The idea of flea chemically bombarding your dogs is ridiculous for many good reasons, the main one being THEY DON’T HAVE FLEAS…
First and foremost it is highly unlikely your dog actually has fleas. Think about it, have you deloused your child this month? No?!!!! But head lice!! They’re eeevvvverrryywhherree…As it happens they are. Some unlucky kids pick them up and they spread when kids mob together in class and playground. If you are the parent of one of these affected little urchins you barf in your mouth and you dig out the shampoo. A couple of rinses later they’re gone. No big deal.
Now imagine putting drops on your child’s neck that are absorbed into the dermal layers and spread around the body so should a nasty bug try bite them anywhere they would drop down dead. Now what if your friend chastised you for not wearing gloves when putting this chemical on your child and this friend went on to read the potential side effects out to you, including “mild skin irritation, seizures and in some cases, death”. You would surely pause to rethink the necessity for their usage in the first place.
The truth is a healthy dog is unlikely to pick up fleas, a strong immune system keeps them at bay. They want to live on a healthy dog as much as you want to live beside a power station. It is when this forcefield is down that the baddies get in. This is the way of things, killing off the sick, reducing the number or walking dead about the place and ultimately leaving the host population stronger as a result. Hence fleas love old, diseased, weakened (pups) and dying animal. It’s why when a dog presents with a flea infestation your vet should wonder “what’s wrong with this dog under the hood that he has all the fleas?”. The same applies to demodectic mange, a critter that is everywhere and only blooms when forcefield is down.
I heard an interesting story from a vet nurse friend of mine who rescued a now famous Great Dane from a pound. Riddled with demodectic mange and clearly a very, very ill old girl, she took the dog and just stuck her in with her bunch of 7 dogs. She moved the dog on to a fresh meat diet and followed a flea routine that you’re about to read about below. The dog was right as rain in weeks, bounding around, the picture of health and free of mange. More to the point not one other dog in her fresh fed and chemical free pack / group (I prefer pack, sue me!) “succumbed” to mange. I was actually startled with this display of utter confidence in the power of a robust immune system.
But first lets look at chemical flea drops a bit closer…
Chemical Flea Drop Treatments For Dogs Are Not Perfectly Safe
Flea drops are used to kill adult fleas. They contain a neuro-toxic insecticide which is potent enough to kill fleas upon a nibbling on your pet. Once the liquid is applied to your pets skin, the medicine sinks in and spreads via your pet’s sebaceous system. When fleas attempt to feed on your pet, it attacks their nervous systems causing paralysis. This kills them instantly. Most flea drops are oily liquids and hence they are water proof; that way they don’t wear off quickly and the effect lasts for a longer duration.
Vitally we are assured that the neuro-toxin affects only insects as the drug is not permitted passage in the brains of mammals. Heartening. However in the spring of 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Health Canada Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) received an increased number of reports on pet incidents involving spot-on pesticide products, from the companies that hold registrations for these products. Most incidents were minor, though there were some pet deaths and “major incidents” reported. It decided to look into the matter further. A team of expert vets and toxicologists from several divisions of the EPA Office of Pesticide Programs evaluated the incident data. Their report can be found here. In short they found:
– The most commonly affected organ systems were dermal, gastrointestinal, and nervous.
– Small breed dogs are affected more (65%) than larger breeds (35%).
– Chihuahuas, Shih Tzus, Minitature Poodles, Pomeranians and Daschunds most affected.
– Dogs under 3 years most affected.
– Cyphenothrin is the worst chemical, accounting for 33% of incidents.
Interestingly the data used for the above study were from companies between mid-July to September 2008, only. The report process was “difficult and time consuming”. Incidents from other countries were ruled out and if you didn’t have an EPA number you couldn’t report your findings. In short, companies selling these treatments needed considerable will to report incidents, lending more weight to the findings.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) works to protect wildlife and to ensure a healthy environment for all life. It is America’s most effective environmental action group, combining the grassroots power of 1.3 million members and online activists with the courtroom clout and expertise of more than 350 lawyers, scientists and other professionals. The New York Times calls us “One of the nation’s most powerful environmental groups”. They have an excellent article that ranks flea control by name and risk level. They base their findings on findings of the likes of The National Pesticide Telecommunications Network (NPTN), Pesticide Action Network and the Veterinary Human Toxicology Journal, so it’s pretty reliable info.
The truth is there is a big lack of science behind the dangers (and thus safety) of these chemicals. Big pet-drug companies run short tests on a tiny number of dogs over weeks, then deem their products safe on the back of them. Until someone scientifically proves otherwise, it remains this way. There are thousands of new drugs popping up each year. Drug studies are laborious, extremely costly, plagued with error and normally requires the sacrifice of a large number of animals. These are left to be conducted in-house.
So who funds an investigation at this point? The manufacture says they’ve done it, so they’re out. Neither you, your vet, nor most action groups have the financial resources, the training or the will to cage so many dogs for so long, to investigate the matter to any meaningful degree. The FDA and other over stretched groups have these sort of investigations waay down the list. So lets look at what the drug companies say.
“…Cases of Death Have Been Reported…”
We are taking Advantage as an example as one of the safest out there. This is certainly the line we hear from most vets, that this product is “perfectly safe”. The active ingredient in your Advantage is the easy-to-say imidacloprid. The NRDC states that it:
“…disrupts the nervous system of sucking insects and may be toxic to the human nervous system as well“.
Not a great start. In studies conducted on Advantage Flea Control (by Bayer), lethargy, loss of appetite, and hyperactivity were only evident in 0.8% of dogs tested. So you’re dog has only a 1/125 chance of displaying symptoms immediately after application. The manufacturers go on to note:
“…Advantage flea control and other imidacloprid-containing products should never be stored close to food or water sources that are intended for human consumption. This is to prevent leaked product from accidentally being consumed“.
So if you have a dog or cat that likes to lick itself ensure you tape their mouth closed for four weeks. Or if you have more than one dog keep them separate for the month. Simple. And while people do not need to wear gloves as is commonly thrown around today as proof of safety, when handling the product the manufacturer advises
“…washing the product off thoroughly with soap and water [should it make contact with your skin]…”
Often used in crop pesticides imidacloprid has a very bad reputation. A study published in Toxicology Mechanisms and Methods in 2005 looked at the “human exposure to imidacloprid from dogs treated with Advantage”. It was found that transferable residues were present on the fur 4-5 weeks post-dosing. They state:
“whether this low-level chronic exposure will pose a health risk to pet owners and other animal handlers (e.g. vets) remains to be seen“.
I’m assuming that nobody is using Advantage’s evil twin brother Advantix?! It says here on it’s own website:
“…before using this product, it is important for you to understand that there are several side effects that have been reported such as, skin irritation, hyperactivity, listlessness, vomiting, depression, and some cases of death have even been reported“.
It’ll kill the fleas though…if they have any.
We Have Fleas: What Do We Do?
Moreover there is no need for harsh, expensive, chemical flea control in dogs. If you do discover a little problem, there are lots of really good natural preventatives and cures that are far cheaper and won’t harm your dog. If you want to know how please check out our article on Tuesday “Natural Flea Control in Dogs“.