Safer Flea and Tick Treatments for Dogs - Dog Cancer Blog

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

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Safer Flea and Tick Treatments for Dogs

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.

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.

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!

About the Author: Susan Harper, AHC, DAH, MHAO, Animal Health Consultant


I'm a member of the Dog Cancer Support Team & a Dog Cancer Survivor! Two of my beloved dogs have had cancer, and with the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, Apocaps, and full spectrum help given with boundless love, both our dogs far surpassed the odds we were given. I'm an Animal Health Consultant with a Diploma in Animal Healing, and Assistant Instructor with the Healing Animals Organization (MHAO). I'm passionate to help dogs and their people get through this journey. Early on I asked the Team how I could help, and here I am.

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