Flea, Tick and Heartworm Prevention: A Natural Approach

Mar 03, 2021 Dan

Protecting our Pets from Ticks, Fleas and Heartworm.

This is the time of year when we start to ponder how we are going to protect our pets from ticks, fleas, and heartworm.  For some, it is an automatic.  Make an appointment at the vet, get the blood test done and purchase the critter medications for the summer.  Today, we are seeing that more and more pet parents are questioning the safety of these products and are in search of more natural ways to protect their pets.

Let us have a closer look at the different options and the good, the bad and the ugly of each.  We know that how you choose to protect your pet is a very personal choice.  There are options.  We just want to help you make an informed decision as to how to keep your pet safe while allowing you to sleep at night.

FLEA AND TICK MEDICATIONS

These are the medications that are, for the most part, prescribed by veterinarians.  They come in the form of a pill/chewy or a liquid to be applied onto the skin.  Some of the top selling brands are Bravecto, Nexgard and Simparica.

The Good

  • They are effective at killing fleas and ticks that attach and or feed on your pet.   
  • They are relatively easy to use but you need to keep on schedule and apply the appropriate dose as recommended by your veterinarian.
  • Given the above, this can give you the peace of mind that your pet will be protected from the issues and diseases that these bugs can transmit.

The Not So Good

  • Most of these medications contain a parasiticide.  This is what kills the critters as they feed on your pet’s blood.  Many of these products have the potential to create adverse effects in dogs and cats such as muscle tremors, ataxia (loss of coordination of the limbs, head and/or trunk) and seizures.  In fact, the United States Food and Drug Administration has issued warnings about these side effects.  In addition, a survey called Project Jake just released the results of a flea and tick medication survey.  The survey found the following:

 

58% of the respondents gave the dog a flea treatment.

48% gave their dog a treatment containing a parasiticide.

66.6% of respondents who gave their dog a flea treatment said their dog experienced a reaction.

36.1% of respondents who have their dog a flea treatment said their dog DID NOT experience a reaction.

8.2% said they were unsure.

 

If you would like to read Project Jake’s peer-reviewed and open-access paper, you can check it out here:  Project Jake

 

NATURAL SOLUTIONS

Ensuring your pet is healthy with a strong immune system is always a good start.  Pets that are unhealthy and have a weakened immune system are great targets for the critters.  The lower digestive tract is where most of the immune system is found.   Feeding a balanced (over time) species appropriate diet is the optimal way to strengthen and maintain your pet’s immune system.

In addition, there are other things that one might consider.  

Essential oil-based, non-chemical sprays can be effective repellents to fleas, mosquitoes and ticks.  Lavender, geranium and neem are some examples.  However, some essential oils can be dangerous to cats, so you need to ensure that a spray you purchase or put together is cat safe if you have a cat in the household.  Natural spray repellents need to be applied often during your walks and hikes.  Most need to be applied every 45 minutes or so. We always carry a variety of Natural Sprays and recommend using these when in heavily wooded/grassed areas (these natural sprays we always recommend along with Outdoor Shield - discussed below). Pet Mix is another great option, an essential oil dropper, with specific blends for dog and cat.

Some people like to include garlic into their pet’s meals.  By doing so, your pet’s skin will not be as attractive to the critters.  As an aside, garlic is not dangerous to dogs when given the appropriate amount.

There are also natural products that are pre-mixed and packaged that you can include in your pet’s diet.  We have been providing one called Outdoor Shield (formerly called Flea & Tick Prevention) made by Earth MD, out of Ridgeway Ontario.  It is a powder containing garlic powder, neem leaf, spirulina and quassia bark.  You feed it to your dog or cat (in their food) each day for 7 days.  You do this every other month.  This mixture does two things.  First, it will change the odour of their skin to repel the critters.  Secondly, if the critters do get on and start feeding, they will be repelled by the taste of the blood and detach and move on.

Another non-toxic option that doesn't use or release any chemical substances or odors is the Tickless Ultrasonic Tick & Flea Repeller. The device emits ultrasonic pulses that are imperceptible to humans and pets, but interfere with the ability of the parasites to orient themselves, thus keeping them away from your pet.

What about treating a dog or cat that gets fleas?

The best first line of finding and getting rid of fleas is a good flea comb.  Make sure to really check around ears, the bum and other moist dark areas of you pet’s body.

