The Old Trainer: Protect dogs from fleas, ticks

June 23, 2012 

Dear Old Trainer: You said you would summarize your experience with flea and tick medications in a few weeks. It has been a month now so I am hoping you will publish it soon. We have a lot of ticks this spring in my area and we want to use the product that is the safest for our mixed breed, Bailey.

-- Anna, Chowchilla

A: Spring is a mixed blessing, Anna, as Dylan Thomas described in his masterpiece poem of spring, "Fern Hill":

Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,

Time held me green and dying

Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

Dogs love the spring weather and so do we, but it's the time when deadly parasites hatch.

Fleas and ticks are dangerous -- lethal in some cases -- so dogs need protection, but the products contain chemicals so toxic that they are regulated by the EPA, not the FDA.

Liquid products applied directly to the skin kill fleas and ticks but may cause skin irritation. Three of my dogs suffered more from the effects of the chemicals than they did from the fleas.

That convinced me that long term use is dangerous, so I switched the pack to a product taken orally. It kills fleas and contains the same toxic chemicals. The only difference is that it is introduced orally instead of through the skin.

It does not kill ticks, so a tick collar -- it also contains toxic chemicals -- is required if you live in an area with ticks.

Bottom line: All flea and tick products contain toxic chemicals and there is no research on the effects of long-term use.

One alternative to the chemicals is diatomaceous earth, a nontoxic natural powder made from crushed fossils. Sprinkle it on your pet's bedding or directly onto the fur. It kills fleas and ticks. I am using it this year and the results are positive. It kills the parasites with no negative side effects.

If you use this product make, sure you get the "food grade" level, not the type used in swimming pool filters. It is sold at all health food stores and many pet stores.

The other spring disease is heartworm, transmitted by mosquito bite. It is fatal and has spread to all 50 states. A heartworm pill will protect your pet, but it adds additional chemicals to the bloodstream.

It is always a balancing act -- parasites cause disease, but the chemicals that prevent them may be just as harmful in the long run. Limit exposure by using the products when parasites are at their peak, ending the use as soon as winter weather kills them.

Problems caused by parasites are a medical question, not a training issue, so consult your vet. Keep a close and constant watch on your pet when using any product that contains toxic chemicals.

Jack Haskins writes as The Old Trainer. A trainer for more than 30 years, he has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,000 dogs. Send questions for The Old Trainer to

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