Fleas and ticks are common pests that are not only annoying, but they can also be outright dangerous for pets and their owners. The hot summer months mean dogs and cats will spend more time outdoors with their owners, resulting in increased exposure to parasites. A pet’s fur is a paradise for fleas and ticks, which can cause health problems that range from skin infections to Lyme disease.
While there is a long list of products to help protect pets, some animals are sensitive to the chemicals used in many of these items. Allergic reactions can include skin irritations, vomiting, diarrhea or even seizures.
There have also been several studies, including those conducted by Dr. Virginia Dobozy of the EPA’s Pesticide Division and those on behalf of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), which have found negative results because of the chemical ingredients in some flea and tick collars. Dr. Dobozy’s tests using fipronil on laboratory animals found that the chemical had the potential for nervous system and thyroid toxicity. The APVMA study concluded that there are “several areas of concern in the use of fipronil-containing products that should be addressed by the applicant either by changes to product labelling or in advice to veterinarians when dispensing this product.”
However, pet owners looking for an alternative to traditional forms of pest prevention can consider natural flea and tick products made from a blend of natural oils.
Pet Age hosted an informational seminar in April, with Dr. Bob and Susan Goldstein of Earth Animal giving a presentation to retailers on the topic of natural flea and tick prevention options. The Goldsteins used the opportunity to educate those in attendance on how it is possible to make the switch from chemicals to natural products.
Dr. Bob Goldstein founded the couple’s conventional veterinary practice in 1971, which he later converted into a holistic and integrative practice. The Goldsteins opened their first natural health food store for pets in 1979, before introducing the Earth Animal line of natural pet products.
“We understand that fleas and ticks are a very serious issue, and you need a multi-faceted approach to go after them,” Dr. Bob Goldstein explained. “We know that there’s no silver bullet that is 100 percent effective against fleas and ticks. The consumer and retailer have to understand that you need to be proactive and go after them in a multi-faceted way. We’ve mutated fleas and ticks into super bugs, and you need to be very diligent. We never represent [the Earth Animal Natural Flea and Tick] program as a silver bullet—it’s not take this and it’s done—but you have to be diligent with the prevention of fleas and ticks.”
The Natural Flea and Tick Prevention Program includes topical flea control sprays, spot-on applications, herbal collars, herbal drops, shampoos and internal powders. As opposed to chemicals, pesticides or insecticides, which the Goldsteins consider harmful to pets and people, the Earth Animal flea and tick products are created with natural ingredients that can be used both internally and topically to protect against fleas, ticks and other biting insects.
According to Susan Goldstein, the initial Earth Animal product for flea and tick prevention was the internal yeast powder, which was released in 1985. That was soon followed by the internal herbal powder, the liquid herbal drops, shampoos and most recently, the spot-on applicators, collars and insect spray.
“We came from the philosophy of stimulating the dog or cat’s own defense mechanisms as opposed to using a poison,” she explained. “We had a small veterinary practice and a tiny health food store. We decided to see what we could do organically to support the animal’s own defense mechanism. That’s how the powders were born.”
“At the time, everyone had chemical collars and shampoos,” Dr. Bob Goldstein continued. “We felt what was missing was some internal nutrients that the animals needed. Our first thrust was to make sure that the internal part of the body was taken care of, and we felt most products on the market did not address that.”
The Earth Animal program offers year-round prevention when the powders and drops are added to an animal’s daily diet. While building the animal’s immune system, the combination of vitamins, minerals and herbs also help change the odor of the dog or cat’s blood to make it unappealing to such pests as fleas, ticks, mosquitos and black flies. For additional protection, the Goldsteins have combined Virginia cedar, peppermint and almond oil, which repel both fleas and ticks, in an herbal collar, spot-on application and bug spray.
Virginia cedar oil is derived from conifer trees of the pine or cypress families. In addition to its repellant properties, it also has antiseptic, anti-fungal and antibacterial properties. Peppermint oil is considered a stress reliever, and its minty scent makes it a useful insect repellant. Almond oil possesses a nutty aroma that repels insects.
By being applied during the spring, summer and fall months in conjunction with the internal products, the topical applications add an extra level of defense.
