Holistic Pet Care: Fleas and Ticks

by Linda Vognar

Our pets are our friends and companions. We spend a great deal of time and effort making sure they are healthy and safe, and helping them live in a balanced and holistic manner. Finding good advice on how to do this can be challenging at times, but more options are available than ever before.

Flea and tick control should be tailored to the lifestyle and environment of the pet and the owner. There are really no “one size fits all” recommendations, so its important to have an in depth discussion with your holistic veterinarian to devise a plan for your pet that takes many variables into consideration.

Living in the Chippewa Valley, and having a pet that spends time outside means that they have exposure to fleas and ticks much of the year. Our lovely valley is endemic for Lyme disease, and other tick borne diseases such as anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis. These diseases can be life threatening. Fleas carry intestinal parasites such as tape worms and suck blood from the host animal. They cause anemia with heavy infestations in small animals. Animals that go outdoors in the spring, summer, and fall should be protected from these pests. But how can we do that safely?

Pesticides, even those applied topically, do carry some risk of allergic reaction, locally and systemically, and some studies in humans have shown higher incidence of certain lymph and blood diseases as a result of pesticide exposure. They are however, highly effective in eliminating ticks and fleas. It is up to the pet owner to balance the risk of illness from ticks and fleas with the risk of regular (often monthly) pesticide application.

In my holistic veterinary practice I generally recommend the use of topical pesticides that are water proof and effective against both ticks and fleas monthly for high risk pets in the Chippewa Valley (those that go outside, particularly those who live or play in rural or woodsy environments or frequent lake areas) because the possibility of disease is high. However, I recommend the simultaneous use of western or Chinese herbal formulas that have liver protective effects, such as milk thistle or a Chinese herbal formula Bao Hu Jiang Jun Tang (Protect the General Combination) to nourish liver cells which are responsible for most of the toxic clean up that takes place in the body. My recommendations would be entirely different, however, for a pet living in downtown Chicago or Minneapolis, or a pet who never leaves the house (an indoor cat for example).

For indoor pets and those owners who choose to avoid topical pesticides all together, judging the risks to outweigh the benefits, there are other products available. Diatomaceous earth sprinkled on your animal friend, under the furniture and on the carpet, will kill fleas by cutting into the waxy skin and dehydrating them. Flea combs are very useful if used daily, and any fleas are disposed of immediately. Vaccuming daily and emptying the bag or throwing it away will eliminate fleas and flea eggs over time. Wash all pet bedding in hot soapy water and dry it on the hot setting in your drier and bathe your animal friend every two weeks with a pet shampoo infused with a few drops of lavender essential oil, followed by a good flea combing session. You can also create a lavender spray with 15 drops of lavender essential oil in a small spray bottle, or use tea tree oil instead. Cats can be very sensitive to essential oils, however, so use them with caution. Eucalyptus, lavender, cedar, peppermint, and lemongrass repel fleas. Avoid all citrus oils in cats, but you can use a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in your pet’s water and a teaspoon of brewers yeast daily in their food (small pet) to augment your flea control program. Herbal flea collars are also available, but do be careful to read the label and familiarize yourself with the herbs used.

Finally, remember that fleas do live “off the pet” too so an atomizer may be beneficial to keep your carpets pest free. However, extremely heavy infestations may require commercial foggers before essential oil atomizers can be effective.

With a little knowledge and forethought, it is possible to balance the need for pest control with your pet’s need for a healthy life. If questions or problems arise as you implement your flea control program ask your holistic veterinarian for more ideas.

Dr. Linda Vognar is a veterinarian trained in integrative medicine, acupuncture, and herbal therapy and can be reached at 4paws5treasures@gmail.com

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