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Parasite Control: The Natural Way

By: Dr. Amy Wolff

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In the quest for natural alternatives to pesticides and other potentially harmful chemicals, pet owners are looking for other ways to control parasites in their homes and on their pets. Many pets can be very sensitive to the chemicals in certain types of parasite control products, so having a few options is helpful in making a choice to protect your pet's health.

Ticks and fleas are by far the most common concern and should not be ignored. Both are responsible for the spread of serious illnesses not to mention the discomfort they cause in the form of allergic skin disease.

Grooming

Consider grooming your number one control for ticks and fleas. Regular grooming and brushing will help identify invaders before they become a serious problem. This is especially important in pets that live outside, or spend time in parks or country settings. Even the best cared for pets can pick up fleas so don't overlook regular inspections.

If you see fleas, try using a flea comb. This is a small comb that has very close-set teeth so that the fleas are trapped in the teeth as it is passed through the hair. You will need to have a "flea trap" ready, such as a jar of alcohol, flea spray, or even sticky tape once the fleas are caught on the comb. It's best to do this outside so the fleas don't get in your home once you remove them. They are very fast and can jump quickly. This method works well on small kittens and puppies. It will not work well on thick-coated pets.

If you see a tick, remove it by applying gentle traction on the abdomen. You may see a tiny piece of skin pull away with the mouthparts. Disinfect the area by washing with mild soap and water and apply a little antibiotic ointment. Tick bites often leave a raised itchy bump for a week.

Herbal Products

If grooming alone is not sufficient, a bath or rinse may help. There are several herbal products that have been used to combat flea problems. Plants such as wormwood, pennyroyal, rosemary, and rue are available in organic shampoos and dips. Eucalyptus is also effective. There are also commercially available oils of citronella, cedarwood, lemongrass and sesame. These products can be diluted in a spray or incorporated in a soothing shampoo.

Never apply full strength oil to your pet's hair coat and thoroughly rinse off any product you have applied. Full strength pennyroyal oil is toxic and can cause devastating illness in your pet. Essential oils should not be used on cats.

Other homemade products include combining equal parts feverfew flowers, mullein flowers, crushed celery seeds, yarrow and 3 parts calendula flowers. Pour boiling water over the mix and steep until cool. Add 5 to 10 drops of lemon oil or bitter orange per ounce of liquid. Lightly spray on your pet to deter fleas.

Ticks can be deterred by adding five parts of oil of terebinth to one part essential oil of lavender and one part St. Johns' wort infusion oil. Add this to three parts olive oil. Rub this mix on the areas most likely to come in contact with ticks. If you live in an area with high numbers of ticks and potential for Lyme disease, Babesia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever or Ehrlichia, consult your veterinarian for more potent tick repellants. It is not worth the risk of your pet contracting one of these serious illnesses.

Skin that has been irritated by the bites from ticks and fleas can be soothed with a dilute solution of lemon juice. Slice one lemon and let it stand in a quart of warm water for a few hours. Use it as a rinse or a spot spray for local irritations. Oatmeal is another choice for soothing itchy skin. Use 1/2 cup of oatmeal in a gallon of warm water and let stand. Strain the solution and use as you would the lemon juice rinse.

Food Additives

There are supplements available that can be added to your pet's food to control parasites. Brewers yeast is a by-product of beer fermentation that has many nutritional qualities and has been used successfully to control fleas. A small amount based on your pet's weight is added daily to the diet. Garlic has also been reported to be helpful in flea control but must be used with a word of caution. Garlic in large amounts can be harmful (it can cause anemia). Check with your veterinarian for a proper dose.

Control Around the House

If you find fleas on your pet you will need to think about treating your home as well. It has been said that for every flea you see on your pet, there are a hundred in your home. Try a few natural deterrents to control the problem. Diatomaceous earth is a white chalky powder that is actually the remnants of tiny algae. The powder abrades the tough outer layer of the flea and they quickly dry out and die. It can be sprinkled around floorboards or other infested areas. Wash any pet bedding, and vacuum regularly. Dispose of vacuum bags since fleas can hatch and reproduce in a vacuum bag quite happily. Consider using cedar pet bedding since it is a natural flea deterrent. Buy beds that have zipper covers over the padding so they can be removed and washed. Be aware that some pets may be allergic to cedar or the aroma may cause respiratory problems. Carefully observe your pet for any signs of illness.

Ear Mites

Another common problem is ear mites. These are tiny mites that live down in the ear canal and cause intense itching and inflammation. Check with your pet's veterinarian to confirm the diagnosis. Other serious problems often look like ear mites. Mites can often be controlled with a small amount of mineral oil, olive oil or calendula oil.

Lice

Lice are another aggravating problem for your pet. Lice bite or suck and leave behind another intense itch. Lice eggs, called nits, adhere to your pets' fur and can be manually removed by the use of special combs. Pennyroyal shampoo (not full strength pennyroyal oil) and a lemon juice rinse will help control lice.

Special Concerns

Do not feel bad if your efforts to control these common parasites do not resolve the problem. These creatures have been causing discomfort and disease for thousands of years. If you cannot make your pet comfortable, see your veterinarian to consider other alternatives. No pet should have to suffer with parasites.

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