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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Why Your “Natural Flea Treatment” or Home Remedy Isn’t Working

I’ve heard it more times than I can count: “My dog/cat has fleas... but I don't want to use any chemicals.”

You know what's fascinating about this? I notice the opposite sentiment when animals have worms. Any veterinarian will back me up on this. People tend to become highly concerned--if not hysterical--about worms. They promptly accept the most effective medicine, no questions asked.

This doesn't seem to happen with fleas. Fleas don't incite hysteria; they incite irrationality. Worms get immediately zapped, but fleas (which can carry worm eggs, mind you) get to linger endlessly while someone works out their perfect combination of tea tree oil-infused neem mixed with essential oils added to apple cider vinegar, applied to the hair and fed with diatomaceous earth. When they administer said treatment, of course it doesn't work... because they forgot the part about spinning around their animal four times while Mercury is in retrograde, while invoking the shamanic device that someone gave them once at a paid healing session in a CVS parking lot.

Then it still doesn't work. Is it finally time to turn to a safe, effective, well-researched insect growth regulator? No. Why do that when there's always acupuncture left to try? Fleas sense those magic needles coming near them and run right off the animal to die upon full contact with the air. This may sound far-fetched, but how could it not be true if multiple people in one's yoga class insisted it worked for them?

In other words, some people do end up just co-existing with fleas and subjecting their animals to that discomfort. You, however, are not going to be one of them.

If faced with fleas, it’s important to first understand the most basic fact about fleas: unless your animals just picked them up, the majority of fleas are not even on the animals! Rather, they're in the home environment in other (mostly microscopic) stages of their life cycle. Only 1% of the fleas in a flea-infested home are adult fleas you can see. The rest are in the environment existing as eggs, larvae and pupae. So, no matter how many times you try to eliminate the 1% on your animal(s) with combing, home remedies, baths, or even sporadic doses of Capstar (which is not a preventative), any fleas killed on that animal will be replaced over and over, as fleas developing in the environment mature and jump on.

So what should you do if you want the fleas gone but the acupuncturist is booked for months? It’s simple. Stop the over-complications, paranoia, philosophical crises and histrionic meltdowns... over flea medication!

If your animals are scratching or are found to have fleas, immediately use something safe (that *veterinarians carry*, even if you buy it OTC) that has *preventative action*. This needs to be done for at least a few (preferably several) consecutive months on all animals in the home, while the flea life cycle is playing out. Otherwise---no matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise---you will be living with a low level of fleas and/or recurrent flea explosions.

Do not believe that a veterinary product “doesn’t work” because you still see fleas days to weeks later. Do not believe any treatment applied to the animal eliminates fleas "within 24 hours." This is not the whole story, because those fleas in the environment can take days or weeks before they’re mature enough to jump on the animal. Do not believe that hardware/grocery store flea products are just as safe as those at the vet's. As someone who worked at a national animal poison control center, I can assure you they are not. Do not believe that veterinary "chemicals" means aerosol sprays, "bombs", "dips" or "foggers." This is not 1985. I think the last time I heard serious talk of "foggers", I was wearing pigtails and watching Rainbow Brite on a Zenith television.

And, finally, for the love of dogs, do not believe any "charm" is ever, ever going to do anything to repel fleas. This includes: crystals, metal tags, and collar pendants that contain essential oils in a little mesh canvas sack. Seriously, people, your veterinarian will weep nightly for humanity so long as you keep speaking of these things. You might as well dress your dog in an Elvis costume and tell me it is a flea repellent. 

Although some “home remedies” may indeed be mild repellents or desiccants, they are not going to kill all the fleas on the animal and all those in the home, let alone in a reasonable time frame. Home remedy repellents are also not going to stop parasites from biting when their only other option is to die from lack of a host. The only way to stop fleas is to either kill every last one on the animal and in the environment simultaneously (good luck!) or, more logically, apply a preventative that will be ready whenever the fleas jump on.

In my experience, those who hesitate and don’t “nip it in the bud” with a preventative as soon as fleas appear wind up needing to use more “chemicals" in the end. (One might assume this is just karma unfolding. However, it's actually because the flea population had time to exponentially grow during the hullabaloo with failed concoctions, and now requires a longer duration of treatment.)
As for those people who would rather co-exist with fleas than admit the failure of alternative treatments...I hardly think this would happen if they were the primary target of incessant flea bites instead of their animal.

Many of the “alternative" flea treatments are not as safe as believed, either. Despite what Dr. Google may tell you (anything you want to hear, incidentally), I’ve used plain old Frontline Plus and a little patience to treat fleas for 10+ years. I haven't seen any legitimate problems. What I have seen are countless "alternatively treated" animals with distressing infestations. I've seen many cases of flea allergic dermatitis and even some flea anemia in these homes. I’ve seen cats become ill and have acutely elevated liver enzymes after licking “natural” essential oils off their fur. (Bear in mind, Belladonna is a natural substance too…and it can quickly kill you.)

Speaking of the "appeal to nature" logical fallacy, do you know what else is perfectly natural? FLEAS! Contrary to what many believe, Mother Nature is not always a beautiful, benevolent goddess. Mother Nature can be a cruel witch…at least if you ask a cat who has 50% of its body covered in miliary dermatitis secondary to flea bites. (You could also ask a person who has contracted Loa loa---a parasitic worm that resides in the human eye---whether they think Mother Nature should be treated with kid gloves. Oh boy, the "chemicals" are embraced ---even worshipped ---once someone has a worm in their eye. Eye-worms cause even more hysteria than other worms.)

Allowing a cat to languish for weeks or months with biting fleas, or repeatedly subjecting it to baths (quite "unnatural" for a cat I might add) is more damaging to said cat than using a few doses of topical medicine that temporarily sequesters itself in skin.

A final question I’m sometimes asked is, “But aren’t these flea preventatives harmful to the environment?” (* See above about the medicine being sequestered in the animals' skin.*) Even if flea preventatives are environmentally imperfect... realistically and rationally...isn't your car? Aren't the “chemicals” you've washed down the drain at some point, like paint from paintbrushes? The trash you've inevitably added to landfills? If you are environmentally conscientious, the goal is to limit your use and impact across all areas of life, not to magically eliminate it. This is why being vigilant to a flea presence and "nipping it in the bud" remains my recommended tactic for the chemical-averse.

I hope this information helps someone who has found themselves to be the ringmaster of a flea circus.

But hey, if this doesn't work safely and effectively, you can always try again when Venus is brighter and perhaps better focused on its anti-parasitical responsibilities. 

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