The Dog Owner’s Dilemma

If you love your pet as much as we love our Banner, then you hate seeing them suffer because of fleas or ticks.  And since this past winter was so mild, all the sleeping insect larvae escaped being frozen, so fleas and ticks are in overabundance this year.  We live in a wooded area with a swamp that creeps around the edges of our back yard, so bugs thrive here – and on our puppy.  Hearing him whine and scratch incessantly is heartbreaking, and so we began our journey through the world of pest control products.

We feed our dog like we feed ourselves – better, in fact.  He gets protein-rich, grain-free Blue Buffalo food, fresh veggies and meats from the farm, and only quality treats and bones.  We didn’t want to counteract all that wholesome goodness with toxic pesticides, so we started with natural remedies.  First, we tried a solution of cedar and orange essential oils mixed with olive oil, and though it definitely repelled the fleas, it didn’t last long; it needed to be reapplied every time he went out, which is impractical for a dog who stays outside while we’re at work.  Then we tried Diatomaceous Earth, which is a powder composed of crushed shells and dried algae.  It slices the exoskeleton of bugs and causes them to slowly dehydrate and die over the course of a few days.  Sounds pretty awful, but better them than Banner!  DE does not repel bugs, however, so they just kept swarming him.  We decided that DE is great for furniture and outdoor use, but it needed to be supplemented with a flea and tick repellant.  So we made the decision to try a conventional pesticide spray, hoping that we were making the right choice.

Frontline and Advantage were definitely out.  I didn’t want anything that toxic staying on my dog for a month, and everyone I’ve talked to who’s used it said it made their dogs terribly ill.  A friend of mine has worked in a dog kennel for years, and I asked him what he recommended.  He told me about the brand Adams, the safest conventional option in his opinion.  So I did some preliminary research and found that the two main ingredients are pyrethrin, a pesticide, and Precor (the brand name for methoprene), an insect growth regulator.  Pyrethrin is derived from chrysanthemums and is not only biodegradable, but it’s broken down easily by the acids in mammals stomachs, so it’s non toxic to both pets and humans.  Methoprene is almost completely nontoxic; it does have a low level of dermal toxicity, though no long-term effects.  It is toxic to fish, however, so be careful where you apply it. Doesn’t sound too scary, right?  Adams even had a water-based option with aloe and lanolin for pets with sensitive skin.  So I trusted my friend and bought a bottle of the regular spray, and it worked wonderfully!  The first time we sprayed him, you could literally see the fleas jumping off him.  And Banner didn’t have any adverse reactions, so I thought we’d finally found our miracle solution.

I should have known better than to trust a chemical company.  When I got the bottle, I noticed that only a few ingredients are listed, while the rest fall under “other ingredients” which make up 97% of the formula.  When I called the company to find out what these other ingredients were, they refused to tell me, claiming that their formula was “proprietary information” which they were not allowed to disclose.  I discovered that they also use PBO in all their formulas, though they only advertise it in their Plus line. PBO, or piperonyl butoxide, is a toxic compound which harms the respiratory tract and impairs mental development when inhaled.  Not something you want to be spraying around your pet.  I called my vet – who is a CSA member at the organic farm where I work, so I trust her judgement of chemical usage – and she was also very surprised and upset that Adams refused to give me their ingredients.  Adams is one of the two brands she carries in her office, the other being Ovitrol.  Ovitrol uses pyrethrins and methoprene as their main ingredients as well, but sadly they also use PBO.  Their ingredient list also contains the questionable “other ingredients,” and though I have not called that company yet, I have a sneaking suspicion that they will give me the same answer as Adams.

So where does that leave us?  To be honest, I have no idea.  None of the natural remedies seemed to work.  Adams definitely worked, but between the questionable ingredients and the questionable ethics of the company, I have no desire to buy anything else from them.  I suppose the next step will be to peruse the aisles of Petsmart and hope that I have enough knowledge in my mental arsenal to make an informed and safe decision.

Here are some great websites to help you make your own decision on pest control:
Veterinary Products Laboratories.  They have ingredient info for several leading products.
Pet Education.  This site describes all the different classes of pesticides.
Doctors Foster and Smith.  Another site with great info on all the different kinds of pesticides.
PETA’s Flea Control: Safe Solutions.  Read what PETA has to say about flea control.
Mother Earth’s Natural Flea Control.  A very informative article on fleas and the different pest control products.


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