Pest Control That Doesn't Require a Pricey Flea/Tick Collar
June 26, 2010 2:06 AM   Subscribe

Is there a routine for keeping my new dogs (and myself) free from ticks and fleas? Bonus points if there's no flea/tick collar or expensive treatment involved.

I live in California. The other day I emerged from our local woods feeling quite relaxed from a long walk, until I found about a dozen ticks combined on me and my two dogs. ARGH!!!

I really, really hate dealing with ticks. My dogs are both pretty hairy so it takes some time to be able to find the little suckers. Also, ew.

I'm hoping to find a way to take care of ticks (and fleas) without having to get an expensive treatment like Frontline. Anybody here have a routine with their dogs/selves/homes to keep everything pest-free? Spraying them with rubbing alcohol (I don't even know if this is safe?) Or simply inspecting the dogs after a walk, bathing X times a month, etc? Maybe just avoid the woods altogether for the summer and stick with the beach? I hear diatomaceous earth might work, but I also hear that it can be bad stuff for human lungs if it's in the air.

Your suggestions for keeping everybody and our humble home tick/flea free are appreciated. If I absolutely need to bite the bullet and get something like Frontline, I will. Thanks!
posted by The ____ of Justice to Pets & Animals (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Rubbing alcohol... not going to do anything for/to ticks.

Inspecting dogs... works, sorta, but takes large quantities of time to get right, and you have to remember to check them thoroughly every time.

Bathing... not going to do anything for/to ticks.

Diatomaceous earth... Works really well to get ticks out of your yard, but I get the feeling you're talking about walks that aren't on your property? Applying it directly to your dogs, well... I've never done it, but from what I understand the ticks have to come into direct contact with the DE, which means you'd have to thoroughly dust your dogs with the stuff. It also may take up to a couple of days to actually kill the ticks, so your dogs may need to be continuously dusty. I guess it could work.

Flea and tick collar... Works pretty well, depending on the collar. Won't stop all ticks, but stops a very large portion (went from several every day to one every few weeks). Expensive, but lasts for a while, as long as your dogs don't pull them off and lose them.

Flea and tick drops... Work pretty well, like the collars, but don't last as long.

Flea and tick sprays... Worthless for ticks (read the fine print on the label, says "spray tick directly", and at that point you may as well just pull the tick off).

Skipping the woods and going to the beach... If your beach is sand and rocks only, then this could maybe work. If there's any grass, though, you're going to have just as many problems. Ditto if you walk through tall grass anywhere on the way to the beach or anywhere around home.

Anyway, what I always come back to is using a collar (or sometimes drops) plus the occasional quick inspection (head, stomach, legs). My time turns out to be worth more than the cost of the collars.
posted by anaelith at 3:02 AM on June 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you can find it, I have had awesome luck with the BioSpot Flea & Tick Control drops. It's about 60% less than Frontline and works much better. Any ticks that actually make it on my dogs end up dying before they can attach and transmit disease.

A holistic approach is to feed your dogs garlic and it will supposedly naturally repel ticks. I haven't tried it, since I've never had any problems using the BioSpot drops.
posted by ganzhimself at 5:37 AM on June 26, 2010

The family dog always got some Brewer's yeast when I was a kid--usually about 4 of the pills every day or so. The dogs loved it, and it seemed to work, contrary to the findings of the research cited on the eHow page. So this is one anecdote against a study, but Brewer's yeast is also supposed to healthy for dogs in general.
posted by _cave at 5:52 AM on June 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

You didn't mention the breed of dog or whether there are also cats in your household, but please note that Bio Spot for dogs is highly toxic to cats. Adams Flea and Tick water-based spray is be safer and as inexpensive. The people I know who use it say it's very effective if applied (I forget which) every seven or ten days.

Diatomaceous earth is safe and effective to use in the yard, but I would not apply the dust to my dogs, since it is full of silicates which can have long term consequences if inhaled by animal or human.
posted by vers at 6:29 AM on June 26, 2010

Garlic is poisonous to dogs so really not a great idea. Frontline drops between the shoulders once a month have worked very well for our pup.
posted by merocet at 6:46 AM on June 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Diatomaceous earth is also bad for pet lungs. Same (well, similar) tissue inside, same consequence of sharp pointy things meeting delicate structures. It's great for a lot of things, but your pet shouldn't breathe it.

Flea collars can cause hair and skin irritation, and if you have cats, you cannot use them, because the level of pest repellent/pesticide is high enough to kill cats.

Rest of thoughtful post abandoned in faor of: DO NOT FEED YOUR PET GARLIC. DO NOT DO THIS. THIS IS A POTENTIALLY FATAL CHOICE. Garlic is a known cause of hemolytic anemia (heinz body anemia) in cats and dogs. Onions, too. the fact that many commerial foods/treats contain small amounts of garlic and/or onion powder doesn't mean feeding your dog raw garlic or those dried garlic wafers for 'pest control' is a safe decision. Many dogs handle the occasional bit of garlic in food or a few minced onion bits on the kitchen floor fine. The ones who do not, or who--after years of previous tolerance--suddenly develop sensitivity to the allium family have a really ugly disease process in the works.

Here is my giant tip when it comes to 'natural solutions' on pets. Most of these come from plants. Plants engage in plant warfare against being eaten. One excellent example is foxglove--it brought us digitalis, and I don't suggest them for a light snack. We all know this. The thing is that plants safe for us are often not safe for other families of animals. Humans are omnivores. Dogs are more omnivorous than humans, but are still carnivores. Our livers handle 'natural plant products' with amazing aplomb. Dog livers cannot do this. (Felines even less so.) By contrast, it's incredibly difficult to induce metabolic ketosis in dogs with a high-fat/protein diet...they've tried it for canine epilepsy, and the pups just don't shift the way a person would.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 7:09 AM on June 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Here's the other thing: the EPA warning about pesticides in domestic animals was not directed at prescription products. It was specifically directed at flea collars, tick sprays, flea dips, and the like. It also was directed at 'oh, I'll just use this product for 55lb dogs on my chihuahua...or my cat.' (See above for why this is not good.)

