Fleas and Ticks: Get Rid of Them Without Poisons
Unintended Harm to Your Pets
Hundreds of thousands of well-meaning pet owners dose their animals with any of several assorted brands of topical flea and tick prevention and/or elimination products. Many of these are applied on a monthly basis, others quarterly.
The longer the interval between applications, the stronger the product must be, and the more residual effect it will have. At first glance, this seems to be a benefit, as none of us want an infestation of these pests in our homes.
However, there is a very serious downside to these potent and residual chemicals. Remember--these are products designed to kill living things. No matter that "mere insects" are the target population; the ingredients are still toxins. Toxins are poisons, and poison is a great thing to keep away from animals and children.
Since children often come into close and frequent contact with the family pets, this is a concern as well. If a child hugs a dog who has just been dosed with one of these products, there is a very real risk that it will end up inside the child. We all know kids are not very good at keeping their hands and fingers away from their faces, licking their fingers, eating without washing hands, and so forth.
For example, Propoxur (flea) collars were found in an NRDC study to deposit 100x the "acceptable" amount into the home environment in only 3 days for adults and a whopping 1000x the threshold for children. Read that bit again: "...to deposit ... into the home environment..." This means you don't even need to come into direct contact with the product--it is out-gassing--making the ingredients airborne!!
Be aware, it is not necessary for a child or anyone else to actually ingest, or eat, these toxins to be affected--many are able to be absorbed through the skin!
Great Harm Has Been Done
The problem with the Over-The-Counter (OTC) products is their widespread availability to the public at large. It is the equivalent of trying to self-diagnose and self-medicate without consulting your doctor, because anyone can buy these products and apply them to their dogs and cats without medical or veterinary training.
Unfortunately, many of these preparations have been shown to cause serious harm to the animal they are intended to protect. All are toxins of one sort or another. Neurological damage can be severe, and can even lead to death. Here are some of the statistics:
- 44 Thousand Dogs and Cats were harmed in 2008** alone, just in the USA
- EPA reports are low, due to their reliance on the manufacturers to do the incidence reporting (can we say, 'fox guarding the henhouse?')
- 2009** numbers were up by an extreme increase early in the year
- There was 53% increase from 2007 to 2008
- These numbers document only topical application products, and do not include harm caused by shampoos, dips, powders, collars or sprays with the same or similar ingredients
- 2008 estimates are for an aggregate of 300 Thousand animals harmed
- "All Natural" on the label does not necessarily mean "non-toxic"
These products are all manufactured and marketed by "trusted" names in the pet industry, which brands cannot be mentioned at this time due to ongoing legal issues. However, the NRDC has compiled a comprehensive table of all the products it has tested.
The terms "natural," or "all natural" are little but marketing ploys, and are widely misused and misleading. After all, arsenic is natural, but hardly harmless.
** Most recent figures available as of the publication date of this article
What Ingredients Cause the Trouble?
Pyrethrins are a very common ingredient, and fall under "natural," because they are derived from Chrysanthemums. (That is not to say that they are actually Chrysanthemums however.) Pyrethrins are a severe toxin, not only to cats and dogs, but also to humans, and especially children. They are responsible for the greatest amount of pet death and damage.
Other "natural" essences are also problematic, because our pets cannot rid their bodies of them through the metabolic process. Dogs have trouble metabolizing several, cats with most. Some of these ingredients, which do not seem to be of much problem to humans include:
- lauryl sulfate (found in shampoo and hand-dishwashing detergent)
- tea tree
- neem oil
Any one of these, alone or in combination, may be found in OTC flea and tick products. They are best avoided for the health and safety of your pet.
Never use antibacterial soaps on your pets.
Dangerous Chemical Imitators
As with many other things, our scientists seem to think they can do better than Mother Nature, and attempt to reproduce natural products in the un-natural setting of a chemical laboratory.
This is true of pyrethrins as well; for example, Permethrin is the synthetic version of Pyrethrin. As a general rule, any chemical ingredient ending in "rin" is a manufactured substitute or a derivative of one over the other. (Note not all end in 'rin.' Sometimes they invent off-the-wall names to disguise the ingredients.)
These synthetics are more dangerous because they are manufactured to be more potent, and therefore pack a bigger punch. Somehow, we have become obessesed with overkill--it is not enough to kill something once--we must apply dosages sufficient to kill whatever it is several times over.
From 1947--What Horrible Lengths They Went To--Did they really think this was a good idea?
You may recall the ban of the chemical DDT back in 1972. This was due to a pervasive and residual effect, which had a severe impact on exposed wildlife. The problem with the topical or "spot-on" flea and tick products is similar. Even today, over 40 years later, DDT residue is still being found.
