Our PACK pawrents are a community of animal lovers: obviously we care deeply for our dogs but we also extend that compassion to farmed animals by choosing to feed plant-based pet food over meat. Many of us also reject insect-based dog food because we worry that crickets, mealworm and flies might be sentient and it’s therefore unethical to eat them. But what about those insects and other so-called ‘pests’ who come into our homes uninvited and cause our dogs suffering? Yep, we’re talking about fleas, ticks and worms: parasitic animals that can make our four-legged pals very sick indeed.
If fleas are left untreated, your pup could suffer hair loss, dry skin and lesions, which can get infected and lead to more severe diseases. Once latched onto your dog, ticks can infect him or her with Lyme disease, which can cause fever, rash and even facial paralysis or arthritis. As for worms, these can cause damage to the gut lining and eat the food that your dog should be digesting. If your dog catches lungworm, which live in the heart and lungs, the consequences can be deadly. With all this in mind, destroying parasites and invertebrate ‘pests’ seems justifiable when it’s necessary to protect our dogs.
Problem is, there’s not just one way to treat or protect our pups so how are we supposed to know which is best? After all, there are numerous issues to consider when choosing a flea, tick or worming prevention (or treatment) plan for our canine pals, from the impact on ecosystems, to the efficacy and cost of the treatment, to potential health risks to our dogs themselves. We also need to think carefully about whether our dog genuinely requires a certain treatment, rather than simply throwing all the medication at them! Does your London-based hound really need all-year-round tick repellent, for instance?
Environmental Impacts Of Chemical Treatments
Just as many of us choose organic food to avoid pesticide or insecticide use, we might also worry about the environmental problems associated with some canine flea, tick or worming treatments. This is a major issue where dogs are regularly (often monthly) treated with chemicals like fipronil and imidacloprid, applied ‘topically’, i.e., to the outside of your dog’s skin, to treat fleas and lice. In 2020, there were 66 licensed veterinary products containing fipronil and 21 containing imidacloprid in the UK. Imidacloprid is a key ingredient in Advocate and Advantage, for instance, while the main ingredient in Frontline is permethrin, a substance banned from use in agriculture in the UK due to its toxic impacts. These topical treatments easily rub off into environment and imidacloprid has been found in several English rivers, where it’s highly toxic to insects at low doses. In fact, one flea treatment of a medium-sized dog with imidacloprid contains enough pesticide to kill 60 million bees! The destruction of insects in turn impacts fish and bird species that feed on them, disrupting the ecosystem.
We can minimise these risks by preventing our dog from swimming outside for a week after the treatment is applied, but there are other ways the chemicals can get into the environment too. Our dog might rub the treatment onto bedding, which is then washed and the chemical leaked into water systems, or they might shed contaminated hairs outside.
Even treatments given in tablet form like Bravecto (whose key ingredient is the toxic insecticide fluralaner) may still risk contaminating the environment when medications are excreted in poop or pee. Although there is currently far less research done on environmental impacts of tablet-based medications, picking up and disposing of your dog’s poo responsibly is an obvious way to mitigate these risks.
For those worried about environmental impacts, the best thing to do is to forgo topical treatments, and to reduce the frequency of treatment as much as possible. Choose a medication that needs administering every three months instead of monthly and consider ditching treatment for ticks and fleas altogether during lower risk winter months. Do some local research into which parasites are commonly found where you live and whether they really harm your dog. For instance, if you live near farms or moorland, it’s likely that your dog will be at high risk of tick infection - but city-dwelling hounds probably won’t need to worry about those little bloodsuckers!
Your Dog’s Comfort And Convenience
A final option for keeping ticks and fleas away is a wearable collar, available without prescription. Note that most collars still use chemicals like imidacloprid, much like a topical treatment, killing fleas and ticks before they get the chance to bite. The advantage of a flea collar is that it releases its active ingredients at a slow and steady rate and collars like Seresto can kill fleas and ticks for up to 8 months. That means that if you don’t want the hassle of being on a monthly schedule or your dog hates taking medication, a collar can be a great option. Or perhaps you’re only going to be in a tick-heavy area for a month or so and would rather your dog simply wear a collar during that period than dose them up with a topical treatment.
