Natural Flea Products - Do They Work?
The recent humid weather has brought the fleas out in great numbers. If you have cut back on using any flea products this summer, you are probably feeling the bite (literally) of the fleas now. It is major warfare to get rid of fleas and often people are concerned about the amount of pesticide used on the pet and home to eliminate them. There are lots of products on the market; some safe some not. I appreciate a client's concern for their pet and family's safety and exposure to chemicals.
I am seeing some clients reaching for natural products to get rid of the fleas and having variable success. Much of what I have seen has peppermint, eucalyptus or clove oil in the product. These plant products do not kill the flea - they repel the fleas. Many fleas will still get on the pet and take some bites, resulting in intense scratching and blistering skin. The fleas lay their eggs in a matter of a few minutes so that quick blood meal keeps the population going. The plant oils can soothe the skin and do help to decrease how many fleas are on the pet, but they are poor in eliminating the flea problem. Some of the plant oils can be toxic to cats, and irritating to the skin and mouth if the pet licks at it. Lastly if they are overused they can be poisonous.
It is not healthy for people or pets to have any level of fleas in the home. Fleas carry the tape worm which is infectious to humans as well as the pet. The chronic biting and sucking of blood causes anemia, not to mention the skin infections to the pet. Lastly there are some serious diseases such as Rickettsia Typhi in people and Rickettsia Felis transmitted by flea bites which can cause serious health problems - even death.
So, one must weigh out the risk of chemical and natural plant based products against the health risks of fleas. The majority of our home products available at the store, the veterinary clinic and exterminators are a low level of pesticide. When applied correctly these products do not cause harm. When a product with a growth inhibitor is used in the home, the amount of pesticide needed for control is markedly reduced. The growth inhibitor is not toxic to mammals at all - just the flea. So, it is far less risky on the health of humans and the pets to use flea products, as directed, with safe levels of pesticide combined with growth inhibitors. You can still use some of the natural products under the supervision of your veterinarian. This will overall decrease the pesticide use. That in the end will decrease risk to you and your family.
Fleas are resistant to many products. They grow exponentially in a short period of time. Do not allow your pets to suffer as you try various products to eliminate fleas that are not working. Seek the advice of your veterinarian and staff to help you and your pet.
- written by Dr. Sally Foote
* image of flea from capcvet.org