"The Peeing Post"
Newsletter for dog lovers who respect the dog's nature
Chief Editor: Mogens Eliasen
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Dear Dog Friend,
Based on many inquiries, I will devote this issue to fleas... and how we can fight them.
If you thought that fighting fleas was just a matter of getting some flea medication from your vet, you are terribly misguided... that's just about the only thing you will not do, if you care for your dog! (Not all vets are monsters, but those who ignore that fact that flea medication is poison, also for your dog, are not worth your financial support.)
How do you tell if your dog has fleas?
First sign might be that your dog is itchy. The typically reaction is a fast launch with the front teeth to the spot where the flea just bit, followed by some devoted "massaging" of the itchy spot. It is like a mosquito bite, just 100 times worse, and it comes instantly, so you will not mistake the dog's general scratching as "flea attacks".
Unfortunately, flea bites do not bother all dogs! Some dogs show no response - so you cannot count on seeing this "flea attack" behavior as a sure indication of fleas.
Some people are very delicious to fleas - so, although the fleas cannot live on human blood, some of them will give it a good try!
The certain diagnose is this: you will find the feces of the fleas in the dog's coat. It looks like cigarette ash. But, in contrast to cigarette ash or simple dirt, it will turn red, like blood, when you smear it out on your palm with a wet finger.
And, when you see them: don't be mistaken about their behavior! They are famous for jumping - but you will much more likely see them run in the dog's coat, in-between the hairs, at the surface of the skin. When they are scared, they rarely jump, but try to hide in the "forest" made up by the dog's coat. You need to be darn fast to catch them, but if you make a trap by pressing the dog's hairs very closely down to the skin as a barrier for one you have spotted, you can catch it, once you get the hang of it.
Are fleas dangerous?
The answer is no. And that includes your children. The scaremonger you see in commercial advertisements, indicating that it is unsafe for a baby to pet a dog that has fleas, is simply BS. "BS" stands for "an unsubstantiated, deliberate lie, passed on for an illegitimate purpose that in no way is related to the topic at hand but is falsely presented as if it were."
However, dog fleas will sometimes attack certain people, and the bites can sometimes cause some serious irritation, including some swelling, just as you would expect from other insect bites, such as mosquitoes and ants. But that is the level we are at. Fleas are completely harmless compared to bees, for instance.
The life cyclus of the flea - and how you get them
Fleas do not live on the dog. They only eat on the dog, and use the dog for transportation to better homes and to visit with friends in the neighborhood.
This also tell you how you get them: all you have to do is to walk your dog past a bush where another dog a few hours ago went by and dropped off a few fleas. You can keep your home as sterile as you want - it is not going to stop the fleas from entering with your dog - or cat.
Once a pair of fleas settle in a new home, they soon find the dog, have a nice blood meal, have sex - and lay eggs. Unfortunately, they do not often lay their eggs on the dog. If they do, the eggs will fall off. It is far more common to find the eggs at the edge of the rug, under the panels between the floor and the walls, between the mattresses in the double bed, and in other cool, dark, and moist locations with no draft.
The eggs will hatch in 2-12 days, but under harsh conditions, they will survive for many months.
The larvae are very small. Some 3 mm long and as thin as than a thread, so chances are slim (sorry for the pun...) that you will be able to see them in the dark spaces where they live off what they can find in terms of organic matter, like dandruff and dust - and also their parents' feces!
The larvae go through a couple of stages before their finally cocoon after 3 weeks and develop into adult fleas, hungry for blood from a domesticated wolf. An interesting (and unpleasant) feature is that the fleas will not leave the cocoons until they sense vibrations! This means that they can lie unhatched in a home you have left - waiting for you and the dog to come back! The cocoons can actually live several months this way, so going on vacation is not a solution to this problem..
This life cycle, with the reproduction taking place off the dog, is a serious challenge when fighting those beasts. The natural thing is to try to "get" them where you find them: on the dog. But they really only spend about 5% of their time on the dog. The rest is spent resting in dark cracks and nooks - or having sex there. So, the strategy has to involve some kind of persistency over time, so you catch them as they come back for their blood meals and kill them before they will lay eggs. You also have to take into account that it does not help you much to kill the parents when their eggs hatch and make second generation ready in 3 weeks... If your plan does not account for that, you can start all over then.
