San Marcos Vet Speaks – Common Misconceptions in Flea Products

Flea products is a market where everyone is trying to find a solution, and everyone wants to give it to you cheaper, faster, and more effectively than ever before. Competition can be great because it pushes the market to do better, however it also drove several snake oil salesmen to appear. There are many products out that are not worth the money, and/or are potentially toxic to pets.

To learn about products we love, and how to treat a current flea infestation click here.

Products we are not very fond of:

Capstar – this product is an oral flea pill, it kills all fleas currently on your pet in about 15 minutes (which is great!), however it has no residual effect, and thus doesn’t prevent fleas that jump on your pet an hour from now, or a day from now. Thus, this product should only be used if the pet is also going to be given a topical flea preventative right after.  Capstar is used often in shelter situations; this allows for the shelter to kill all the adult fleas in their quarantine room before moving the pet into the general population – but even they will start the pet on a flea preventative at the same time.

Medicated Flea Bathes – There are no medicated flea dips or bathes that are safe for cats. All the products that are out there either contain Permethrin, or a Combination of Herbs and Essential Oils (Including Thyme). These are both extremely toxic to cats. For dogs these shampoos and dips have to be properly diluted or they are extremely toxic! Plus, they only last for about a week, so unless you bath your pet weekly you are not preventing fleas.

Diatamatous Earth – this is a “natural” product that is made of dead sea creatures. Theoretically it works by dehydrating the flea exoskeleton to kill the flea. However there have been not studies on this product, there are not quality control studies done on the product, and according to even holistic veterinarians it has to be applied daily to have any effect at all. The product can cause problems to the respiratory tract if inhaled, can cause eye irritation, and skin irritation because of it’s dry, powder-like consistency.

Brewer’s Yeast – Another natural alternative treatment we have seen pop up recently. Again, since this product is considered a supplement and not a drug there is little to no regulation on strength, quality control, etc. Thus there is no consistency. Also, even according to holistic veterinarians, it only works about 20-25% of the time and has to be given daily to your pet.  “In his book on homeopathic treatment for dogs and cats, D.V.M. Don Hamilton lists brewer’s yeast and garlic as treatment options in the section on fleas, but he points out that these supplements help only 20 to 25 percent of animals. Also, since some animals have an allergy to yeast, it can cause reactions like skin problems and diarrhea.”

Garlic – This product is known to cause Heinz Body Anemia in dogs and cats. Based on reports we believe the toxic dose to be greater than 1g per pound for raw garlic, and ½ g per pound of garlic powder. However, poison control at this time does not believe any ingestion of garlic to be safe, especially in small pets  of less than 10 lbs. Though there are products out there that are believed to be safe, since they are not considered drugs they they are not required to do any studies on them to prove their safety. Thus even though they state “that the amount of garlic found in our brewer’s yeast and garlic tablets, as well as any of the natural health products, treats and foods we carry is included at levels known to be safe for our animal companions” this statement is not entirely true as we can find no scientific studies done to prove the safety of the products or even if they work at all.

Essential Oil use – this is an new topic in the animal world, and since there are currently giant holes in the safety of essential oils in cats we currently advise to not use any essential oils in cats. Cats have a unique metabolic pathway for both essential oils that are ingested, applied topically and inhaled. Many oils that are completely harmless to people can cause vomiting, excessive salivation, anemia, kidney failure, liver failure, and death in cats. We will be waiting for new research to be done before recommending further use.

Essential Oils to NEVER USE in cats: Lemon, Orange, Lime, Bergamot, Tangerine, Pine, Madarin, Spruce, Grapefruit, Fit, Cinnamon (Cassia), Thyme, Clove, Savory, Oregano, Bay, Cironella, Eucalyptus, Geranium, Lavender, Pennyroyal, Rue, Tea Tree.

We would like to point out that there are products that are advertised for cats as being “safe” that are online EasyDefense Flea & Tick Collar contains Geraniol, Peppermint and Thyme Oil. There are also DIY recipes out there that call for Cinnamon, and Clove (found here). Since essential oils are not considered “drugs” and as such they are not required to do any quality control, or safety testing prior to releasing the product to the public.

DIY Options – the hard part about DIY options you find online is that some of these might be safe, others might not be safe. And by no fault of their own, the person actually recommending this DIY option, may be recommending something that is toxic or dangerous for your pet. They may or may not have used the DIY product on their own animal with no problem, or with great results. They might have been very lucky. Before doing a DIY option for anything on your pet, this is including food, please speak with your veterinarian. There are sometimes very good reasons why we would recommend you NOT do something – and that reason usually has to do with your pet’s health. We believe that our pets are our family members, and sometimes there is a fine line between a safe and a toxic dose for your pet.

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