Flea and Tick MythBusters
(Feeling ticked off?)
With the warmer weather coming, it brings unfortunate pests along with it. We have compiled some common preventive myths for you, from a veterinary parasitologist – so that you will be well informed and properly prepared – and not end up getting ticked off if your preventive doesn’t work for you!
Myth: Feed pets raw garlic, garlic powder or garlic pills.
Not only is there no clinical evidence that garlic has any effect on fleas, it is a potentially hazardous substance to pets, particularly cats. Garlic is in the allium family, which includes onions, shallots, leeks and chives. In some animals, these plants can cause severe anemia. Lesser reactions include upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Myth: Feed the dog 1 mg of brewer’s yeast for every 5 pounds of its weight, mixing it into the food.
While brewer’s yeast is not toxic to pets, it is equally lacking in evidence of any effectiveness against fleas. As remedies against fleas, both garlic and brewer’s yeast survive in folklore through anecdotal reports, despite research studies that have disproven their value.
Myth: Cut an orange in half and rub it on your dog’s back and stomach.
The peel of citrus fruits, particularly oranges, contains a chemical known as linalool. It is used as a fragrance in products such as soap, detergents and lotions. It has also been used as an insect repellant with variable results. For citrus oil to have any effect on fleas, it would need to be extracted from the orange peel and concentrated. It is not effective to use the juice of the orange – you will just have a sticky mess!
Myth: Put an ultrasonic device on your pets’ collar to emit ultrasonic sounds that fleas and ticks hate.
High frequency ultrasonic devices have no effect on flea or other pests such as insects and rodents. In some areas the sale of such products has been banned because these products have been labeled fraudulent. The high frequencies generated cannot be heard by humans, but may be audible to pets – causing irritation and annoyance to the one you were trying to help!
Myth: Spray the dog or cat with a mixture of apple cider vinegar and baking soda.
Status: Mostly busted!
Vinegar is acetic acid. While high levels can be toxic to fleas, the acidic nature can also be harmful to the skin with repeated or long term exposure, not to mention the issue of a pet ingesting it while grooming. Baking soda has no known effect on fleas. If being used as a buffer for the acid – it reduces any potential flea toxicity – a moot point.
Myth: Use human lice shampoo on the pet.
Shampoos and other topical treatments for lice in humans contain pyrethrins, organic chemicals found in many flea shampoos labeled for use in dogs and cats. While human lice shampoo will kill the adult fleas on the pet, there is no prevention or repellency once the bath is finished. High levels of pyrethrins can be toxic to cats as well!
Myth: Coat pets with mineral oil to suffocate the fleas.
Status: Not practical!
While you may be able to drown fleas in mineral oil, the volume of oil required would create an enormous mess on your pet – which they would attempt to remove with grooming. This could create a laxative effect. This is an extremely impractical method of trying to control fleas.
Myth: Bathe the cat or dog with Dawn liquid detergent and oatmeal.
Status: Maybe, but not a good idea!
In general, bathing a pet, even with plain water, can kill and help remove fleas. However, any sort of detergent used as a shampoo can be very drying to the skin of dogs and cats – causing secondary health issues. Dawn dish soap is very effective at removing grease and oil from hair, but has no specific efficacy at killing fleas. Oatmeal based shampoos have been used as therapy for certain skin conditions. Oat meal itself has no ability to kill or repel fleas. In addition, although a bath will remove any adult fleas present, it will not repel or prevent any further flea arrival.
Myth: When washing your pet, don’t rinse first because fleas will jump off. Start with a soapy lather that will trap and suffocate them.
Since a bath in water alone can help kill fleas on the pet, it does not make much sense to avoid putting water on the pet. All a bath does I remove the adults present on the cat or dog anyways, so what does it matter if they jump off? The pet will be re-infected by more fleas the minute it is out of the tub either way. In addition, lathering a dry animal is very difficult, if not impossible.
Myth: Keep a thin layer of diatomaceous earth on your floors (where the vacuum cannot reach) and vacuum every 3 days, tossing some on the floors first. Sprinkle Borax washing detergent on carpets and wash pet beds with it. Salt your carpet.
Status: True but incomplete!
Diatomaceous earth (DE), boric acid (in Borax) and salt all dehydrate the flea larvae that are found in pet bedding, carpets and protected areas in flea-infested environments. These remedies can be effective as part of an overall flea control program and work best when applied to the areas where the pet usually sleeps.
Myth: Spray the yard with Ivory soap and water.
Soap and water can be effective against adult fleas on the pet, but since the adult flea is only on the pet and does not live out in the yard, this would be and ineffective environmental treatment.
Myth: Release nematodes (roundworms) into the backyard to eat flea larvae.
Once a popular natural remedy for the environment, treatment with nematodes was never found to be effective against fleas. This is probably because there are not huge concentrations of flea larvae in the open spaces of the yard. Nematodes, as well, are very expensive!
Myth: Spread cedar chips in the yard to repel fleas.
Status: Maybe, but impractical!
Cedar is a natural insect repellant, but unless every piece of your entire yard is covered in mulch, it is not likely to be of much value. Plus, mulch in the yard will do nothing to protect the inside of the house, which is where most infestations occur.
Myth: Flood the yard to suffocate flea eggs and larvae.
Only if you live on a boat would this be a realistic option. Again, it would provide no protection for the indoors.
Myth: Fleas are spread by jumping from pet to pet.
Unless the animals are lying together, fleas do not jump from one host to another. Most infections arise from exposure to infected environments – be it in the home, under a tree, on the deck, at the groomers or wherever an adult flea from an infected animal could have laid an egg to hatch and infect another pet. Fleas spread by environmental contamination - eggs and larvae persist in the environment waiting for the proper stimuli to hatch and infect an unsuspecting animal. Proper conditions include temperature, humidity, and carbon dioxide levels (from your pet breathing).
Myth: Plant Fleabane (Pennyroyal) in your yard to repel fleas.
Status: Mostly busted!
There are botanical references to Fleabane’s attribute of repelling fleas. Some say that the plant itself, alive or in dried form, can repel fleas. Other references claim that it is the smoke from burning the plant that is repellant. Either way, like cedar mulch, it would likely require large quantities to be effective and once again leaves the inside of the home unprotected.
Myth: Keep cats indoors.
Any pet that lives strictly indoors theoretically has a lower exposure level to parasites. Fleas do thrive in indoor environments and all it takes is one male and one female flea to be introduced, perhaps as a hitchhiker on a pant leg; or one larvae stuck to your shoe from elsewhere, to start an infestation. Within a short time, 2 fleas can become two thousand fleas inside your home. If in an apartment complex – fleas spread easily from unit to unit, so even if your cat did not go outside, it can become infected.
Overall – fleas and ticks are no myth – they are real. Prevention is simple – and when products are purchased from your veterinarian they are exceptionally simple, safe and guaranteed! Talk to any one of our veterinary team if you have any questions about what would be right for your pet!