Yes, there are easy, nontoxic flea treatments
Cats and dogs have it easy these days when it comes to flea prevention. I still have the scars from wrestling with my childhood pet, Snowy, in attempts to kill his fleas.
If memory serves, the futile battle involved a pillow case — one of many shredded over the years — some horrible smelling white powder and a battery of sharp cat claws. This was Plan B, after initial efforts at shampooing ended painfully. And then there was the endless vacuuming and application of toxic house spray. Perhaps the manufacturers of those products thought the fleas would vacate because of the evil smell. They didn’t, but we almost did. When the clouds of powders and sprays settled, those darned fleas were still jumping and biting.
Several of the same compounds are still available today, although Canada has severely restricted the use of the most toxic. Still, there are products allowed on our pets that were recently banned by the government of France. French officials removed about 60 types of flea collars from the market after determining they could cause illness in people. According to a government press release, increased physical contact between pets and their owners has raised concerns that human exposure to pesticides in the collars could cause neurological problems, nausea, vomiting, or tremors, particularly in children.
The three chemicals at issue are dimpylate (the same as diazinon), propoxur and tetrachlorvinphos. The latter two are used in some products sold at Canadian pet stores. The ingredients in pesticide-containing products can be searched on Health Canada’s website.
I used to laugh at my boss, Dr. Steen, when he’d cut yet another flea collar off of a client’s cat, condemning it as “evil and toxic”. Maybe he wassn’t overreacting after all! Even some insecticides not on the French government’s lists can be highly toxic to cats particularly if they are not used properly.
There are some very safe, effective and easy to apply flea treatments produced these days, although most of the good ones are only available from veterinarians. In most cases, a few drops of liquid on the skin once a month is all that’s required – no pillow cases, no blood.
For those who don’t already have a flea problem, it’s easier to prevent than treat, so try one of the insect-growth regulators such as methoprene which is considered quite safe. It is available in a spot-on and collar formulation at most pet stores and veterinarians. Check the label to be sure the methoprene hasn’t been combined with something more noxious.
If, for some reason, you are sticking with smelly, potentially toxic chemicals, be sure to use them strictly according to label instructions. For liquid products, keep pets separated until they are dry. When insecticidal collars are in use, limit contact between treated pets and children.
And please, please, please remember that veterinarians are by far your best information source about these products! (ed.)
Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital