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To Flea or Not to Flea…

Well, actually there is no question: I’d say not to flea has it hands down, wouldn’t you? (Just makes a catchier blog post title…)

For exactly the third time in my 18+ years of being primary caregiver to a couple of four-legged butt-sniffing funny looking children who never grow up (but on the other hand, I’ll never have to pay college tuition for them), we have a flea infestation to deal with.


Now, just for the record–even three in 18 years still leaves me comfortable with my decision not to feed them monthly pesticides like Frontline or its various siblings. Again, they are not flea preventatives at all, they just kill any fleas that get onto the animal, by keeping  a perpetual level of insecticide in the animal’s bloodstream so that any eggs that get laid don’t hatch. And my older dog (that’s him, in the photo–doesn’t he look pathetic? He’s made an art out of it.)  has all his life had issues with almost any chemical substance, and he’s on a highly regimented natural diet with no medications except heartworm during the months we need it up North, so I don’t like to stress his system with anything else.  And the EPA has cautioned about Frontline and such meds, especially where smaller animals are concerned, citing significant health risks.

It’s the old dog that got hit–our younger one I only found maybe three of the little suckers on, which is sort of interesting and bears out the theory held by many that fleas don’t like the blood of strong healthy dogs with good immune systems, they go for the compromised ones.  And having experienced this before, when I saw him get up from his nap and leave a lot of black flaky schmutz behind him, I knew what we were in for.

Anyway, I did an endlessly long post on this topic a couple of years ago (you may go read it if you like, so you’ll see what we were dealing with at 11:00pm last night–it’s a long post, but the second half is about flea removal), and last night once again I found myself in that delightful place where I had to practice what I preach.  All the bedding for 3 beds in the laundry, all the rugs, all the upholstery, all the pillows, all the everything vacuumed within an inch of its life.  That was my husband’s job.  Mine was to bathe two really unhappy dogs, and then to go over each of them several times with a literally fine-toothed-comb–you can get flea combs at any pet supply store, and they are handy and effective things.

The dogs will be bathed daily for two more days at least.  And we’ll do the full bedding-and-vacuum sweep again in 3 days, and then again a week after that.  With any luck that’ll do it…the hard part is just having to do it all at once; you don’t have the luxury here of saying, okay we’ll do these beds and vacuum upstairs today and get the rest tomorrow, you have to just nail it in one go. Which is a royal pain.

But no chemicals, no meds, no icky toxic residues left on my rugs or furniture or children.  Fairly small price to pay, in my opinion.

So…in the meantime, stop by the Green Phone Booth today--in a moment of truly synchronous irony, I posted over there today about my efforts to not wash my hair so often and try homemade recipes for “dry shampoo”–and I challenge any of my friends to really guess which days over the past two weeks I washed my hair with water and which days I used my Brilliant Alternate Plan…

(except for last night, I’m sure the yanked-back ponytail was a dead giveaway, that was my first attempt–not real successful–to skip two days of washing. But even so…)

Happy Friday!


Why wiener dogs never get chosen for taste tests

This article on Grist made me laugh.

Eco Dog Treats Confound Canines and Humans Alike

But it was so obvious they didn’t have any dachshunds on the panel.  I have never met a choosy dachshund in my life–they just love to eat.

If I were up to par today, I’d be posting a recipe for baking one’s own dog treats.  But I have a headache. So I’ll just recommend that you maybe check out the ones here, or here, or here

Or give your dog a carrot or apple slice instead. They’re actually really good for them (avoid grapes or raisins! These are toxic to dogs!), and much easier and often cheaper than going out and buying dog biscuits.

EPA cautions about Frontline

The EPA has come out with a new set of guidelines regarding labelling for Frontline, Advantage, and other anti-flea and tick “medications” for dogs and cats–particularly for smaller pets, 10-20 lbs.  The Daily Green has a pretty good article about it.

Just to be clear, for those who don’t know–these aren’t medications per se, they involves treating your pet with a small amount of pesticide through its bloodstream, believed (by some, many, what-have you) to be a small enough amount to cause no harm to the animal but enough to kill any fleas, ticks, or eggs hanging out in there.  They don’t “prevent” fleas or ticks from getting onto your animal, they just ensure that they won’t be able to live there long enough to reproduce.

I did a fairly lengthy post on this topic last summer, after a friend of mine got her puppy (which animal is now by the way fully grown, sweet as can be, and better trained than any of my dogs past or present could ever hope to be. This is one sweet fuzzball.)–so check it out if you are interested.  In it I outline a lot of potentially useful natural insect deterrents, though in the interest of disclosure I live in a part of the world where every winter for 3 months everything is pretty much frozen solid and there just aren’t any fleas or anything else living, for that matter.  Still, for me these methods have worked, and in 17 years of having dogs as roomates I’ve only had two flea breakouts, both eradicated fairly quickly and without using toxic chemicals. (Okay, the first one wasn’t eradicated quickly because I didn’t know what I was doing.  Once I did it right, it was over.)

So if you’re interested–check that post out; and I’d love it if anyone left any comments or thoughts about things I missed.

So…pet people…what do you do? How do you keep the creepycrawlies off your animals?

Pet care post at Green Phone Booth

Hey, come over to the Green Phone Booth–I posted there today about some chemical-free pet care ideas!