“Given the epidemic of ticks, fleas and parasites, we think you need both protection from the inside out with topical support,” Susan Goldstein explained. “Years ago, you didn’t need both. But it’s become so serious, today’s ticks can live through everything, and we prefer families do internal outward, with the collars, spot-on applications and shampoos as additional protection.”
“The flea and tick population has gotten much stronger,” Dr. Bob Goldstein noted. “I think it’s because they’ve mutated based on being bombarded over the years with so many chemicals. With the introduction of stronger chemical collars and shampoos, there have been more reported side effects for the animals. That drove us to not only rely on the internal products but to also produce safe external products to go along with them.
The drops enhance the internal powders in terms of the effectiveness of repelling fleas because the drops contain herbs that quiet down the skin. You enhance the powder and quiet the skin. The problem that many animals have is the more they itch, the redder the skin gets. The more irritated the skin gets, the more insects are attracted to the irritated skin. It’s a vicious cycle.”
While there are studies that find certain natural ingredients can be harmful to animals, Earth Animal’s flea and tick products contain these ingredients at safe levels, according to the Goldsteins. And the key ingredients in the herbal collar and spot-on application are not toxic to cats.
“Garlic, in a very high dose, will cause side effects and anemia,” said Dr. Bob Goldstein regarding one of the key ingredients in Earth Animal’s herbal internal powder and daily herbal drops. “But we use it at a safe level that doesn’t have the side effects. We take advantage of the benefits of garlic but use it at a very safe dose.
“In our herbal drops, we also use herbal tobacco,” he added. “Tobacco as an herb has insect-repellant qualities. If you take tobacco and smoke it, it could cause lung cancer. But we’re not using it that way. We’re using an organic herbal tobacco at a safe level that takes advantage of its insect repellant benefits, but we’re using it at a safe level that won’t harm the animals.”
It’s the job of the retailer to educate customers on the effectiveness and safe qualities of natural flea and tick products. Laura Haupt, owner of Bark and Meow in Tarrytown, New York, said that information is a vital component in helping consumers decide what is best for them and their pets.
“I think it’s important to have a brochure,” Haupt said during the informational seminar. “They like to take it home and soak it all in.”
“In our store, we have a demo table that shows the product,” Susan Goldstein explained. “We also have documented literature on the side effects of chemicals. We don’t knock the products, and we just show the side effects. I engage the pet parent in conversation on how their animal responds to an application. Inevitably, people say their pets hate it. The dog hides under the table. The cat doesn’t eat for a while. The animal gets depressed. Then I’ll ask about allergies, and many animals experience acute allergies in response to the skin trying to detoxify from the chemicals.”
However, there are times when natural products are not strong enough for the level of infestation that a pet owner might be experiencing. During the informational seminar, Frank Frattini, CEO of The Hungry Puppy in Farmingdale, New Jersey, asked about such a situation. According to the Goldsteins, those are the rare cases when the couple believes that a one-time application of chemical products is needed, especially if it is recommended by a veterinarian.
“We don’t go against the veterinarians,” Susan Goldstein noted. “But it should only be a one-time shot. Sometimes you have to break the cycle.”
“If it’s just a minor infestation, we recommend our shampoo to kill what’s on the animal,” said Dr. Bob Goldstein, adding that the potent herbs in Earth Animal’s shampoos will drown and kill any insect on the pet if the animal is allowed to soak in the product for at least five minutes. “However, if the animal has a serious issue with an abundance of fleas or ticks, then we recommend using a chemical one time to knock the population down. If the house is infested, then we recommend using a flea bomb to kill what’s there, especially as the eggs hatch, so the pet owner can start a natural program from scratch.”
While the Goldsteins admit that no flea and tick prevention product—neither a natural option nor one containing chemicals—is 100 percent effective against all pests, the couple considers the Earth Animal flea and tick program to be the healthiest choice for dogs and cats. That is especially the case, says Susan Goldstein, when the potential harmful side effects are taken into consideration.
“Bob and I have operated a holistic practice for over 30 years, where we specialize in treating cancer in animals using nutrition as a modality,” she concluded. “We are very concerned with the triggers of cancer. We think it’s important for families to understand that you can take control of some of the triggers of cancer. The use of pesticides and insecticides—these are carcinogenic—and [flea and tick prevention] is one area where we can control and eliminate the trigger.”