You have several arsenals available as options in this flea warfare:
Manually killing them, in a systematic and persistent way, as you find them on the dog. Although tedious, this is indeed possible.
Setting up traps, so they kill themselves, over time. This too, is proven effective.
Making the dog's coat into a mechanical "mine field" - this is possible by using diatomaceous earth; it is quite safe for people and dogs, but not totally without risk.
Making the dog's coat into a chemical warfare zone, so the critters will die because they make close contact with poisons in the dog's coat. Also this is technically very possible - and very safe, seriously subject to the chemicals you use, though...
Poisoning their food, which is the dog's blood. This can be done very effectively, but is not at all safe, long-term for the dog...
Poisoning the environment they live in - but that is also the environment you and your dog live in, so that is doomed to have serious side effects...
Using chemicals is easy. That's what we have been doing for decades when it comes to pest control. The number of insecticides available nowadays in astronomic. Chemists are very creative in regards to finding poisons that will kill. When you can find a poison that will kill selectively, you might think everything is just OK - but it rarely is. Everyone thought that DDT was just "the blessing of the future" when it was first introduced to farmers. We now know that it is one of the most dangerous contaminants in our environment - and it is next to impossible to clean up. It is seriously damaging for mammals and birds also in extremely small concentrations that simply accumulate in the food chain - an effect that was impossible to document with laboratory testing.... Sure it does not kill any birds - but it destroys their ability to reproduce when the birds are exposed to it day in and day out, for years....
Chemists are not gods. When they work for salary, they can be outright dangerous.
The chemical poisons and why you want to avoid them
As you understand, there are several possibilities for conducting chemical warfare on fleas. You can
Let's first make clear that there are no chemicals that are exclusively dangerous to fleas and other insects, without having serious negative side effects also on people and dogs. Yes, most of the pesticides we know of are much more dangerous for insects than for people, but that does not in any way make them safe for people. Farmers who use pesticide spraying of their crops are seriously warned about the risks associated with working with such chemicals, and when you have seen those warnings, you will not longer take this easily...
For this reason, it doesn't take much to conclude that spraying the fleas' environment and hatching grounds (your own home!) with insecticides it not really a sensible option... A less dangerous solution is to simply spread soda or borax on the carpets and everywhere where the larvae could be - they dry out and die when exposed to those fairly harmless chemicals, which you can later remove again by careful vacuuming.
Poisoning the fleas' eating ground (the dog's coat) is much easier, though.... Unfortunately, the perfect chemical exists for this. It was invented and patented in the early fifties by the German drug manufacturer Bayer. I has been sold for decades in Europe under the trade name NEGUVON. Extensive testing has demonstrated that this chemical will decompose into harmless byproducts when exposed to oxygen, after it has been allowed to react with water. In other words: once wet, it will destroy itself in a matter of 10-14 days! In this time frame, it will kill all fleas that touch it intensively, in a matter of hours. So, there is your perfect remedy: dissolve it in water, wet the dog's coat and the it expose to oxygen in the air! The brilliance of this is further enhanced by the fact that this chemical does not penetrate skin, so it will stay outside on the dog's body and not interfere with anything inside... that means: no poisoning of the dog! The only downside is that the effect only lasts 10-14 days, so you will have to re-apply it 2 or 3 times in order to catch also the hatching generations of those fleas. Well worth it, though!
And the bad news? Well: Bayer's old patent has long expired.... And the product has never been approved by North American authorities. This means that, if anyone now wants to sell it in North America, this business would have to pay for all the research and documentation required, as if we were talking about a totally new chemical! Governments are stupid enough to not count research done by other governments as worth anything! So, in the NEGUVON case, it would cost about $200,000 in Canada and $600,000 in the USA to obtain the approval of the authorities to sell it. And (this is where it gets really screwy), this would enable anyone to sell it - because there is no valid patent possible anymore!!! A few years ago, I discussed the situation with Bayer (who is now having a strong marketing organization in North America also), and they simply said it would be financially foolish to pay that money, as it would make it possible for all competitors to sell NEGUVON also - and they would not pay the cost of getting it permitted!
