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In this lesson I want to delve a little deeper into the subject and discuss specific flea control methods and precautions. The type of flea control method is very important – and in some cases could mean a life or death difference for your dog.

The first step in controlling fleas – even before you buy any specific flea control product – is to insure the cleanest environment possible in you home. In fact, experts say only about 10 percent of the flea population (mainly the adults) are on your pet. The flea eggs, larvae, pupa, and the few adults that reside in the carpeting, bedding, and living areas make up approximately 90 percent of the flea population. So, keeping your home spotless – by regular vacuuming of carpets, washing bedding, using environmentally safe insecticides in garden and plant areas – are important. Giving your dog natural products, like brewer’s yeast and garlic tablets, are also favored by some owners as flea preventatives.

Keeping Your Dog Clean

Of course, having a dog inherently means that cleanliness is a goal, never an accomplished task. But, you have to start somewhere and in this case that means a regular shampooing of your dog, perhaps even a flea bath. Unfortunately, shampoo and bath results don’t last long. In fact, within a few days you can expect to see fleas returning. It’s not advisable to shampoo more often than every few days. After all, you don’t want to dry out your dogs skin or cause your dog to fear something it’s being subjected to every other day.

Along with regular bathing, flea dips are an option. They are strong chemical rinses that kill fleas and other critters like mites and ticks. Dips last longer than shampoos, perhaps one to two weeks. But, they also are not recommended for frequent use since those chemical residues could have an adverse affect on a dog over time.

Flea Collars

The next step to consider is the flea collar. Flea collars work by either emitting a toxic gas, or by being absorbed through the dogs skin and fat layers. The toxic gas is usually only effective in the immediate area of the head and neck. Collars that absorb into the skin and fat are more effective. An older, but still used method of flea management is flea powders and sprays.

Spot Treatments

Among the newer flea treatment methods – although they’ve been around for quite a while – are what is known as spot treatments. You may have heard of them under the name brands such as Advantage, Frontline, and Bio-Spot among others. These products are applied between the shoulder blades of the pet, and typically last about one month. Some include ingredients to inhibit the larva from emerging from the flea egg and some are active against larval development as well. However these methods are not without controversy and you should discuss using them with your vet. In fact the controversy over these products is ongoing. Here’s what you need to know.

EPA Study

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the agency in the USA that is responsible for pet products such as flea sprays, flea collars and the like. Many common flea and tick shampoos and drops sold by major companies like Sergeants, Bio Spot, and Hartz. They all contained the same type of pesticide, called pyrethrins or the synthetic versions known as pyrethroids. These are the same pesticides in household products like Raid, used to kill bugs around your home.

Although the companies that manufacture and sell these products for pets, and the EPA, have said in the past that they are safe to use there have been numerous incidents of pets becoming sick or dying after the product was used. By 2009 there was an ever-increasing number of reports in the media – and complaints to the EPA – that the products were injuring or killing pets (both dogs and cats). Although there were a number of safer alternatives available, the sheer size of the companies making and selling the products made it overwhelming for pet owners to pick out a safer alternative.

The EPA finally recognized that there was a significant problem and in the spring of 2009 reported the high volume of incidents “involving spot-on pesticide products.”

In March 2010 the EPA announced its findings and concluded:

The products could be used safely but that some additional restrictions are needed. EPAs team of veterinarians learned that most incidents were minor, but unfortunately some pet deaths and ‘major incidents’ have occurred.”

Specifically for dog owners (the report also covered cats), the EPA study found “that small breed dogs were affected more than larger breeds for some products” and “the amount of product in a single dose needed to vary more for small to large dogs; that is, how much the dog weighs matters a lot in deciding how much of a product should be used.” The study also found that “the data we now require to determine the safety of these products for pets do not accurately predict the toxicity seen in the incidents that took place.”

The EPA concluded there was need to better regulate the spot-on products, changes in how companies report data on pet incidents, and changes to how packages are labeled for cats, dogs, and size of animals to prevent unreasonable adverse effects and ensure the safety of these products.

Since the report was issued companies selling flea products have improved labeling on the products, especially in terms of the size of dosages per the size of the dog. However, and as the EPA noted in its study, owners have a major responsibility in insuring the product they purchase is suitable for their dog.

Additional EPA Recommendations

The EPA subsequently came up with more suggestions for owners, including use a flea comb to suppress adult fleas. “It will allow hair to pass through the combs teeth but not the fleas, removing fleas and ‘flea dirt.’ It also suggests putting any fleas in soapy water to kill them.

Further, says the EPA, follow these guidelines:

When using a flea and tick control product on your pet, carefully read and follow the product label;

Use flea and tick control products only on the animal specified by the product label (e.g. don’t use cat products on dogs and vice versa);

Read carefully the label prohibitions against use on weak, aged, medicated, sick, pregnant, or nursing pets, or on pets that have previously shown sensitivity to pesticide products;

Only use the amount indicated for the size of the animal being treated and be careful when using on puppies (if the product doesn’t say it is specifically useable on puppies, don’t

If your dog shows signs of distress due to a flea product call your vet immediately.

Counterfeit Products

Finally, but very importantly, dog care products have a lot of counterfeiters. There’s money to be made and many people often look for ‘bargains’ by going on line and finding what they think is the same name brand flea product they see in a store or on the website of a name brand. Sadly, the end result of using such products is not good.

How can you know if a product is counterfeit? First, if the price is too good to be true and a lot less than anything you’ve seen in stores or what your vet charges, be very suspicious.

Other hints of a counterfeit product include:

Differences in weight between the outer package and the product inside; Lack of directions in English; Products not packaged in child-resistant packaging; Missing directions for use; Product in the container is not appropriate for the animal or size of animal pictured on the outside; Stickers on the box to hide the foreign labeling; the EPA registration number is missing; Foreign labeled product with stickers containing some U.S. information or products entirely in a foreign language.

Sadly, while the actions of the EPA have been welcome and consumers have become more aware of the problems with flea products, such products continue to evolve. New chemicals and pesticides have been introduced to the marketplace since the EPA’s 2010 report. Some of these products have already resulted in owner’s complaints of harm to their pets.

The best thing you can do, aside from all the above recommendations and information, is not take for granted that any given product is good for your pet. Natural methods of flea control may be a better option. If you decide to use a commercial product, do so only after a thorough consultation with your vet. Even then you might want to look at a product’s ingredients list and do a search for any reported problems, EPA warnings, etc.

It’s unfortunate that choosing a modern-day treatment for fleas has become so difficult but the old warning about an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure has never been truer.

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My border collie, Max, is my motivation! I created this site after he became ill and I couldn't find help anywhere online, in a bid to help others in a similar situation to me. If you have any questions that haven't been answered in an article on the site, don't hesitate to email me at Nat@trifty.co