Old Trainer

What’s the best way to get rid of fleas?

DEAR OLD TRAINER: Our Shar Pei, Dax, is 9 months old so we didn’t have to worry about fleas last year, but we have already found several on him this year, so we need a flea preventive product. Shar Peis are prone to skin problems so we want to choose the best and safest one. Our vet has at least half a dozen different brands and it appears there are a dozen more on the internet. What do you recommend and how did you decide which one was best?

Lola, Bakersfield, California

A: The first consideration is always the health of the dog, the next is efficiency of the product. At one time I used a liquid product applied directly to the skin. It worked, but several of my dogs developed dark red sores soon after I applied it. I researched all flea products and was shocked by what I found.

Each one contains at least one toxic chemical—imidacloprid, fipronil, permethrin, methoprene, pyriproxyfen, carbaryl or propoxur—so lethal they are listed as cancer causing carcinogens by the EPA.

All the products contain warnings that if the liquid touches your skin you must wash with soap for long periods to make sure the product is removed. They tell you to call the Poison Control Center if the liquid touches a child.

If merely touching it is that dangerous, what is it doing to your dog when it is on the skin and in the blood for months? And what happens to you and your children when you pet the dog every day?

I called all the companies and asked a simple question—if it is so dangerous for the product to merely touch the skin of a human, what is it doing to the dogs when applied month after month?

No one at the companies that make the products could answer that question. What we do know is that many dogs suffer more from the flea medications than from the fleas. Skin problems are now the number one reason dogs are taken to the vet, and skin cancer rates for dogs have increased dramatically since the liquid products hit the market.

That’s why I advise the common-sense approach. Read the label and see if the chemicals contained are classified as carcinogenic by the EPA. If they are, don’t put Dax and yourself at risk.

But fleas and ticks may cause serious illness if untreated, so how do we protect our dogs? I choose to fight the pests with products that are natural and contain no toxins.

I found one flea product—Comfortis—that is effective and contains no toxic chemicals. It is given orally and appears to have no side effects (I buy any product I use and accept no free samples). The ingredient that kills fleas is spinosad, rated a natural product by the EPA. It may not be perfect, but at least it contains no toxic chemicals.

In addition, I clip my dog’s fur short in the summer and check every day for fleas and ticks. I put hydrocortisone cream on any skin irritation. I hose them down at least twice a week in summer with cool water. They enjoy it, it soothes the skin, and contact with water helps kill fleas.

It takes more time, but my dogs are safer and so am I.

A trainer for more than 30 years, Jack Haskins has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,500 dogs. Send questions to theoldtrainer@gmail.com.