What do you do when government regulations are that stupid? The permissions have been given in Europe for damned good reasons, and 50 years' of experience has demonstrated that this is the safest chemical for the purpose you possibly can ever find.... I have only one answer: ignore the government, and get it from friends in Europe. It is quite inexpensive ($5-10 for a treatment) - and extremely effective and completely safe...
Bayer does have a newer product, well patented. It is called "Advantage" - and it is indeed effective. But it is not without well-documented problems also, although less profound that the competitor's "FrontLine" which is outright dangerous and, in my opinion, simply should be illegal.... "FrontLine" actually works by making the dog's blood poisonous for the fleas to eat - the possible effects of the dog's health should be pretty darn obvious when the chemicals are subject to all kinds of warnings and restrictions when used by farmers to protect their crops.
If you want a good layman's overview of the chemicals and their effects, you can get it from this article, which saves me from repeating all the details.
Just to be sure: "flea collars" are no better! In fact the dust they create is extremely harmful to the dog's nose and lungs...
So, until someone invents a patentable alternative to the excellent NEGUVON, you either get NEGUVON from Europe, or you stay away from chemistry here!
Any possible non-chemical or natural alternatives?
In general, you can get many natural products that might be sold as "flea repellants". I have yet to hear about one that is effective, though... Yes, there are lots of herbs and essential oils that fleas generally do not like, such as garlic, onion, lavender, citronella, teatree oil, etc. but such remedies will maximum reduce the rate with which your dog brings fleas home. It is not going to do anything to the infestation you already might have to fight.
Nevertheless, there is a natural alternative to using chemistry. It is based on a mechanical effect: the fleas cut themselves and bleed to death when a whole bunch of miniature razor blades are distributed in the dog's coat.
Those "natural razor blades" are made up by the skeletons of some small micro-organisms called diatoms, and the product that contains them is called "diatomeceous earth" (or DE for short). It is a very fine powder.
It works! It has been used also to fight internal parasites (worms in the GI tract), and it works for that too.
The people who sell it claim that it is safe. But so do the chemical manufacturers when promoting their products....
There has been quite a lot of studies done about DE, though, and, so far, it comes out as being very safe for mammals, even to eat! No short-term side effects of negatiev nature have been observed at all. Our soft surface tissue does not get cut but those sharp edges. But the hard chitin surfaces of insects do.
The only concern I would have would be the long-term effects of that dust getting into our lungs and into our dogs' lungs. Because this material is extremely non-soluble and chemically related to silica, it could have a similar effect as asbestos or silica dust... This hypothesis has not be studied, so I cannot tell you if it is the case or not. All I can tell you, with my scientific education as chemist to back it up, is that this possibility should not be totally neglected until documented further. After all, we used asbestos for decades before we realized how dangerous it is...
However, even in worst case, with DE being similar to asbestos, it is still possible to use it with due diligence. This means that you take good care of using it in a form that does not spread dust into the air. Apply it from a suspension in soap water, let the water dry into the coat, just as for NEGUVON, and you have the effect, without creating any dust. The only possible danger is getting it into the lungs - and, this way, you can avoid that.
Old-fashioned, effective, and completely safe methods
Ever heard of a flea comb? It is fairly large comb that works like a shovel on the surface of the skin, getting in between the hairs, but the teeth on it are so close that a flea cannot get through. With such a comb, you can literally scrape the fleas off the skin, catch them on the comb and kill them! Yes - it is quite tedious, because you have to do it 3-6 times a day, for 3-4 weeks, to be sure you get the whole colony, if your infestation is severe. For a newly "brought-home" flea or two, it might be all it takes to get rid of them. If you do not want to use your hand for the killing, you can use a vacuum - it is actually very effective, particularly if you have one of the Rainbow machines with a water filter in.
