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Apr 252009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Fleas happen. So do ticks. With the trees in full leaf and the woods thick with weeds, I know the hounds will soon be targets. Typically, I just shave them (the dogs not the parasites), wash them with something obnoxiously fragrant and hope for the best.

I gave up chemical dog collars awhile back. But knowing that the dogs are miserable with fleas (not to mention how miserable we’d be sharing their fleas) and that they can get Lyme disease if they pick up a tick, I’m aware that we need solutions. I have fed them garlic powder, a home remedy, but with mixed success.

So I’ve been looking into natural alternatives, and today I found some great ones. But first, a relevant story: This week the Natural Resources Defense Council sued pet product manufacturers and retailers (16 of them are named) for failing to warn consumers in California about the toxicity of some of the ingredients in flea collars. The suit was filed in California because that state regulates propoxur, and is considering regulating TCVP (tetrachlorvinphos), two of the compounds at issue.

While the EPA has said that flea collars pose no threat to humans, the lawsuit alleges that chemical residues on pet fur can far exceed safe levels. The suits cites NRDC research showing that after several days, most dogs and cats carried residues levels considered unsafe for toddlers having “average” contact with pets. The San Francisco Chronicle website SFGATE has more on this story.

Now for the practical part, as you consider how to keep the mutts parasite-free this summer season: The NRDC has put together a list that will help you sort out the options. The Green Paws report tells you which flea/tick treatments to avoid, which to use with caution and which are the safest to use. (It undersells the non-toxic products a bit, saying they’re safe to use when “chemical control is needed,” which implies that au naturel is safest for Fifi and Thunderbolt. I’d argue that no control carries risks too — unless you enjoy fleas in the carpet and sick pets.)

Still, we are grateful for this research. Read the list and you’ll understand why — many of these chemicals are believed or known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors and irritants that aggravate asthma. It’s little wonder, they’re pesticides. You know, like the stuff you carefully wash off your fruit.

Anyhow, we’re going to try an essential oil. Green Paws lists oils of cedarwood, lemongrass, peppermint, rosemary and thyme as safer oils to use on pets. Some of the essential oils, like those from lavender and geranium, it does not recommend for pets. Good to know.

It also advises discussing these issues with your veterinarian (kind of like how you’re supposed to discuss Boniva, Celebrex and Viagra with your doctor). But I have to take issue with this advice. Our veterinarian — and I would guess the majority of vets — sells many of those toxic pet collars and treatments. He’s a great guy, but last time I asked him about flea control, he told me to use a neurotoxin.

I did notice on the Green Paws list that there are some “stripe on” products using a chemical called Pyriproxyfen, which is considered safer to use. So not every chemical with a difficult to pronounce name is a problem, necessarily.

Confused? Green Paws also offers a guide to take to the store.

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