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Natural Awakenings Sarasota / Manatee / Charlotte

Understanding Pests and Pets: A Q & A with Dr. Anne Luther

Apr 25, 2015 10:39PM ● By Suzi Harkola

N atural Awakenings: We have heard that this is a particularly bad year for fleas. Are you seeing more cases with the pets you treat? 


Dr. Luther: In general, I am not seeing more fleas this season. Most of my clients feed natural diets and do not over vaccinate their pets. Because they are healthy, they do not attract fleas as much as an unhealthy dog or cat will. Also, the clients who utilize consistent flea prevention are not experiencing a flea problem. However, some pets that have never experienced a flea infestation are coming in with a significant flea problem because they were not on any sort of preventative program. In Florida, it is hard to avoid fleas, even for indoor-only animals.


NA: What do you think about flea collars? Do they work to kill parasites?


Dr. Luther: I do not believe most flea collars work at all. They are a waste of money and can be toxic to your pet. Recently Bayer, the maker of Advantage, released a new collar, called Seresto, that was supposed to be harmless and work effectively to repel fleas and ticks for eight months. While this collar sounded promising, there have been numerous reports of seizures and other side effects while wearing this collar, so I would not recommend it. 


NA: Besides keeping pets indoors, what other precautions can pet parents take to avoid infestations?


Dr. Luther: The most important factor in preventing fleas from taking over your home is your pet’s overall health and immune system. A healthy pet will naturally repel parasites, and fleas will seek weaker, unhealthy animals. Always feed a natural diet and don’t over vaccinate and avoid using drugs or chemicals on your pet, unless absolutely necessary. Also, avoid chemical cleaners in your home and never use pesticides or herbicides in your yard. Use natural preventive measures in your house and yard, as well as for your pet as discussed later. Giving Sentinel, containing Lufenuron, once a month to prevent hatching of the eggs and larvae is reasonably safe and effective as well. 


NA: Along those same lines, can indoor-only pets also contract fleas? 


Dr. Luther: Yes they can. I have seen a number of indoor-only cats with a flea problem.     If they go on a lanai, the fleas can hop in, or they can hitch a ride in on their caregivers clothing.


NA: What is the best way to remove a tick?     


Dr. Luther: Apply a drop or two of the essential oil Palo Santo directly onto the tick or spray a small amount of alcohol on the tick. This will make it dizzy, and it should loosen its hold on your pet. Once the tick has loosened its grip, you need to remove it carefully and gently from your pet using a pair of tweezers. Grasp the tick at the area where it is attached and pull the tick out steadily without twisting or jerking. Do not use force or pressure that will cause the tick to rupture or separate it from its head. At times, a part of the tick may remain embedded in the pet’s skin. Do not try to extract it. The remaining embedded part will eventually disappear.


NA: Are there natural remedies you would recommend/suggest in lieu of commercial pesticides?     


Dr. Luther: Unfortunately, I have not found any natural products that can completely eradicate a flea infestation in Florida. However, there are natural products that can help prevent your pets from experiencing an infestation, and it is best to use these products on a regular basis. There are homemade shampoos and sprays which you can make yourself using essential oils. However, if you’d like to push the easy button, you can order Wondercide. These are cedar oil products for use on your yard, as well as your dog, cat and home. Wondercide is formulated with organic, food-grade ingredients to be safe, effective and easy-to-use. It kills the full flea and tick lifecycle on contact. You can also spray your buddy with this solution to repel pests any time he’s going into an area that is flea-, tick- or mosquito-infested. If your pet has fleas, a soapy bath with any natural shampoo or dish soap will kill them on contact. For dogs, you can also place several drops of lavender and PaloS essential oils into a chemical free shampoo to prevent and kill fleas (as well as ticks). In general, I don’t recommend using essential oils for cats because a cats’ liver processes essential oils differently than a human or dog liver. Thus, it is wise to avoid their use or use extremely dilute mixtures with cats, avoiding Melaleuca and the citrus essential oils altogether. I also recommend using a flea comb soaked in soapy water several times per day after the initial bath until your friend is flea-free.

Don’t forget that it’s not enough just to rid your pet of fleas. Fleas don’t spend all their time on your pet but will hop on when they need a meal. The eggs can be shed anywhere your pet spends time – including your bed. If you have experienced a flea problem, your house and yard must also be treated to prevent re-infestation.     


NA: Are there side effects to commercial products?     


Dr. Luther: Absolutely. Until recently, the worst side effects that I have seen, including death, were from over the counter products such as Hartz. However, Trifexis now appears to be the most dangerous product on the market at this time. Its use has resulted in a myriad of problems including death. None of the commercially available products have zero risk. Comfortis causes nausea and vomiting, depression and lethargy, anorexia, ataxia, diarrhea, itching, trembling, hypersalivation and seizures. Nexgard can cause vomiting, diarrhea and anorexia, though rare. Advantage can cause numerous problems, including seizures and death. Frontline has fewer side effects than Advantage but is still toxic. Revolution may cause anorexia, vomiting, severe allergic reactions, tremors and seizures in dogs. Just because a compound is applied to or worn on your pet’s fur doesn’t mean it’s safe. Remember: what goes on your pet goes in your pet by absorption through the skin or ingestion during grooming. Aside from the natural products listed above, I believe the safest flea prevention is Lufenuron, found in the heartworm preventative, Sentinel. I have rarely seen any problems with this product, and it has been around for a long time. While it is a very useful flea preventative, it is not very effective for eradicating an already present flea infestation. 


NA: How about grooming? Is this a part of keeping pets flea- and tick-free?     


Dr. Luther: Absolutely. While shampooing will remove most fleas, it does not repel them for any length of time. Flea combing regularly is a very good way to remove fleas and to spot a flea problem before it turns into an infestation.


NA: If your pet contracts fleas, are there other serious implications for his or her health?     


Dr. Luther: Absolutely. Animals that are allergic to fleas may develop severe skin disease such as hot spots in the dog and miliary dermatitis in the cat. This can be very uncomfortable for the pet and may lead to secondary bacterial infections due to rubbing, licking and scratching. If the infestation is severe enough, pets can become anemic and may die due to chronic blood loss from the fleas feeding on your pet’s blood. This may sound unlikely, but I have seen it more than once.

NA: If a dog or cat has a flea infestation, what do you recommend for treatment? 


Dr. Luther: Obviously, you must treat the environment as discussed previously. Bathe your pet if there are live fleas present. You will probably have to use some commercial flea products initially to eradicate the problem. 

I do not find Frontline to be even marginally effective for eradicating a flea infestation. I do not find Advantage to work very well either, and I have seen a myriad of health problems from Advantage and Advantix. Revolution seems to prevent a flea problem but will not work to eradicate an existing problem. Because Revolution can cause seizures and other problems in the dog, I don’t recommend it. I am currently recommending Nexgard for treating dogs with a flea problem. It has fewer side effects than Comfortis and seems to be the only product which effectively and safely kills fleas and ticks. Of course, the best thing to do is prevent the problem through natural and safe methods. Once you have an infestation, you may have little choice but to use one of these commercial products to alleviate your pet’s discomfort. 


Anne Luther, DVM, MS, BA, CVA, is the owner of Sarasota Animal Medical Center, located at 3646 Birky Street in Sarasota. In addition to office appointments, Sarasota Animal Medical Center also offers veterinary house call services. To schedule an appointment, call 941-954-4771. For more information, visit

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