Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Susan Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Safer Flea and Tick Treatments for Dogs

Updated: December 5th, 2018


What’s the best way to protect your dog with cancer from fleas and ticks? Susan Harper explores this pesky subject in detail.

flea-tick-dog-cancerWith the seasons changing for most of us, and warmer weather ahead, many are asking “can the traditional flea and tick treatments harm my dog, and if so, what can I do?” So, let’s take a look from a Full Spectrum perspective.

The Problem

A necessary part of having a companion pet is protecting them from fleas and ticks. When our dogs run and play outside, these pests wait for just the right moment, and jump on for a free ride. Their purpose in life is to feed and breed, and they need our pets to do it. We may think it’s random chance that our dog brings home an unwanted pest, but actually fleas and ticks are programmed to survive by detecting animals who will host them and planning a cunning launch.

A couple of the creatures can be a pain, but when they really take over it can become a real threat to health. We also want to protect our homes and our human family.

Fleas can harbor and spread tape worms, flea allergy dermatitis, flea-borne typhus and a host of other problems.

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Ticks can cause serious illnesses such as Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and others.

Let’s not forget mosquitos, which can spread heartworms and West Nile Encephalitis.

You may not even know that your dog has been infected until a disease gets established and diagnosed by your vet. Some of these diseases are transmittable to humans. So the need to prevent these pests from endangering our pets and us is very real.

Traditional Treatments

For many years the traditional methods of treatment have been flea and tick collars, shampoos and topical drops on the dog. Is this a problem? Well, sometimes, yes.

The treatments we’ve grown up with are basically pesticides and insecticides; chemicals meant to be toxic to the ‘pest’. We ‘treat’ our dogs with a low dose of pesticide (poison) with topical application to their skin to kill off any pests and to prevent others from taking up residence.

Unfortunately these pesticides can also be toxic to our dogs … and a dog dealing with a cancer diagnosis already has a weakened immune system.

The main ingredient used in most traditional flea and tick products is pyrethrin or pyrethroids, which is also the ingredient in most bug sprays intended for pests in the home. You know the ones, they usually warn “keep pets away from area”.

According to an EPA report, they work by altering nerve function, which causes paralysis in target insect, eventually resulting in death. Unfortunately, there is really no way to guarantee that the companion animal who is treated with these chemicals is not also in danger. There have been an increasing number of reports of illness, ranging from being a little off color to twitching, hives, excessive salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of coordination, convulsions, seizures and death.

Certainly, caution is always advised when applying any product. Whether obtained from your vet’s office or purchased over the counter, there is really no way to guarantee that your pet will not have an adverse reaction to the ingredients in any products, and if they do, the damage may be irreversible.

Add to this the practice that many products are used on a monthly basis, which means a monthly application of a neurotoxin to your dog. Using a flea collar basically means strapping an insecticide around your dog’s neck for weeks at a time. And all of these products are required to carry a safety warning to the effect of “keep away from children”. Well if it’s not safe for my child, it’s not safe for my dog.

The question could be “do I want to take a chance that my dog will contract a serious illness, or take a chance that she will get sick from the prevention”? But it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation.

Specific Cancer Risk

As Dr. Dressler explains in the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, the development of Transitional Cell Carcinoma (TCC) is particularly linked to exposure to insecticides, including some of the traditional pest remedies. Of all the options, the spot-on treatments are generally safer with fewer reports of toxic side-effects. But note that I didn’t say “no reports” … only fewer.

It’s a tough position to be in, because we must protect our pets from the dangers of pest-borne illness, but we also want to protect them from hazardous chemicals.

For more helpful tools and information, get a copy of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide!

Good News

So the challenge has been to find non-toxic products to help our pets with this problem, and fortunately some great companies have been doing just that.

Mercola has launched a range of all natural products to protect our dogs. They’re made up of Brazilian oils from certified forests, which work synergistically against fleas, ticks and mosquitos. They work by confusing the senses of the pests, making your dog unidentifiable to them. Basically, they don’t get the signals telling them that a tasty host is passing by, so they don’t launch.

Triple Sure and Vet’s Best have a range of safe, non-toxic products which avoid pyrethrins and use cedar oil and/or peppermint oil as their main ingredients. Both of these companies rely on natural ingredients which are safe for both dogs and humans, and we are happy to showcase them in the Dog Cancer Shop and  Dog Cancer Shop UK. Feedback indicates that they are effective, and much more pleasant to use.

In addition, there are many safe and natural products which you can include in your home routine to deter pests. Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is a white talc-like powder that is the fossilized remains of marine phytoplankton. On a microscopic level DE is very sharp, so it is harmful to insects which have an exoskeleton (like fleas!), yet it’s not harmful to mammals. (Be sure to use food grade DE, not the kind used in swimming pools!)

DE can be used on the coat, but is actually much more effective to sprinkle around baseboards, in carpet etc. so that when flea eggs hatch the larva die. Some holistic veterinarians also use it to deworm dogs!

Garlic, unprocessed brewer’s yeast and apple cider vinegar are often recommended as part of a diet to make the skin and blood of the animal distasteful to pests but these last two are not part of the recommended dog cancer diet so I’m going to ask you to stay away from them, and only to use garlic as advised in the diet.

Remember though, even a product labeled natural and safe must be used responsibly and according to directions. Don’t let your dog eat a bucket of DE, for example, and remember that it is very fine in texture and when sprayed in the air, can be breathed in.

