Catherine O'Driscoll, of the Canine Health Concern, wrote the following (entitled "A Can of Worms at the Flea Circus) in 1995:


I found a nice turquoise one, with a lemon grass odour, containing Piperonyl butoxide and Pyrethrum. The Compendium ("Compendium of Data Sheets for Veterinary Products"; it lists the products available from members of the National Office of Animal Health [NOAH} in the U.K.) doesn't tell you what the chemicals actually are, so I went to another book, "C is for Chemicals" (Green Print, London), and this is what I found:

Piperonyl butoxide is 'highly toxic if absorbed through the skin, less so if swallowed. It has been shown to cause cancer in animals, although the US Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that it is not carcinogenic (will not cause cancer) to people."

Pyrethrum is only moderately toxic if swallowed or inhaled, but it is an irritant and may cause allergic dermatitis or asthmatic breathing in sensitive 'people'. Luckily, though, the same manufacturer sells an ointment for eczema and hot spots.

Then, whilst doing the weekly shopping, I stopped at the pet section and had a look at what Safeways had to offer. There were some jolly little flea collars - one for dogs, one for cats. Both contain a chemical called Carbaryl. So I made a note, and looked Carbaryl up when I got home.

Apparently Carbaryl is an insecticide with several garden uses, and it's good at killing fleas, too. Just the job, then?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) lists Carbaryl as 'moderately hazardous': it is a mutagen and it is carcinogenic and teratogenic in laboratory animals (this means it can cause mutations in cells; it can induce cancer, and it can cause birth defects when absorbed in pregnancy). Oh yes, and it is reported to be more toxic to dogs than to other animals.

Maybe those new-fangled little capsules might fit the bill? You know the ones - they protect your dog from reinfestation for up to four weeks. One of these, listed in the Compendium, contains Permethrin....so I checked Permethrin out in the other book, and:

the WHO considers Permethrin to be 'unlikely to present a hazard in normal use'. Phew. But.....'the US Food and Drug Administration lists Permethrin as a possible carcinogen.'

To be safe, the manufacturers suggest (in the Compendium) that your dog shouldn't be allowed to swim for 12 hours after treatment because the product is 'extremely dangerous to fish'. People shouldn't handle the treated area on the dog for three to six hours, and treated dogs shouldn't be allowed to sleep with people, particularly children.

So we mustn't get it on our skin, or let it into waterways, or let our children near it, but it's okay for your dog to have it inside his body for 'up to four weeks'. Actually, it kills fleas for up to four weeks - we don't know how long it remains in a dog's body.

Let's see.... what else is there? Oh, yes. Here's another one of these capsule thingies. This one contains an organophosphorus compound. According to "C for Chemicals", organophosphates are a class of chemicals, 'some of which are considered to be the most toxic chemicals ever manufacturered'.

But surely the manufacturers wouldn't use such dangerous chemicals on our dogs? Surely they use the harmless organophosphates? What is an organophosphate anyway? 'The high acute toxicity of organo- phosphates stem from their action against a vital enzyme in the body that regulates the functioning of the nervous system'. Oh.


So what about flea sprays? Here's a nice environmentally friendly one: it doesn't contain CFCs, so it won't damage the ozone layer. Good selling point. What does it contain, then?

Dichlorvos. The WHO lists Dichlorvos as 'highly hazardous'. It's poisonous if swallowed, absorbed through the skin, or inhaled. It is a mutagen and possible carcinogen, and a potent anticholinesterase agent (blocking the transmission of nerve messages).

Rest assured, though, because the manufacturers state that the product is designed to have a high margin of safety. This is before the bit about 'if signs of toxicity appear, administer the antidote atrophine sulphate at 0.1-0.2mg/kg intravenously or intraperitoneally and apply artificial respiration.' Artificial respiration? It's not the way they manufacture them, you see, it's the way stupid dog owners misuse them.

And my, aren't we stupid! I admit it, I have used some of these products, or products like them, on my dogs. I'm stupid, and I'm angry. I trusted these manufacturers with my dogs' lives.

Of course, there are other ways of dealing with fleas - and worms at the same time. But, as scientists know, these products are totally untested, and there's no proof that they work. No-one's experimented with laboratory animals where these 'products' are concerned.

Take garlic as an example. I've been giving my dogs a clove of raw crushed garlic with their meals each day for nearly two years. We haven't had any flea infestations - but, of course, we don't have the benefit of science to tell us we are doing the right thing. Besides which, you can't patent garlic.

There are other natural products said to be capable of keeping fleas and worms at bay: apple cider vinegar (from the health shop), raw meaty bones (yes, yes, I know they are supposed to give dogs worms - but you can't patent bones either; so they would say that, wouldn't they?)

Those who promote the natural diet say that raw meaty bones help keep the immune system healthy, and a dog with a healthy immune system is no good to worms because, amongst other reasons, worms thrive on the mucousy toxic stuff that dogs with a poor diet accumulate in their intestines and guts.

