Tag Archives: natural

Conventional vs Natural Flea Control

dog2Many pet owners have taken an interest in natural parasite preventatives to protect their pets from fleas and ticks. Motives for using natural products may include less potential for side effects or lesser expense than conventional or prescription products. There are many factors to keep in mind when considering which flea or tick product of any type to use for your pet. We’ll start by introducing the three classes of products (or if you’d like to cut to the chase, see our last section where recommendations are provided).

FDA-registered products are officially considered “drugs,” approved by the same organization that manages drugs for humans – the Food and Drug Administration. As drugs, the safety and efficacy of these products have been closely studied. Doses are specifically calculated to maximize safety and minimize the chance of adverse effects. The majority of these products are available only with a prescription from a veterinarian. Some of these FDA-registered products include: Advantage Multi, Capstar, Comfortis, Revolution, Sentinel, and others.

EPA-registered products are officially considered “pesticides,” with guidelines for use determined by the same organization that examines pesticides and insect repellants used by humans – the Environmental Protection Agency. As pesticides, these products are available without a prescription and are demonstrated to be generally safe and effective when used as described on the label. They are not necessarily safe when used for a different purpose, for example, on a cat instead of a dog. Some of these EPA-registered brands include: Advantage, K9 Advantix, Bio-Spot, Frontline, Hartz, Parastar, Sergeant’s, Sentry, Vectra, and many others.

Unregistered products – the category that includes natural products – contain ingredients that are considered by the EPA to be of “minimal risk” and are therefore unregulated. There are two important points to keep in mind: (1) The EPA’s concern is primarily for HUMAN safety in use of these products; other species may respond differently. (2) These products have been evaluated only for safety, not efficacy. This does not necessarily mean they are ineffective, however, they may or may not meet your expectations and needs. So let’s examine this category further: What are the active ingredients of these products, and do they work? Do they carry any risks? Read on…hollydog7

Here is a list of natural essential oils and related compounds present in many alternative flea & tick products. Some of these compounds are also present in EPA-registered products.

Pyrethrins – Pyrethrins are a group of botanical insecticides derived from chrysanthemum flowers. They work by altering nerve function in insects, eventually resulting in death.

Pyrethroids are synthetic, with a chemical structure adapted from the pyrethrins, modified to increase their stability in sunlight. Despite the safety of these compounds in dogs, they are highly toxic to cats.

Pennyroyal – Derived from Mentha pulegium and Hedeoma pulegiodes, pennyroyal oil has a long history of use as a flea repellent. However, this herb is noted to have toxic potential for dogs and cats even at recommended dosages, causing potentially fatal damage to the liver even when applied topically (on the skin).

Citronella – Citronella oil is an extract of several plants in the genus Citronella, recognized to have insect-repellent properties. In fact, it has been registered by the EPA for this purpose. According to the EPA, “Oil of citronella is a biochemical pesticide which has a non-toxic mode of action. It is registered as an insect repellent (feeding inhibitor).” It has the potential to be a skin and eye irritant, and may be mildly toxic if ingested or inhaled, but only at very high concentrations far beyond normal usage. In order to be maximally effective, it would need to be applied on a daily basis.

Cedar – Cedarwood oil is a natural component of wood and leaves in trees of the family Cupressaceae, and can be used as a non-toxic insect repellent and feeding depressant. Cedar oils have been shown to be a respiratory irritant to birds and small mammals when present in high concentrations, but are not thought to pose a significant risk to humans, dogs, or cats with typical use. In order to be maximally effective, it would need to be applied on a daily basis.

Lemon – The active component is d-limonene, which has been proposed to kill fleas. Lemon-containing products should not be applied to irritated skin or around eyes. In order to be maximally effective, it would need to be applied on a daily basis.

Garlic – The use of garlic both internally and externally has been suggested as an insect repellent. Some sources suggest that garlic in a dog’s diet leaves them distasteful to insects. Please note that garlic can have toxic effects in dogs at high doses (no more than  one clove per 50 pounds body weight is recommended). Cats are more susceptible to the toxic effects of garlic, and therefore use of garlic as a flea preventative in cats is not recommended.

Here are two additional non-chemical means of addressing flea and tick control:

Diatomaceous earth – This is a flour-like powder containing shards of silica, which has the ability to cut through an insect’s exoskeleton, effectively drying them out and resulting in death to the insect. It works by physical, non-chemical means. It may be used as a component of flea control when applied to carpeting, bedding (prior to vacuuming or laundering), or outdoors. Food-grade diatomaceous earth may also be applied directly to pets, but it may dry the skin and has the potential to be an eye and respiratory irritant.

Sodium polyborate powder – As found in Borax, this powder can be used in the indoor environment to interrupt the flea life cycle in conjunction with vacuuming & laundering. This compound is generally very safe for use in a household around pets (not directly applied to pets), but may cause illness if large amounts are ingested.

So what’s the bottom line? Here are our recommendations:wyeth

(1) In general, the products most widely recommended by veterinarians are those known to be the safest and most effective: the FDA registered products and a select few EPA registered products. Many of these products offer the added benefit of being effective against internal parasites as well. Of course, every pet is an individual and there is no single solution that suits every animal or owner.

(2) If you are seeking to prevent fleas and/or ticks from seeking out your pet as a host, you may try whatever product you feel is the safest and most effective for your pet. Be an educated consumer, do research with trusted resources, read the label, use the product as intended, and of course, talk to your veterinarian about any questions you have along the way.