Similarly, the insecticide Dieldrin™, a chlorinated hydrocarbon, had long-lasting residual effects. It was banned in 1987. When I was a child, we had numerous infestations of ants getting into the house. My father got hold of Dieldrin™, and sprayed it all the way around the foundation of the house, both inside the garage and the full outside perimeter. This was probably back in about the 1958 to 1960 era. He made only the single application. We never had another single ant or other insect in that house from that day forward, until the house was sold in 2003! Almost 50 years worth of residue "protecting" us.
Every time a problem pesticide gets banned, it seems another is lurking in the wings to take its place. The current round includes these other assorted natural, yet still harmful, ingredients and their synthetic cousins. There is a movement underway to ask for these to be banned as well, or at the very least, prohibited from use in products intended for use on pets.
A True Horror Story From a Fellow Hubber
Find Out What's Really Inside
In the case of manufacturers hiding or attempting to hide with misnomers, their actual ingredients, you can still find out what they are.
You can try their website, and see if they have a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) posted; if not, call their customer service number, and ask for a copy. By law, they are required to have these, and must supply them on request.
What Can We Use Instead?
Safe for application to pets are pure glycerin soaps and food-grade diatomaceous earth, often referred to just as "DE," rubbed into the coat as you would a commercial flea powder. Use it sparingly---a little goes a long way. It is bad for pests, and works by scratching the outer shell of the insect so they dry out and die, but used carefully, is safe for your pet. Keep it away from the animal's face; you don't want them inhaling it into their lungs.
The best way to use the diatomaceous earth is on a hard-surfaced or smooth-carpeted floor, such as the bathroom. Sprinkle some on the floor--then, as you flea-comb your pet, any fleas that hop off will land in the DE, and be done in. Vacuum thoroughly when finished. Don't forget to wash the pet's bedding, and any loose blankets or clothing on which the pet may have lain.
Flea-combing your pet is another combative measure that can be taken as often as you wish, as this is a purely mechanical method of flea removal, and therefore non-toxic. It is probably most effective after a bath or application of the diatomaceous earth, so that the fleas removed with the comb are not viable to hop off the pet onto you or into your carpets.
No flea-control program is complete without careful, frequent vacuuming and dusting. Don't forget the couch cushions and under the couch as well. Especially where there are dogs in the home, because dogs go in and out, and can continually transport fleas and ticks into the home.
Cats who remain as indoor-only pets are easier to keep flea and tick-free, once any initial infestation has been cleared up; that is, if it is a cat-only household. Where both cats and dogs reside, there is still the problem of the dogs as transport agents.
If you have a large yard where your dog spends a lot of time in addition to time spent indoors, the yard must also be treated.
Why These Chemicals Are Dangerous
Damage to the body's endocrine system is a major problem with all of these chemicals, including the natural toxins. Growing children are especially susceptible, as are your pets. Even full-grown dogs and cats are smaller than we are, and therefore more vulnerable, and that goes at least double for puppies and kittens; infants of any species have not yet developed any defenses.
If you're interested in all the intricate details, please visit Tiny Timmy's website (links in sidebar, at right) for full information on endocrine disruption and other dangers.
Timmy StonesClick thumbnail to view full-size
What Is A Timmy Stone?
There is a worldwide movement afoot to bring a halt to the widespread use of such terrible poisons in our homes. It is called the T.O.Y. Army, and is made up of volunteers spreading the word by placing "Timmy Stones" in public places whenever they can.
T.O.Y. stands for "Timmy, Oliver and You." Tiny Timmy is a cat suffering from severe neurological problems as a direct result of such toxic flea products; Oliver is a kitty who died from exposure to these preparations. "You," of course, is you, dear reader. You can join the "army" and help to place Timmy Stones.
Timmy Stones are ordinary small rocks, painted with the T.O.Y. Army logo, and listing the website. You can paint them yourself, or you can order them (free) from the website. See the sidebar above for the links.
Once someone places a stone, they let the organizers know, and provide a photo if possible. Then, when someone finds a stone, they are instructed to let the organizers know where and who found it. They can keep the stone, or pass it on to a new location.
The movement is gaining steam, and the group has met with the EPA in the interest of getting these toxins banned from all products for use on pets.
Won't you join in the fight?
Since this article was originally written, dear Tiny Timmy has lost his battle.
He crossed the Rainbow Bridge in mid-2016. His fight and project live on.
EPA Info on the Banned Chemicals Mentioned
- DDT |Persistent Bioaccumulative and Toxic (PBT) Chemical Program | US EPA
EPA page explaining the bioaccumulative problems with DDT
EPA page detailing the Dieldrin issue
© 2011 Liz Elias