I want no objection to the efficiency of this totally safe method. It works. I have tried it - I had four dogs. After three weeks and more than 200 killings, we were done. Sure, it is tedious. The trick is to do it consistently, so you also get those fleas that are not on the dog at the moment you do your "flea harvest". When you do it consistently, you will eventually get them all. But if you try to do it just once or twice a day for a single week, you are just wasting your time. You are either devoted to minimum 3 times a day for 4 weeks or you might as well just not do it.
From Louise at raw-connections.com, I got the following darn smart way of winning this war, for much less effort:
Old effective way to control fleas
I ran across this when I was looking for a non chemical way to control fleas. I went to the agriculture department and check their files before 1946 to get this one. I suggested it to Judy B. who had tried lots of other methods and spent a lot of money but found this to be the most effective ;o)))
Try the safe soapy water and light bulb flee controller. Hang light bulb 1 foot above a low container (about a foot wide and 2-3 inches deep and with at least 1 inch of soapy water in it.
It is moved around about 5 feet a day. Alternatively, of them set up. Best places indoors is within 5 feet of where your pet sleeps and you sleep.
The fleas jump to the light (heat) and fall in the soapy water that traps them, and they drown.
You should set up some traps also outdoors.
Remember that fleas are not found in your driveway gravel or in the open. The larvae do not survive high temperatures. They are found in shaded areas, like under porches, decks, car ports, at the edges of woods, and especially in places where your pets lay down outdoors.
It was suggested on one of my lists you put it in a wire crate to keep the other animals out of it.
Works very well :o)))
Well, Louise....after spending hundreds of dollars on natural flea products....the soapy water and light bulb are working like a dream!!!!!!
Thank you, thank you, thank you.:)
I had great luck with this the one time I rescued an old beagle lady. She spent the night in one spot at the top of my steps. Next morning I discovered she was covered with fleas. Used the bowl in my office, down the hall from where she slept.
Day 1: 25 fleas. Day 2: 10. Days 3, 4, & 5: 2-3 per day. Then all were gone.
I must confess that I have not tested this method myself - I have not had fleas since 1988... If you need to use the method, then I would suggest one simple improvement: Use a colored light bulb instead of a regular white bulb. Fleas do not like bright light, so the light will somewhat reduce their attraction to the heat. But by coloring the light bulb (red paint is best, but just covering it with duct tape is just fine), you can make the method even better.
For more on alternative and safe flea combat methods, please refer to this article - of the same author as the previous one.
In conclusion, I hope you understand that you do not have to play "the little chemist" with your dog's body in order to fight fleas - and you really shouldn't.
The only exception is garlic. Fleas hate garlic - and most dogs love it. And it is healthy for your dog! About a clove of garlic per week, average, for a medium-sized dog will do for this, but even much more will not hurt your dog. Maybe your nose - but if you reach that point, you can cut down a bit...
On closing, I have some really good news: fleas do not like healthy dogs! They seriously prefer kibble-fed, over-vaccinated, and immune-compromised dogs. As long as you have some of those in your neighborhood, you walk your dog daily, and regularly feed a little garlic, the fleas your dog occasionally might get will soon want to jump off again and "take a dog" to another home...
Cheers and woof,
If you have any suggestions to contributions or contents of "The Peeing Post", or some comments or questions pertaining to this issue or in to dogs in general, I will be happy to know about them. If I can find an answer for you, I will!
You can reach me by simply clicking on the peeing dog
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P.S. I recently referred you to an article in "Dogs in Canada" by Hilary Watson and my personal comments to its inapt reasoning for recommending against feeding raw food to our dogs. Through a good friend, who is personally close to Ian Billinghurst, I got an official response from him. Very eloquent and well written - and very worth-while reading!
You can get the entire article at http://k9joy.com/dogarticles/TheRawTruth.php.
You are more than welcome to pass on that article, as long as you do not alter it. The simplest thing to do is to pass on the URL above to everyone who possibly has an interest in their dog's health...
The editor of "Dogs in Canada" refused to publish the article - which could be expected, as that magazine financially depends very heavily on advertising money from the kibble manufacturers!
But, if we all pull together here, we can distribute that article to even more people than the subscribers of "Dogs in Canada" (and its sister publications in other countries - they are all the same in regards to financial dependency on their advertisers - which inevitabbly are the big industries....)
I will appreciate your help!