(3) Remain vigilant – Is the product working? It is possible for any product to fail; check your pet for fleas and ticks with a fine-toothed flea comb frequently. Is the product safe and free of side effects for your pet? Any animal can have an adverse reaction to any drug, chemical, or natural compound. Monitor your pet carefully, particularly after any new product is applied for the first time, and if anything seems amiss, call your veterinarian.

(4) If your pet and home are infested with fleas, it is in the best interest of you and your pet to use a conventional FDA or EPA registered product whose efficacy is well understood. In this type of situation, it is not safe or efficient to spend time trying products that may or may not be effective. Fleas and ticks are not just an annoyance, your pet risks becoming ill from a heavy parasite burden if the product chosen does not work. Flea-borne diseases such as Bartonella and tapeworms can affect humans as well.  Once the situation is resolved, you may consider using a natural-type product to prevent future problems. Your veterinarian can work with you in finding a product that you are happy and comfortable with using, and works best for you and your pets.

Conventional vs. Natural Flea Products – View/Print as PDF

What Should I Feed My Pet?

How do I decide what to feed my dog or cat?pugs_psnd2

Assuming your pet is generally in good health, without any specific dietary sensitivities or food allergies… There is still no simple answer! There are countless options to choose from in a maintenance diet for dogs and cats, and a healthy pet will do reasonably well on almost any of them. That being said, some diets simply meet the basic requirements for nutritional content, while others provide higher-quality protein sources, more “natural” ingredients, supplements to support healthy joints or a shiny coat, fewer preservatives, and so on. It is worth mentioning that any brand – inexpensive or premium – can potentially have a recall.

 

So what is the difference between a bag of kibble that costs $15 at the supermarket and a premium brand for $40 at the pet store? Do these differences matter, or are pet owners just being tricked into spending more?

Let’s start with protein quality and digestibility. Any dry or canned food labeled as a complete diet meets the basic standards for protein content, but the sources of protein can vary. Both meat and grains are sources of protein, but in general, higher-quality meat is a superior protein source due to the fact it provides a better amino acid balance.

Read the label of your pet’s food – you may see the words “poultry,” “poultry byproduct,” or “chicken meal.” These terms may sound vague (and have you fearing what “byproduct” might contain), but they have specific meanings:

Meat – The flesh of any species of slaughtered mammal, typically pork, beef, or sheep.

Poultry – The flesh, skin, and bone of domestic poultry; typically chicken, turkey, or duck.

Byproduct – Parts of animals not typically used as human food, such as organ meat (liver, kidney, etc), fat tissue, bone, and viscera.

Meal – Any ingredient that has been ground down to a small particle size (for example, “chicken meal” would mean the flesh, skin, and bone of chicken).

Though the organ meat (liver, kidneys, etc) contained in a “by-product” is not typically part of an American diet, these are excellent nutrient sources and provide high-quality protein. Bone meal is a good source of calcium, but the protein it contains is not readily digested by cats and dogs.

“Whole chicken”  as a first ingredient may give us the impression of a less-processed superior quality diet, but whole chicken used in pet foods is high in fat and may contain 65-70% water! This high volume may earn it the first place in the ingredient list, but leaves it as a small contributor to protein content and is more important as a fat source.

Plants such as corn, soybean, and flaxseed may also be used as protein sources. Their digestibility is equivalent to some animal protein sources, but they are deficient in some of the amino acids required in canine and feline diets, so for this reason we would hope not to see plant-based products as a primary ingredient. If soy accounts for 50% or more of a diet’s protein, loose stool and flatulence may result.

All this information may leave you with more questions than answers about your pet’s food. We invite you to discuss your pet’s diet with your veterinarian at your next appointment – as we began saying, every pet is an individual with their own needs and preferences – there is no simple answer!

 

What about limited ingredient diets? Grain free? Raw diets?

For pets with special needs (food sensitivities or allergies, for example) a specialized diet may be the key to solving their problems. However, there is a specific way to determine the best diet for a food-allergic dog… just switching brands is not likely to be the answer. Feeding a raw diet is a point of controversy and is not without risks, but if done correctly, it may provide a solution as well. These topics are beyond the scope of this blog post (we’ll write another, we promise), but we hope you’ll talk to your vet about changing your pet’s diet if you are concerned food allergies or sensitivities may be affecting your pet’s health. There is no single solution that works for every animal. 

 

How much should I feed my pet?

No quick answer here either! Most brands of pet food will provide guidelines for how much to feed based upon weight. This amount is frequently an overestimate (after all, they’d like you to buy more of their product!), so you may use this as a starting point, but pay attention to your pet’s weight and adjust accordingly. Feed a measured amount – not “a handful” but a measured cup – so that you will be better able to increase or decrease the amount fed as needed.

 

How do I know if my pet is overweight?

Of course your veterinarian can provide guidance on this topic, but in general, your pet should have a “waist” when viewed from above or from the side. Place your hands flat over the sides of her chest… with very gentle pressure, you should be able to easily feel where her ribs are. If finding her ribs requires poking in with your fingertips, or if you can’t feel them at all, she is overweight. Maintaining an appropriate weight contributes to better overall health and even an extended lifespan!

 

Can I feed a home-prepared diet?

Many recipes are available for home-cooking for your pets. However, it is essential to be certain what we choose to feed on our own is nutritionally complete, particularly if the recipe being used is not approved by a veterinarian. Many veterinary teaching hospitals and referral centers offer a nutrition consult service, and can tell you exactly what vitamins and supplements may be necessary to balance any home-cooked diet. Here are links to a few:

Angell Memorial (provides recipes), CornellOhio StateDavis

We hope this article has given you a solid starting point in finding the best possible diet for your pet’s lifelong health. And if you have any lingering questions, look to your vet for the answers!

What Should I Feed My Pet – View/Print as PDF