There are no easy answers to the control of fleas, ticks and lice in animals. While we struggle to wipe out pests from the earth, we need to remember that there are deeper reasons why they affect our animals. Tapeworms, fleas, ticks, mites and other sucking insects have coexisted with animals for millions of years, which implies that there must be natural provisions to allow for a more harmonious co-existence. You have to ask yourself, why do some animals nowadays live their entire lives virtually undisturbed by parasites, while others with the same exposure are constantly tormented by them? The answer must lie in the fact that parasites are opportunity seekers that exploit the weakness of their host.
It is human nature to want a quick, magic bullet to get rid of the creepy crawlies on our friend. However, we must be fully aware of the risks associated with using strong’s health in the long run, making him more susceptible to future skin diseases, auto-immune (allergy) conditions and other ailments. Anything that can poison a parasite quickly cannot be good for the host. Holistically speaking, anything that interferes with natural body processes may create another state of imbalance. Seizures, liver failure and death are some of the obvious side effects to chemical anti-parasitic agents. Even natural remedies such as d-limonene, concentrated tea tree oil or pyrethin-containing products can be too harsh (especially on cats) and used incorrectly or on a weakened or young animal have resulted in seizures and other nasty side effects. So while you may get a quick cure of one problem, you make the animal more vulnerable to countless other ailments down the road.
As with any illness, the most important measure you can take is to strengthen the overall health of the animal. “Prevention is worth a pound of cure” really applies here. From a holistic perspective, parasite-related health problems don’t emanate from the mere presence of these little vampires, but from the host’s inability to deal with them effectively, hence the deeper imbalance. Healthy animals with a normal functioning immune system are an inhospitable host, and given the same exposure as weaker animals with poor immune response, tend to suffer much less, if at all from bites and parasite related allergies. Many animals may even test positive for certain parasites, such as heartworm, but never suffer ill health, whereas one flea bite on another results in an allergic response or sudden illness.
So what does “prevention” really entail? First, you need to be vigilant in considering your companion’s constantly changing needs. For example, you need to take into account whether your pet is an old or very young animal, if there are any chronic degenerative diseases, allergies, history of antibiotic or other drug use, poor digestion, high stress home life, long double coat that you can’t flea comb etc. Second, you should consider any specific environmental factors such as warm and humid vs. cooler and dry, acreage living, frequent swimming in sloughs, or city living with few off-leash green spaces. Also, consider your home cleaning routines, frequency of bed washing and regular vacuuming, especially in multi-pet households. Externally, you can also take adequate care in limiting exposure during peak times and using a protective herbal repellent that contains safe and natural essential oils such as lemon eucalyptus, lavender, and neem. Bathing should be more frequent during bug season, especially with long coated fellows, but be sure to use a nontoxic shampoo, with ingredients such as neem leaf extract and oil (neem is very bitter and well-known to eradicate pests) a rich, non-detergent based shampoo that is gentle and healing to the skin. If you are dealing with a heavily affected animal, you may need to wait 10-15 minutes before rinsing, so be prepared at the doggie wash, and perhaps bring an extra pair of hands to help you out. To maintain this herbal defense, the regular use of grooming mists that combine therapeutic grade essential oils, herbal extracts like neem and black walnut, and healing aloe vera juice is highly recommended.
As daunting as all this may seem, an external protocol is only part of the picture. Internally, year-round, you should be supporting optimum immunity. The first essential part is a complete, natural, real food diet with essential fatty acids (EFAs) and a multi-vitamin/mineral (making sure you are aware of potential allergens in the diet that may be compromising immunity). To help build resistance overall, as well as reduce the potential for an allergic response to bug bites, start tonifying/strengthening the immune system with herbs before the high season hits. Continue through the worst exposure times, especially if your companion already suffers from chronic allergies, immune weakness or high stress living conditions. Immune modulating and adaptogen herbs - those which help the body handle stress better - are extremely beneficial. Ex: Formulas containing Chinese herb astragalus and Siberian ginseng, as well as formulas containing Echinacea and supporting herbs for assisting the liver and kidneys. Twice per year, at the beginning and the end of summer it is a good idea to use an herbal de-wormer to ensure that nothing is getting a hold of your companion’s system internally. Herbal de-wormers may be used for 10 days in the late spring and again 2 months later for 10 days. If you feel your pet is going to be at high risk during pest season or if he is already battling an external parasite infestation, an acute herbal therapy product is very beneficial.
Unfortunately there may be times when due to serious, life threatening infestations you do end up resorting to the “fire extinguisher” emergency chemical approach to get things under control. Be aware that there is some “damage control” available lest the same condition or other disease manifest. Milk Thistle is at the top of the list as well as other liver supporting herbs that nourish the blood and tonify the immune system. Furthermore, if you have used chemical dips and shampoo treatments to target the skin very harshly, they will have left the tissue raw and vulnerable, so it is critical to make every effort to repair and nourish your animal's coat with the above mentioned therapeutic herbal body care products.
Depending on how you address your own health you may feel a bit overwhelmed by taking a proactive instead of reactive approach to your companion’s health care. It really does get easier in time and you will find that applying a more holistic lifestyle approach to your pet’s well-being is the only way to achieve vibrant, lasting health. Keep in mind that in addition to the basic natural internal and external physical care outlined above, the holism perspective requires we also must provide our friend with a low stress living environment, adequate exercise and mental stimulation, and of course lots of love. If all these things are in place, you can rest assured you are doing the best you can to enjoy a pest-free summer.