Pet Care without Toxic Chemicals (and rescue organizations!)

Happy Friday!

I think that I shall never see a bug annoying as a FLEA! (Alternative flea prevention tactics)

A friend of mine just got a new puppy, and she is floundering in a sea of way too much conflicting advice about how to deal with fleas, ticks, and other bug problems. So, being a good friend, I’ve agreed to give her even more advice, probably even more conflicting than what she’s already heard. (What are friends for?)

(Standard disclaimer: Not only has the FDA not approved any part of what I say, the FDA would laugh until they wet their pants if I even came near them. I’m a muscian with no medical training of any kind, I just read a lot and pay attention.  Follow any advice I give with a grain of salt, do your own homework, and please do not hold me responsible for any negative results.  I’m a musician.)


Her dilemma: to give monthly “preventative” medication or not? Obviously, me being me, I do not choose to give it to my pets. As I discussed in a previous post , the meds don’t actually prevent fleas, they keep a constant very small level of insecticide in the pet’s system so that the fleas die before they can reproduce. Which is very efficient, but I still do not choose to go that route, because my own belief is that it has a negative effect on the overall health of the animal.


I think the question for anyone would have to be something like, “How much would I freak out if I found living fleas on my animal?” Because once they are there, there’s a pretty lengthy and commitment-required regimen, if you don’t want to go the flea bomb route, for getting rid of them. (Discussed in part II of this post) (And by the way, they do sometimes appear on animals being treated in other ways! That’s another reason given for abandoning chemical flea treatment; many believe that the fleas are getting stronger and developing resistance to those meds anyhow.) 


Because the fact is that every animal is different, and while I can say loftily that I’ve had pets for 16 years and experienced only 2 flea outbreaks, I could have been just plain lucky. However, given that that’s all I actually did have in all that time, in hindsight, it’s fairly clear that giving the prevention would have been way more expensive and way harder on the pet than it was worth for those two weeks out of 16 years when fleas actually were a problem.


  Read the rest of this entry

Flea and Heartworm prevention for dogs: it’s a mixed bag

We’re in the process of trying to adopt a dog. A rescue dachshund.  It’s exciting and wonderful and really really cool…

But there is this little clause in the contract we have to sign, requiring us to “administer monthly flea/tick medication” to the dog, and “administer year round monthly heartworm medication.”

Having had two dogs now with chronic medical conditions suspected to be caused by over-vaccination and over-medication, I’m really wary of these things, and I’ve spent a lot of time researching alternatives. 

The heartworm thing–first of all, there are several different levels of medication.  Most of them include extra pesticides to nail other wormy parasitey things, but there’s one which contains only the heartworm stuff.  And here in Illinois, everything freezes so solid all winter that heartworm treatment isn’t something that needs to happen in, say February–most vets up here say you can absolutely get away with just June-November and give an annual test for the larvae, with absolutely no danger (and likely health benefits) to the dog.

Basically, with both the monthly flea “medication” and the monthly heartworm “medication” what you’re doing is administring low level pesticide to your dog’s system.  Flea powders deposit it on the skin, and get inhaled; orals introduce it to the digestive system and bloodstream.  I guess for each pet guardian it comes down to your own philosophy on these things.

One school of thought says that it’s such a low level that it doesn’t hurt the dog and causes no harm, or whatever very slight harm it may cause is far outweighed by the harm that would come by not administering it.   For the heartworm, this may well be true, especially with smaller dogs. If a dog is bitten by a mosquito carrying heartworm parasites, the parasites are injected into the bloodstream of the dog and either are killed off by the dog’s immune system or grow into active live heartworms which, as one might guess, burrow around in the heart doing significant damage.  The smaller the dog, the greater the damage, of course–the heartworms are the same size in all dogs, of course, but the small dog’s heart is a lot smaller and so the worm does much worse damage, and treatment for the worm after it’s there can be pretty harrowing.  So, much as I hate the idea of giving my pet pesticides in pill form, it’s probably safer than the alternative.

The other philosophy, also gaining a foothold in human medicine and health, is the idea of “toxic load.” That is, when creatures are exposed to low levels of toxic substances over extended periods of time, problems develop that may or may not be tracable in a linear way back to the original toxin–it’s the interaction of the different toxicities over time that weaken the immune system and allow different problems to break through.  For me, living in a northern climate where all the bugs die off over the winter every year, the risk to my dogs ongoing immune health is not worth giving flea prevention “meds” every month year round. I prefer to use natural bug repellents and treat the flea infestation if it happens. (Another post, still to come.)  The same school also says that fleas generaly won’t come near a healthy dog with a good immune system, so if you keep your dog healthy it’s much less likely to get infested with fleas.

The wider veterinary community is beginning to realize what cost the current regimen of over-vaccination and over-medication exacts from our pets over time–cost in the health of the pet as well as money, as the afflictions that come in later years show up and themselves need treatment. 

So, after speaking with the rescue organization head, we came to a compromise: since we’ll be adopting this Southern little dog who has not spent the past winter completely isolated from any kind of mosquito life, we will give her heartworm prevention through her first year with us; after that, she will go on the same regimen as our other dog, receiving the treatment just from June-November, which is when the skeeters are out for us.  And they are comfortable letting me deal with fleas as I choose to, since they are more an irritation than an actual danger to the dog.

Anti-flea treatment post to come!