Though you wouldn’t think so from the weather around here this past week, we are heading into summer – and for many of us who are pet owners, that means dealing with pests like fleas, ticks and mosquitoes that can range from mere nuisances to big problems.
We’ve always gone the ‘mainstream’ route when it came to protecting our dog from pests, but with the arrival of the Bean, those (frequently toxic, chemical filled) options went out the window for us.
I did some research to find some natural preventatives and remedies, but as there is a lot of information out there, I wanted to have what I found confirmed by someone who knew what they were talking about!
I was so pleased when he agreed to speak with me (and can’t wait to read his book that is on its way to me in the mail!). Here is what I learned from our conversation…
(Note – this is taken from my notes from speaking with Dr. McCutcheon over the phone, so not every answer is a direct quote.)
My first question had to do with vaccines. My husband and I have very much enjoyed learning from the Cesar Millan books for raising and training dogs, and that was where we first learned that the vaccine schedule for dogs is way overboard – and may be a cause for many of the illnesses our pets experience as they age.
I asked Dr. McCutcheon if he recommended the yearly vaccine booster schedule for dogs or whether he would suggest any alternatives to the recommended pet vaccine schedule. His answer?
No – we recommend minimal vaccines – a very basic program initially, and from there we test antibody levels (titer testing) to make sure of continued immunity.
I loved this answer! (We are so taking Luther to the East York Animal Clinic next time he needs to see a vet).
Essentially, they do not re-vaccinate a dog unless the dog needs it, which is very rare. Their usual schedule for dogs is to vaccinate at 9 weeks and 16 weeks unless the titers indicate a problem.
As for rabies – a vaccine that is mandated by law – they vaccinate at 6 months of age – not before, along with a booster that is required one year later, then every 3 years (again, as required by law).
“Yes – we do vaccinate – but wisely. Minimal vaccines, and only if necessary.”
Moving on to flea and tick prevention…
I asked: I’ve read that supplementing a dog’s diet with a certain amount of garlic and/or brewer’s yeast is a natural flea and tick repellent due to the odor it will cause to be released from a dog’s skin – is this accurate information and would you recommend d it?
Dr. McCutcheon answered: Garlic is potentially toxic to dogs, so be careful about using it. It is no problem in small amounts and may be beneficial from a health standpoint, but specifically it does not have an act on repelling fleas.
The same thing for brewer’s yeast – and that can sometimes be a problem too, especially in yeast sensitive dogs where you may be making problems worse. But on the good side, it is nutritionally active and may make immunity stronger, though that is probably the only benefit to preventing fleas. The odor it causes is sulfur, which may be good, but is not reliable.
I asked: Other tick repellents I’ve seen recommended use Rose Geranium essential oil or American Pennyroyal (tick weed) essential oil. Some of the treatments involve mixing into a spray; some involve dabbing a few drops on the dog’s collar. Do you have any experience with these and/or any recommendations?
Dr. McCutcheon answered: You can spray Solvarome (a group of essential oils sold commercially) – it is used in a diluted form to spray on the dog’s coat. That type of thing is a repellant only – it won’t kill fleas, but it may help repel them.
Diatomaceous earth has also been mentioned, though it can be a problem for asthmatics – it kills the breathing apparatus in fleas but working with it isn’t very nice.
You can make flea collars with essential oils like lavender, cedar and rose geranium (they provide formulas for these at the clinic). Just remember – Never apply essential oils directly onto your pet. Use essential oils diluted in sprays or as a few drops applied to your dogs collar.
Essential oils are very potent when concentrated and can easily cause reactions, so you should always consult with your veterinarian before using them – pets react differently to certain natural products than we do!
As for ticks – in most situations, it’s best just to remove them (he mentioned a tick removal tool you can actually get to make this easier).
There are commercial products available for controlling ticks to kill them, but Dr. McCutcheon’s attitude toward this is to turn to commercial products to remove them only if it is a major, ongoing problem. If ticks are a sporadic issue for your dog, just remove them by hand.
One thing you don’t want to do is use the systemic insecticides (like Revolution) that are commonly recommended. They are overkill – and toxic – and they get into every tissue of the dog’s body – the liver, the kidney, the brain. Essentially, it is just an unnecessary (and dangerous) approach to parasite control!
Dr. McCutcheon also touched on preventative measures versus just dealing with pests when they become an issue.
Fleas and ticks are not always a problem, and he recommends dealing with it when it is a problem, rather than trying to use a lot of meds to prevent them. If it’s a small problem, you can use a flea comb or pull a tick off the dog; if it’s a major problem, start by going to the least toxic anti-flea product available (they usually suggest Advantage) – as they are topical and not really absorbed into the dog’s tissue.
I asked: Another source I’ve seen listed a spray of vinegar and water for relief if a dog develops itchy hot spots; a spray of lemon juice and water was also recommended as a flea and tick prevention. What are your thoughts on this?
Dr. McCutcheon: These may provide minor control or relief, but they are not a major answer to the problem. If there are major skin problems like this, they should be investigated, as they usually entail an allergic reaction, which is a whole different ballgame.
Such a wealth of great information – and there’s more to share! Check back with us on Monday, May 23rd to see the continuation of this post.
Do you have pets? What kind, and what are their names?