Natural Flea and Tick Treatments By Cath Keno, Animal Naturopath
I often get asked if there is a natural flea and tick treatment available. There are some natural products that help to deter fleas from taking up residence on your pet however the best defense is a healthy lifestyle and grooming. Yes, that is all! Really!
A healthy animal is unattractive to fleas and ticks whereas an unhealthy animal is easily infested. We cannot control the outside environment where fleas and ticks mainly live and breed so your pet is going to come in contact with them, there is no stopping that. A healthy lifestyle includes the feeding of a good quality raw diet, no or very little exposure to chemicals including commercial flea and worm treatments, and a good immune system. There is a lot of debate about vaccinations and the effect they have on an animal’s immune system over time but I am not going to delve into that now.
I have a medium haired cat who is 2 ½ years old. I have never put commercial flea treatment on her and she has been raised on a raw food diet. We live in a semi-rural area so she is an outdoor cat who for some reasons loves to roll around on our gravel driveway and is always in the bush or up trees. I comb her nearly every day and during the warm months I sometimes find a flea in the flea comb but rarely at other times of the year. She sleeps on our bed, and when she feels like it, crawls in under the covers, and we have not been bitten by fleas ourselves.
Here are some natural flea and tick treatment options; bear in mind that if your pet already has fleas it will take some dedication to get rid them.
Have a look at recommended diets http://www.cathsplace.co.nz/nutrition. I also have suggestions on how to transition from dried food to raw. In the information I refer to Flee Flea, a New Zealand made supplement to add to your pet’s food. Flee Flea helps deter fleas as it boosts your pet’s immune system.
Food grade diatomaceous earth
You can sprinkle it on the ground around your dog’s kennel. Sprinkle on your carpets, leave overnight then vacuum. Some people rub a small amount through their pet’s fur. Diatomaceous earth acts as an abrasive and a desiccant, drying out and destroying adult fleas and killing larvae. Do not go overboard with how much you use as it is a dust and inhalation of large amounts of dust or over long periods is not healthy for anyone.
DO NOT use any other type of diatomaceous earth, only use food grade, as other types can be poisonous!
For more information about diatomaceous earth http://www.denz.co.nz/
Essential Oils – I would avoid using essential oils on a cat, some people may argue with this. My reason is that apart from their sensitivity to essential oils, cats will lick whatever you put on their fur straight off, meaning they ingest whatever you put on their fur. Ingesting essential oils can be very toxic for cats. Here is a website with essential oil safety information for cats http://essentialoilworld.com/essentialoilreviews/essential-oil-safety-with-cats/
The Health Pets website has an article on tea tree oil, also know as melaleuca oil. 2014/07/26/pets-tea-tree-oil
WashBar sell a natural flea repellent containing essential oils ‘natural flea repellent’ They do not have a product for cats but have suggested using their Flea+Freshen Spritzer – “you put a slug of it into warm water and dip the flea comb into it when you are combing your cat.”
If you do use essential oils they must not be used undiluted. There are some essential oils that are toxic to both cats and dogs; pennyroyal, clove leaf, tansy, wormwood to name a few. If you buy essential oils ensure they are therapeutic grade oils such as Lotus Oils or Go Native; not fragrance.
Apple Cider Vinegar
A spray of 50% apple cider vinegar and 50% water is said to be an effective flea deterrent. You can also add apple cider vinegar to your pets drinking water, however if you do so make sure you also have a separate bowl of plain clean water. Pets do not always like or want to drink water with apple cider vinegar in it. Ensure you buy true apple cider vinegar there are imitations out there, organic is best. There are many internet sites that talk about using apple cider vinegar and they are not just home remedy or old house wife tale type ones. e.g. Petmed
Washing and grooming
During flea season you should wash your pets bedding weekly. If you have a kennel for your dog, wash this out weekly as well. Use natural non-irritant products and not chemical products as the fumes linger and chemicals will enter your dog via their paws and skin. For dogs, shampoo with a natural based product, e.g. WashBar and comb regularly with a flea comb.
Cats usually do not take kindly to being bathed so combing with a flea comb is the main
tool. Even shorthaired cats need to be combed regularly, preferably daily in the summer months. If you do shampoo your cat then you need to be wary of the ingredients. Cats are extremely sensitive to chemicals, even naturally occurring ones found in essential oils, do not use products containing Eucalyptus or Tea Tree oil on cats.
Cats are usually meticulous groomers and will de-flea themselves as much as possible. The side effect of cats being excellent self-groomers is internal parasites. If you are concerned about this there is a natural homeobotanical worming product that I can supply rather than the chemical based ones.
Pre and post walking your dog
If using a natural spray product then remember to spray before you walk your dog. After a walk, especially if through long grass, comb your dog and respray. If your cat is an outdoor cat then daily combing with a flea comb is recommended.
Yes, New Zealand does have ticks, mainly the type found on cattle and horses and thankfully do not carry diseases such as Lyme disease. Ticks are not just a countryside issue, I live on the Kapiti Coast and we have ticks here, I have seen them!
What do ticks do? Ticks latch themselves onto your pet’s skin and feed off their blood. They can dig into the skin causing infections. If your pet gets a lot of ticks it can lead to anaemia, blood disorders, immune system issues.
What do they look like? They start off very small and grow/swell as they gorge themselves on your pet’s blood.
A fully engorged one looks almost like a large blood blister.
What to do if you find a tick?
A pair of tweezers is needed to remove the tick.
Grab the tick close to your pet’s skin where it has inserted
itself, not the body of the tick but the head
and pull firmly without twisting. If you do not have tweezers or are not comfortable trying this yourself then pop into your vet for them to do this. If you are concerned the tick is not a cattle tick, put it in a container and take to your vet. If it is not one your vet will need to inform MPI.
If the head comes off and remains embedded do not leave it. After a few minutes try to remove yourself otherwise you will need to go to the vet if the head has embedded into the skin. If left it will lead to an infection causing more problems for your pet.
Apply an ice cube to help stop the inflammation and itchiness and apply an antiseptic cream if you have one (not Dettol as it is toxic to dogs and cats).
After effects to look out for
Even though it is said ticks in New Zealand do not carry disease this can change at any time. If your pet shows any of these signs it may have an infection, get your pet into your vet as soon as possible.
-appears lethargic, off its food, its gums are a funny colour, breathing differently, drinking a lot more or a lot less than usual
If they are vomiting, shaking, having seizures, appear ‘out of it’ this is an emergency situation and your pet needs to get straight to a veterinary clinic.
IN SUMMARY – You may need to do a combination of the options listed with the main tool in protecting your pet and yourself from fleas and ticks is to live a healthy lifestyle starting with diet.
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