By Geoff Williams
Many dog owners and animal lovers who wouldn't hurt a fly, are happy to make an exception for fleas and ticks.
And while flea and tick medications are the most effective preventative strategies that a pet parent can employ during tick and flea season, some people are likely tempted to try home remedies and alternative methods for tick and flea removal.
But what flea and tick removal methods don't work? It’s best to avoid pretty much everything we're going to mention from here on out.
Dousing your dog in dish detergent might make his fur a little cleaner, and you may get rid of some of the fleas and ticks, but dogs' skin have a different pH level than humans, "and using dishwater detergent can actually be dry and irritating to their skin," says Robert Lofton, a veterinarian of 44 years and an assistant clinical professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Auburn University in Auburn, Ala.
"And it's not going to control the fleas," he adds.
Nancy Troyano, a Pennsylvania-based entomologist who works as the director of technical education and training for the pest control company Rentokil North America explains that fleas have holes in the sides of their bodies which they use to breathe oxygen. And even though soapy dishwater may plug up those holes and kill some fleas, Troyano says this method is not recommended for treating a flea infestation. “It's not an efficient method to use, and it is not guaranteed to help," she says.
Even if the dish soap does help kill a few fleas, the tenacious parasites that are left behind are guaranteed to breed and repopulate your home and dog.
"People forget that there are four stages to a flea," Lofton says. "The egg, the larva, pupa and adult. You need a medication that controls the entire life cycle. Even if what you use kills the adult fleas, that isn't control."
Some home remedies suggest that garlic, especially mixed with brewer's yeast, will repel fleas. The theory is that when a dog eats this combination of garlic and brewer’s yeast and sweats, the garlic will emit from a dog’s body, making him an unappealing feast for fleas. This remedy often calls for putting a mixture of garlic and brewer’s yeast on your dog’s food. But veterinarians often warn against this treatment method.
"Garlic is not an effective flea or tick repellent on dogs or cats since they don't sweat like humans," says Mike Hutchinson, a veterinarian at Animal General of Cranberry Township in Pennsylvania..
In addition to not being an effective treatment method, garlic can be toxic to dogs if large quantities are ingested. It’s best to keep this allium away from your pets.
Rubbing alcohol will kill fleas and ticks, but if you're going to use alcohol, be careful about it. Generally, experts recommend dropping fleas or ticks into a glass or jar of rubbing alcohol.
"Don't pour alcohol on a tick that's on your dog," Lofton warns.
Why not? "The tick is attached to your dog, and the alcohol will make the tick spit out its toxin," he says.
Instead, put on gloves—to protect yourself from possible tick toxins—and remove the nasty little parasite with tweezers. Grab the tick right where its mouthparts are attached to your dog’s skin and slowly pull straight back.
Hutchinson says that some of his patients use cedar oil to repel fleas and ticks from their pets, mostly their dogs.
"Although cedar oil may repel some bugs, it can be very irritating to the skin surface. Again, I do not recommend this either," Hutchinson says. The oil doesn’t even have to be applied directly to the skin. Many dogs develop skin problems simply from sleeping on a bed that is stuffed with cedar shavings.
And skin problems aren’t the only concern. If enough cedar oil is ingested, say from a dog licking his skin after being treated, it can cause liver damage, and breathing in small droplets of cedar oil may lead to lung problems. Bottom line is that while cedar oil smells great and may keep a few (though certainly not all) parasites away, the risks outweigh the benefits.
Over a hundred years ago, pet experts advised people to give their dogs kerosene baths to kill off fleas and ticks. In fact, one country journal in 1906 even advised people to let the kerosene sit on the dog overnight before washing it off. But this outdated and dangerous method can have severe—and even deadly—consequences for pets.
If a pet is exposed to kerosene, which is a hydrocarbon, he may experience vomiting, drooling, eye and skin irritation, and difficulties breathing, according to the Pet Poison Helpline. Pets may also go into a coma, depending on the amount of kerosene involved. And that's why veterinarians never recommend kerosene baths.
Only Use Vet-Approved Flea and Tick Treatment Methods
While it may be tempting to try and treat fleas and ticks on your own, it’s important to consult with your veterinarian to find the best—and safest—option for you and your pets.
“An honest attempt by some well meaning pet owners sometimes ends up causing some untoward side effects in their pets," says Hutchinson.
Image: Eric Isselee via Shutterstock