There are excellent all-natural flea shampoos that can help rid your pet of fleas.

Finally, an all-natural powder called Diatomaceous Earth or DE, can be used. The DE we are referring to is a food-grade DE, not the DE that is used in some filtration units.  It is a fine powder that is applied in your pet’s coat and should be combed through.  DE powder is like tiny little swords that will cut through the exoskeleton of a flea and will kill it.  It can also be used to kill fleas if they get into your house.  The one downside of DE is that it can easily get air-born and when inhaled it can cause irritation in the airways and lungs.  Best not to use DE around individuals who are prone to breathing issues.

What about ticks?  What do I do if I find a tick on my dog?

Ticks freak us out the most.  They are nasty little critters that can attach onto our pets (and humans) and feed away on blood until they are satiated and engorged.  The nasty side of this is that ticks can transmit some serious illnesses into our pets and us humans.  The tick-borne disease most of us are aware of is Lyme disease, primarily transmitted by the Deer Tick or Black-legged Tick.  So here are a few things to consider:

 

  1. If the tick is attached, it is important to remove it as soon as possible.  There are tick tools (Tick Key) that make it relatively easy to remove a tick safely AND with the head intact.  You do not want to leave the head under the skin potentially causing irritation and possibly infection.

 

  1. Try to identify the species of tick.  The prevalent tick in Ontario is the dog tick or brown tick.  If you do identify the tick as a deer tick, then you will want to connect with your vet and arrange for a blood test that will tell you if your pet was infected with Lyme disease.  Many healthy dogs that test positive for Lyme Disease are asymptomatic.  This means their immune system is dealing with the disease and your pet will show no symptoms of Lyme Disease.  Your vet can ascertain this through a second blood test.  If your pet is diagnosed with an active Lyme disease, catching it early is key and most pets can be effectively treated with no long-term consequences. 

Knowing your pet inside and out is best way to stay on top of ticks.  Try your best to look and feel around your pet, especially the head area.  Many ticks will get onto your pet from grasses and bushes/tree branches low to the ground and with most dogs, it is usually head-first, right?  Do not ignore the paws and legs as well.  A good once-over after a hike or play in grassy and wooded areas is always a good idea, same goes for yourself!

 

What about heartworm?

Heartworm is the one parasite that really freaks everyone out.  Most of us have seen the pictures of dog’s hearts infested with adult heartworm.  The thought of our pets suffering through such a condition is the worst.  Heartworm is transmitted by mosquitos that carry the heartworm larvae which can then be passed on to our dogs (cats can get heartworm as well but are not great hosts for the heartworm larvae to survive and grow).  In Ontario, Canada, the likelihood of heartworm microfilariae developing in our dog’s blood and eventually maturing into adult worms is minimal.  A thesis presented to the University of Guelph in August of 2018 by Erin McGill showed that the prevalence of positive heartworm tests on dogs in Ontario from 2007 to 2016 was 0.12%.  Why such a low rate?  Our weather and the average temperatures we experience in Ontario.  This thesis is a long read and can get a little scientific but if you are interested you can read it here: 

 Heartworm Infection Among Domestic Dogs in Canada with a Focus on Ontario

The blood test your veterinarian does every spring is called a Snap 4DX test.  This test can detect the microfilariae in you dog’s blood leading to a positive heartworm test. When caught early, there is a highly effective treatment to kill off the microfilariae before they grow into adult worms.  Screening is important.

Let’s Summarize

Flea and tick medications are effective but do have potential consequences.

Heartworm positive dogs and cats are a rarity in Ontario.  Just ask your vet. There are pets in Ontario being treated, but most came from somewhere else or had been travelling.

The Snap 4DX blood test is an effective way of screening for early heartworm detection.  This same test can also be used to identify Lyme disease if you find a deer tick on your pet.  Again, early detection is important to properly treat and prevent long-term health consequences.

Natural approaches in conjunction with effective screening tools can be a solid plan when choosing not to put pesticides into your pet’s system.

How one chooses to protect their pet from insect-borne illnesses is a personal one.  Your pet, lifestyle, where you live, and what it takes for you to sleep at night, all play a role in what you decide to do.  We just want to make sure that all pet parents make good, informed decisions about your pet’s overall health.

** If a Natural Approach is something that interests you, head to our Seasonal Solutions Section Online or visit us in store to further discuss.