However, wearing a physical object, often on top of a harness or regular collar, can be cumbersome and irritating i.e., not the most comfortable experience for your hound. Collars also tend to be more expensive and they can get lost. What’s more, bathing and swimming can reduce the duration of a collar’s effectiveness – and spread the pesticide into the environment.
Health Risks Associated With Certain Drugs
While tablet-based medications like Bravecto are more convenient (offering longer lasting effects and often more effective protection) and less environmentally damaging, there has been some controversy over the potential side effects in our dogs. A few years ago, reports of damage to dogs’ kidneys and livers were linked to use of fluralaner, the active ingredient in Bravecto which enters and remains in your dog’s bloodstream, killing any fleas or ticks who take a bite out of your pup. Other potential side effects of Bravecto and related medications include nausea, vomiting, decreased appetite, diarrhoea, dehydration and skin allergies and, much rarer, muscle tremors and seizures. However, all these side effects are extremely uncommon and several professional medical studies have since supported Bravecto’s safety; the veterinary consensus is now that Bravecto is safe for dogs to prevent and treat fleas and ticks. Similar scares around Seresto flea and tick collars causing seizures or skin rashes in dogs have also been dismissed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US.
When we compare the risks of side effects with the dangers of exposing your dog to Lyme Disease via tick bites, a medication like Bravecto, which is nearly 100% effective, seems a sensible choice for those living in tick-prone areas (near farms or moorland, for instance).
Naturally, these treatments don’t come cheap, especially when bought via prescription from your vet. A full dosage of flea, worming and tick treatment every three months can cost up to £100 a pop, more if you have a large dog. Topical treatments are cheaper, but you need to buy them more frequently, so the cost still adds up. Unfortunately, pet insurance rarely (if ever!) covers routine preventative care such as worming, tick and flea treatments. If you’re worried about the cost, talk with your veterinary practice about any discounted ‘wellness’ treatment plans or policies they might offer. And once again, make sure you’re only paying for treatment that your pup actually needs.
Effectiveness Of Natural Treatments
Some pawrents might prefer to avoid chemical treatments altogether and fight parasites with natural remedies. Foods and herbs like pumpkin seeds, pomegranate and black cumin seed are said to be both safe and effective natural dewormers for dogs, and a diluted vinegar solution or mixture of essential oils (check which are safe for your dog!) can be used to kill fleas and ticks on contact. Keep fleas out of your home by keeping carpets and rugs clean and vacuuming regularly: you can even sprinkle salt or baking soda onto home furnishings the night before vacuuming in order to dehydrate any hiding fleas and their eggs.
All this said, the evidence base for the efficacy of natural remedies is often lacking. If you suspect your dog has a serious infestation or might be suffering from something potentially fatal like lungworm, we strongly advise that you take him or her to the vet and medicate according to their advice.
One thing that will undoubtedly help protect your dog against harmful impacts of parasites is a strong immune system! Feeding them a diet that builds natural immunity will help them produce antibodies to attack and destroy worms and fleas on their own. THE PACK’s No-Fishy Dishy emphasises immunity, delivering plant-powered ingredients like pea protein, lupin beans, antioxidant blueberries, butternut squash and red pepper, the latter delivering a hefty dose of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that boosts immune system response to microbes. No-Fishy Dishy also contains nori, packed with minerals such as zinc, fantastic for building immunity.
One thing to remember is that commonly used medications tend to be ‘broad spectrum’: they treat multiple parasites at once. Advocate, for instance, treats fleas and their larvae, roundworms, hookworm, heartworm, ear mites, lungworm, whipworm, biting lice, sarcoptes and demodex! This sounds great in theory but it means that if you’re using more than one parasite treatment you might be unknowingly doubling up and overtreating your dog. We advise speaking to your vet and asking them which treatments they recommend as necessary, rather than using over-the-counter products without their guidance.
Finally, make sure you’re giving the right dose based on the weight of your pup. You need it to be enough to make the treatment effective but not so much that it becomes harmful for your pet and increases risk of environmental contamination. Again, it’s best to have your vet prescribe all treatments at the correct amount for your individual dog. In this case, one size really doesn’t fit all!
Join THE PACK
If you want to discover more about raising a happy, healthy plant-based dog, download our FREE eBook where you can find a 30% off code to use on your next order!
Or get 30% off your 1st subscription with code PACKSUB30.
Winner, winner, No-Cluck dinner!