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Not All That Itches Are Fleas

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Fleas and itching — the two seem to go together like jalapenos and heartburn. I have lived almost my entire life in south Florida, so I have a lot of experience with these two subjects. Often, an itching pet will have a few fleas and everyone assumes that they are the cause. Then the poor animal is subjected to flea shampoo, flea dip, flea drops, flea pills and the list goes on. The reality is that not all itching comes from fleas and not all pets with fleas itch. One of the prices we pay for the mild Florida winters is an abundance of insect life all year round. Fleas are no exception. It is virtually impossible for a dog or cat go out of doors and not have fleas. Actually, I think it is unnatural for that to happen. Generally, the use of unnatural (and usually toxic) means of flea control is required to accomplish this. The normal balance of nature is when a pet has a small number of fleas and no symptoms of distress. I believe that should be our goal and it can usually be accomplished without toxic drugs, dips, etc. This requires a multi faceted approach. The pet’s general health must be strong and the environment not abnormally overloaded with fleas. The reason most pets itch from a few fleas (even one flea in some animals) is that their immune system is over reacting. There are several reasons this occurs including improper nutrition, poor bacterial balance in the digestive tract, excessive vaccination and inadequate elimination of toxins by the liver and kidneys. We must address each of these problem areas.

In my over 15 years of experience, a balanced raw meat based diet is best way to provide proper nutrition. There are many recipes available in books and on the web (including pet-grub.com) for home preparation of such foods. In addition, there are a growing number of excellent pre–made frozen raw foods available. In general, I prefer a diet based on grass fed beef, lamb or bison as these are higher in omega 3 fats and the adrenal glands need cholesterol is to make important hormones. The addition of good quality fish oil provides additional omega 3’s. A good dose is one drop per pound of body weight up to 50 drops (1/2 teaspoon) daily in the food.

“Dysbiosis” is the term used to describe an imbalance in the bacterial population of the body. We usually think of this problem as referring to the digestive tract. Recent research demonstrates that good bacteria activate the immune system throughout the body as well as protect all the body surfaces from other microorganisms. A good probiotic containing Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacteria is essential. Unfortunately, the quality and stability of probiotic products varies greatly and there are few good ones. Seek advice from someone familiar with these products.

Dealing with over vaccination problems and inadequate elimination of toxins necessitates working with an experience practitioner. For many pets, the diet changes and probiotics will make a dramatic improvement in their sensitivity to allergens, including fleas. If these steps combined with the following flea control options do not solve your pet’s problem, please seek professional assistance.

You can control the fleas in the pet’s environment without pesticides. If you have your own yard, I strongly suggest you apply beneficial nematodes. These microscopic worms are natural enemies of fleas. You apply them like a lawn spray and they can last a long time. They are completely non toxic and environmentally safe. Most homes that have a significant indoor flea problem have carpeting. Begin with a good deep cleaning to remove as many fleas and their eggs as possible. Then use a high–grade borax based flea–killing product. Often it is best to hire a professional company to do this process. On the pet, you can use one of the many over the counter herbal flea sprays. While these do not have the same powerful killing action as the insecticides, they can significantly reduce the number of fleas that jump on the pet. Apply it right before walking and use a flea comb before entering your house to remove any unwanted visitors. As your pet’s health improves, you will see he/she attracts fewer fleas. This flea control program is more involved than a few drops on the pet’s back or a pill. The only side effects are a nicer lawn (the nematodes kill lots of other “bad” insects, too.) and a fragrant pet. There is no risk of liver or neurological damage as there is with the drugs and pesticides.

While I am no fan of fleas, I think it is important for the long–term health of our pets, that we realize the true causes of their symptoms and work to correct them. It is easy to go after the obvious “villain”. Nevertheless, that will not result in optimum wellness. Good health does not come in a convenient, ready to use package. It takes a holistic understanding of the individual and a willingness to do what is right, not necessarily, what is accepted.

  • Russell Swift, DVM, Classical Homeopath

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