A Pest-Free Regime

The best way to keep your dogs free of unwanted pests includes

  • Providing a balanced diet with real food to keep the immune system vital and strong.
  • Bathing and brushing your dog regularly and doing nose-to-tail body checks when you come in from outside. If you recall from previous posts, this is also a great way to check your dog for any signs of new bumps, lumps or other tender spots.
  • Steering clear of old, stagnant water and any areas which have been treated with chemicals of any sort in both your own yard and the areas you run your dog,
  • Using natural pest deterrents, some of which are described above.
  • Being prepared with both the tools and the knowledge of how to safely remove a tick if you do find one. The traditional way is still the best, using tweezers or a tick remover tool. Other methods which promote using a match, petroleum jelly or swivel methods of making the tick ‘dizzy’ are not as reliable and may actually cause the tick to burrow deeper or leave parts still attached. As always, if in doubt, consult your vet.

Of course what we want at all times is a happy, relaxed dog. So please make every step enjoyable. Checking your dog regularly, applying natural products for prevention, and even tick removal can be a ‘no-problem’ task if you approach it with respect, a good attitude, and praise from start to finish. Oh, and a healthy treat at the end wouldn’t hurt.

Happy Tails!

Discover the Full Spectrum Approach to Dog Cancer

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  1. Cheri Aristo-Frey on August 14, 2017 at 11:30 am

    I started using Spot On tropical herbal treatment via Mercola…It does work, smells a lot better and my fur kid’s skin does not get irritated.

  2. Ywain Williams on June 14, 2017 at 1:39 am

    Fleas can be a real nightmare for dogs. They feed and breed and keep
    growing, causing more trouble to the poor pet. But being a pet
    parent, we can reduce flea growth and protect our pet from the
    parasite. With the right dog flea medication, we can prevent our pet
    from the itches and scratches. You can find a range of
    dog flea treatment supplies that can help prevent flea and other
    parasite growth.

  3. Andy on April 9, 2015 at 1:29 am

    Its nearly impossible to see flea with normal eyes, flea bite gives lots of pain to your pet as it can causes itching, scratching, and skin irritation. Thanks for this


  4. Susan Kazara Harper on March 15, 2015 at 9:54 pm

    Hello Mabel,
    Thanks for sharing this. I had to take out the link because over time they often cause hiccups in the blog, but if anyone is interested they can certainly search the product. It’s always wise to research and get the most natural products possible for our pets, and to weigh the threat of the pest against the threat of the cure. Take care.

  5. meisinbad on March 10, 2015 at 9:32 pm

    Frontline Plus is also a trusted flea tick control for dogs. It is available for as low as $19. I have found it to be quite effective also. I was in trouble and was thinking whether I should try it or not so I decided to see its reviews on Amazon before ordering from BudgetPetCare & to my surprise, it has thousands of positive reviews. For me, Frontline Plus is ultimate!

  6. Mabel on February 20, 2015 at 1:46 am

    Thanks for sharing this useful information for us. in last summer my dog named Sam was also suffered from flea tick problem. That time i have tried many flea control techniques like natural remedy, home remedy but didn’t get 100% result. Then I have tried “Fiprofort for Medium Dog ” for my Dog. This is generic flea product, got 100% result within 24hrs. I would like say thanks to Fiprofort also.

  7. Susan Kazara Harper on May 29, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    Hi Maddy,
    I’m sorry it took so long to respond to this for you. Thanks for your patience!
    The problem with Apple Cider Vinegar is that acid is favorable for the growth of the majority of cancer cells. The body responds by increasing alkalinity but that is only a response to the initial acidity. Because of this Dr. Dressler recommends it not be ingested by our dogs. Now don’t freak out on me :-). The small amounts you may have been giving would not be making a huge difference, and will not have caused the condition. That being said, now that we have this explanation it would be a good idea to stop. Some people use topical application of ACV for things like flea and tick control, and as long as the dog doesn’t lick the coat there should be no problem with this. I hope this helps.

    • Maddy on May 31, 2014 at 7:15 pm

      This does help a great deal and thank you for your response Susan – which I found very quick and not long at all! It’s most appreciated. 🙂

      • Susan Kazara Harper on June 1, 2014 at 10:00 am

        Very happy to help. 😉

  8. Maddy on May 23, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    Hi, can I ask why Apple Cider Vinegar can’t be used? I’ve read the Cancer Survival Guide and the Dog Cancer Diet and in the guide Dr Dressler explains why some things are not useful which is helpful, and I understand he can’t list and explain everything. But I’ve always used a very small amount of ACV mixed with food and am worried now! Thanks, Maddy

  9. Cris L on May 20, 2014 at 2:45 am

    I see this statement in the article:

    Garlic, unprocessed brewer’s yeast and apple cider vinegar are often recommended as part of a diet to make the skin and blood of the animal distasteful to pests but these last two are not part of the recommended dog cancer diet so I’m going to ask you to stay away from them, and only to use garlic as advised in the diet.

    I read the Dog Cancer Diet again, but can find no reference to apple cider vinegar. I have used apple cider vinegar (mixed with water) to spray on my dogs’ coats to prevent ticks and fleas. Is this OK to do with a cancer dog? Please, please advise!! Thanks.

    • Susan Kazara Harper on May 20, 2014 at 4:58 am

      Hi Chris,
      Bless you, I can hear the worry in your words. Take a breath, it’s OK. The Dog Cancer Diet discusses foods taken internally. If Dr. Dressler does NOT recommended something, it won’t always be listed, because, well, can you imagine the list would go on and on and on. So the Diet focuses on what to feed, and mentions some of the usual foods to avoid (like corn, peas etc.) Topical application of vinegar is absolutely OK, and bless you for using a natural way to repel fleas and ticks. So don’t worry, you’re doing great.

      • Cris on May 20, 2014 at 3:16 pm

        Great to hear!