immediate effects of pesticide overdoses include vomiting, diarrhea, trembling, seizures, and respiratory problems. If your dog or cat shows any of these symptoms, immediately wash the product off and seek veterinary care.
 
In addition to the hazards to our own animal companions, animals in laboratories are used in tests conducted to develop many of these products. One example of a potentially toxic product that was tested on animalsyet appeared on store shelvesis Blockade. In 1987, Hartz Mountain acknowledged that 366 animal deaths and 2,700 injuries, as well as 56 human injuries, had been blamed on Blockade. Hartz pulled it from the market, tested it on cats and kittens, and then reintroduced it with the same ingredients. (The company eventually paid the EPA $45,000 to settle charges that it failed to report animal illnesses and deaths from Blockade.)(4)
 
Blockade is not alone. Using too much of a product, using it too often, or mixing more than one (such as a collar, dip, and powder) can cause a dangerous or fatal overdose. Long-term effects of flea pesticides include cancer, allergies, nerve damage, and other medical problems.(5)
 
Put Out an Unwelcome Mat
 
The first step in prevention lies in a healthy dog or cat. Skin condition is an indicator of an animals overall health and an important factor in flea control. Dry, flaking skin and itchy raw areas are extremely attractive to fleas.(6)
 
The key to healthy skin is a healthy diet. Check pet food labels carefully. Beware of meat byproducts, which, according to veterinarian Wendell O. Belfield, often consist of [u]rine, fecal matter, hair, pus, meat [from animals] with cancer and T.B., etc.(7) In addition, meats used in pet food can be anything from 4-D meats (from animals who arrived at the slaughterhouse dead, dying, diseased, or disabled) to rendered roadkill andaccording to a San Francisco Chronicle exposéeuthanized dogs and cats from the pound.(8) See our factsheet Meatless Meals for Dogs and Cats for information on a vegetarian diet for companion animals.
 
Avoid foods containing preservatives and artificial colorings, such as BHA and BHT, propyl gallate, sodium nitrite, and ethoxyquin.(9)
 
Just as important as whats left out of animals food is whats put in. Fresh, whole foods are vital, since raw foods provide digestive enzymes and vitamins that can be destroyed by cooking. Evening primrose oil and flaxseed oil (available in health food stores) are excellent for the promotion of healthy skin. (Note: They must be refrigerated in liquid form.) Vitamin C (calcium ascorbate) and B-complex vitamins are also essential to a healthy coat. Many animal guardians swear by nutritional yeast and fresh garlic as skin boosters and flea repellents, too.
 
Cover All Your Bases
 
Effective flea control programs employ a multi-faceted approach.
 
Vacuum rugs and furniture daily, if necessary, during the spring and summer months. Flea eggs can be picked up by vacuuming, but can still hatch in the bag, which should be sealed and thrown away or put in the freezer after each cleaning.
 
Tuck cedar blocks and/or herbal sachets in between the cushions of upholstered furniture. Some herbal powders repel fleas and can be sprinkled in bedding areas. Diatomaceous earth, a powder composed of the fossilized remains of one-celled algae, can be sprinkled on carpets to eliminate fleas safely. (Note: Diatomaceous earth is harmless if ingested but should not be inhaled. When applying, remove animals from the area and wear a protective mask. Let sit at least several hours, then vacuum.) Look for diatomaceous earth at garden, animal supply, and health food stores, but never use diatomaceous earth that has been treated for use in swimming pools. Ordinary table salt or borax can also be used on carpets and should be vacuumed up the day after use.
 
A company called Rx for Fleas (1-800-666-3532) uses a patented nontoxic sodium borate compound that it guarantees for up to one year. Several studies have shown the treatmentwhich ranges in cost from $150 to $250to be highly effective.
 
Use cedar-filled bedding for animals (available at most pet supply stores). Bed covers should be laundered weekly during flea season.
 
Animals themselves can be given extra flea-repelling muscle with herbal shampoos and dips. Avons Skin-So-Soft lotion has been known to do the trick when diluted and used as a rinse (use 1 1/2 ounces of Skin-So-Soft to 1 gallon of water), while helping sooth inflamed hot spots at the same time.
 
Another nontoxic rinse that both kills fleas and soothes irritated skin can be made with a fresh lemon and hot water. Just slice the lemon thinly (including the peel), pour a pint of near-boiling water over it, and allow it to steep overnight. The next day, sponge the solution onto the animals skin and let dry, or pour into an empty spray bottle and use as a spray (extra liquid should be stored in the refrigerator). It can safely be used daily. Keep in mind that citrus scents are offensive to some catstheyre sometimes used as cat repellentsso test your felines tolerance before using.
 
Gentle herbal shampoos are effective and can be used as often as once a week, although too-frequent bathing can dry out animals skin. When shampooing, use warm water and begin with a ring of lather around the animals neck so fleas cannot climb onto the face. Flea-pesticide shampoos are not necessary since soap and water alone kill fleas.
 
In betweenor instead ofbaths, a fine-toothed flea comb should be used to catch fleas. Keep a bowl of soapy water on hand and dip the comb in it after each sweep.
 
Products containing beneficial nematodes (micro-organisms that eat flea larvae) can be sprayed on lawns and, unlike many toxic treatments, are perfectly safe for animals, birds, and humans, as well as friendly garden dwellers like earthworms and ladybugs. Brand names such as Bio Flea Halt!, Biosys, and Interrupt! can be found in pet stores and in the lawn and garden sections of hardware stores and supermarkets.
 
The Heavy Artillery
 
Some pesticides are derived from natural sources and are of low toxicity, although even these have been known to cause severe reactions. Two of the least toxic are pyrethrins, derived from chrysanthemum flowers, and D-limonene, an extract from orange peels. Look for formulations that contain just these active ingredients.
 
Insect growth regulators (IGRs), although unfortunately required to be tested on animals by law, are nevertheless a safe alternative to pesticides. Sold under the brand names Ovitrol, Fleatrol, Precor, and Archer, IGRs contain insect hormones that disrupt the life cycle of the flea by preventing eggs and larvae from developing. IGRs are available from pest control supply companies, as well as companion animal supply stores and catalogs as room foggers and sprays.
 
Another IGR, Program (lufenuron), is administered to animals orally once a month. However, some animals have suffered adverse reactions to this and other longterm flea-control products, including those applied externally.
 
Where to Find It
 
Natural Animal
P.O. Box 1177
St. Augustine, FL 32085
800-274-7387
Herbal flea powders, collars, and shampoo.
 
Natural Pet Care Catalog
2713 E. Madison St.
Seattle, WA 98112
800-962-8266
Natural flea products, hot spot remedies, Precor spray, food supplements, flea combs, and diatomaceous earth.
 
United Pharmacal Company (UPCO)
3705 Pear St.
P.O. Box 969
St. Joseph, MO 64502
800-254-UPCO (8726)
Precor flea fogger, brewers yeast and garlic tablets and powder, flea combs, cedar-filled dog beds, and electronic flea traps.
 
Wow Bow Distributors, Ltd.
309 Burr Rd.
East Northport, NY 11731
800-326-0230
Natural Animal flea products and diatomaceous earth.
 
For more information on flea control and products , Contact PAWS Rescue.