Then there's homoeopathic remedies, and herbs that are said to combat fleas and worms. Now, as my husband John, who is a practical sort of person, said: "But they haven't been tested on laboratory animals, either, so you don't know whether garlic or herbs, or homoeopathy, will harm your dogs."

He's got a point there. All that homoeopaths and herbalists have in their own empirical scientific wisdom, which is totally different to conventional scientific wisdom, are the dogs, cats, horses, and people who believe - from their own experience - that their remedies work.

But if a chemical kills fish, doesn't kill dogs, but mustn't be allowed near people; or it's proven to cause cancer but they use it anyway, what use is the laboratory data? And when you add that small dose of killing chemical to all the other chemicals in the environment - the crop sprays, garden weed killers, disinfectants, plastics, mould treatments, and more - at what point is enough enough?

All these scientists and experts believe they are helping us to do the best for our dogs. But I can't help thinking that they sell products to make money. We want flea killers, they give us flea killers. How can we be sure, though, that they aren't inadvertently killing our dogs too? Surely, as consumers, we have the right to ask?

Should we leave all the decisions to the experts? I'll leave you with this quote. It relates to human food, and we are only talking about dogs - they matter less than humans, don't they?

"The dispassionate objectivity of scientists is a myth. No scientist is simply involved in the single-minded pursuit of truth; he is also engaged in the passionate pursuit of research grants and professional success. Nutritionists may wish to attack malnutrition, but they also wish to earn their living in ways they find congenial."
John Rivers,
The Profession of Nutrition

Finally, if you wish to use products on your dog, be sure you know what you are using, and what the risks are. We are morally bound to make informed choices about the lives of our dogs - they don't have the choice, they simply have solutions imposed upon them. Take care, for all life is precious."


Alternative Therapies Against Fleas

As well as the suggestions made in the above article for preventing flea infestation, I would suggest that diet is the basis of protection, and possibly the most important method of getting our dogs to be unattractive to any kind of parasite, not just fleas, is to give them a good mineral/trace element supplement as part of their diet. It has been shown that animals whose trace element balance, especially, is good do not suffer from fly attack, worms, fleas, ticks or lice, nor are they likely to contract any other kind of infections.

Unfortunately, a good range of minerals and trace elements is no longer in our food (if it ever was; there being some of these substances - selenium is a good example - which have always been lacking in some areas) and it is necessary to supplement even when dogs are on good quality diets. Vitamin B complex is also important. See Nutritional Supplements for more information.

The best way to deal with a flea problem (or any other parasite) is a preventative one as described above, but what about those dogs which already have a problem, possibly compounded by an allergic reaction to flea bites?

The first step is to look at the diet as well as adding all the suggested supplements, especially the mineral/trace element supplement (such as Concentrace, or Trace AniMinerals, or UltraTrace), plus B complex vitamins. Diatomaceous Earth (which must be 'food grade') is excellent. A small amount can be added to each meal, and it can also be rubbed into the fur, and sprinkled around the dog beds, over carpets and around the walls of house or kennel and then vacuumed up (see three paragraphs down). Apple cider vinegar may be diluted and sponged on to the coat and skin.. The Bach Flower Remedy Crab Apple may be added to the drinking water and diluted (6 drops to a ½ pint water) and sprayed over the coat. If there is a lot of itching and/or raw wounds, then adding Rescue Remedy is a good idea. Neem products can be very helpful - for lice and ticks as well as fleas.

It should always be remembered that fleas do not live only on the dog; they live and breed in the home environment and are particularly partial to carpets and soft furnishings, the cracks between wall and floor and gaps between boards, anywhere where it is warm. It is therefore pointless treating the dog alone; what needs to be done in a flea infestation is to treat the whole home environment, including other animals such as cats. Don't forget, too, that flea eggs are not likely to be affected by any treatment, so the treatment used to get rid of the adult fleas should be repeated 10-14 days later to catch the hatched out eggs before the new fleas start laying more eggs.

To make an early diagnosis of a flea problem, use a flea comb on each animal regularly. At the first signs of fleas, start a programme of treatment. Vacuum the furniture, carpets and floors and discard the vacuum bag afterwards - or buy a pet flea collar and put it in the vacuum bag before vacuuming! Don't put the flea collar on the pet. Wash all bedding thoroughly.

If there is a serious flea problem treat all the rooms/kennels where the animals live/sleep with diatomaceous earth (food grade). Keep the animals out of the rooms during the treatment. Sprinkle the powder thickly into carpets and where the carpets meet the wall, brushing it well in, also treat upholstered furniture, cracks in flooring, round skirting boards, etc. The powder is going to be stirred up each time you vacuum, so repeat the protection and keep the animals away during cleaning.

http://www.catsanddogs-online.com/ Cats and Dogs Ltd. Natural animal health care
google page on neem products for dogs Google page with links for Neem products for dogs
http://www.motherearthnews.com/Livestock-and-Farming/1985-05-01/Natural-Flea-Control.aspx Article on flea treatment by Christine Makowski, D.V.M.
http://www.4fleas.com/ For The Complete Book on Flea Control (e-book)
www.canine-health-concern.org.uk/ The Canine Health Concern website

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Updated 8/10/2015