IANAV. My understanding drawn from years of chilling with the veterinary community--and a few home flea infestations thanks to a roommate who didn't think to treat her rescued pup before bringing him into the house and letting him roam--is that the cost of prescription products (such as Frontline,* Revolution, K9 Advantix, Sentinel) is made up in what it saves in flea bombs and time and eradication and disease.**

Since I live in a heartworm-endemic area, adding that preventive saves even more in comparison to HW-disease and treatment and animal suffering.* I bring up heartworm because California has rising incidence of heartworm, but it's still low overall, and that's something to discuss with your vet. I know we just got a notice about heartworm in California, but the notices I get through work are hardly enough for me to have a good understanding of all the medical issues involved, the actual local state of affairs and your pet's individual health. Hence, ask your vet.

*Resistance can be a problem with Frontline. Ask your vet about local incidence of resistant fleas.

**when it comes to ticks, you'll have to make sure your product is a tick preventive--K9 Advantix is--and even then, you'll still want to check for ticks after outdoor excursions. Ticks suck. Literally and figuratively. I have great respect for their parasitic tenacity. They're still gross and disease-ridden.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 7:41 AM on June 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

We use Advantix on our dogs, and it works great if you follow the directions. We augment it with a flea and tick collar during the warmer months when ticks are particularly bad.
posted by fremen at 7:42 AM on June 26, 2010

You can get Frontline, Advantix etc much cheaper if you shop around online; don't pay the price the pet store asks for it! I've also seen it for sale cheaper at Target etc.
posted by The otter lady at 7:46 AM on June 26, 2010

Dogs are more omnivorous than humans

ITYM that dogs are more omnivorous than cats?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:58 AM on June 26, 2010

Frontline is really the best thing (I have a somewhat lower opinion of Advantix, but it is still a zillion times better than crap like Bio-Spot). The Preventic collar works well against ticks, flea collars are a huge waste of money and can be harmful. Avoid crap like Bio-Spot like the plague, they are also a waste of money and can be very harmful. Frontline works and is safe for most dogs. The so-called "all natural" stuff doesn't really work, and things like diatomaceous earth and huge doses of garlic can be very harmful to your pet. Ticks especially can be a serious health hazard (and tick-borne illnesses can be very expensive to treat), if you are going to take your dogs into areas where ticks are prevalent, it is false economy to look for the cheapest option.
posted by biscotti at 8:06 AM on June 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

FWIW, don't use the stuff that Hartz makes. It's *effective*, in that it kills fleas and ticks, but it also sometimes kills pets (my cat did not die, but it was close). The active ingredient that you do not want to use is called phenothrin -- this is especially true if you have cats.
posted by jeather at 8:44 AM on June 26, 2010

Yes, ROU, that's what I meant. That's what I get for 'multi-tasking.'

Although I have a beagle, so that changes things up a bit.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 8:47 AM on June 26, 2010

I'm going to be reply-happy just now, even though I see the OP has already marked 'best answers,' because I think this is just good general advice: a rule of thumb for label reading is that if an OTC product targeted at pest control contains an ingredient that ends with the suffix -thrin or -methrin, that ingredient is almost certainly one of the pyrethroids and is deadly to cats. Most of the pyrethroids aren't awesome for humans, or dogs, and every single one of them is bad for water ecology. I am sure there are exceptions, and some chemist out there has named a quite benign substance with a '-thrin' just for giggles,* but if you're unsure, that's when you should call for veterinary advice.

*sometimes, when I'm flipping through Plumb's Veterinary Pharmacology late at night, I really do think that. No offense to synthetic chemists, pharmacologists, or toxicologists. I have every respect for your hard work and deeply appreciate it.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 9:21 AM on June 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

I used to give my dog Frontline until my vet suggested Advantix because the ticks in the area were starting to resist the Frontline formula. I don't know if that was bullshit, but I believed her, so maybe call the vet's office and find out if they have an opinion over one or the other.
posted by spec80 at 9:36 AM on June 26, 2010

We use two approaches with our VERY tic prone dog:

Revolution - covers fleas, tics, heartworm, mites, is water proof after 2 hours and works well, we prefer it to Frontline/etc because of the heartworm meds in it.
Preventic collars - just tics, we keep it off him unless we're doing a lot of outdoor hiking and it's tic season.

The best method though? A good investigation after a hike through the grass...
posted by iamabot at 9:53 AM on June 26, 2010

Vectra 3D is newer than Frontline and seems to work well (we have also been told about the Frontline "tick resistance" thing, but vets I've talked to recently from areas with big tick populations seem to feel that Frontline still works just fine). Vectra 3D does contain a cat-toxic ingredient and I did not like the volume of liquid or the oil slick it left on my dogs' coats for a few days - I used up my free samples (one of the benefits of working for a vet) and went back to Frontline.
posted by biscotti at 11:55 AM on June 26, 2010

Oh, and it's worth mentioning that Revolution is not generally used in the "traditional" high-risk heartworm areas (the southern US mainly), because the heartworm prevention in it is not considered reliable (when I lived in Texas, my vet specifically recommended against it for that reason). Given that heartworm is now a significant risk in all contiguous US states (NY has the same incidence as Texas now, since Katrina), I prefer to use something like Interceptor or Heartgard, which are proven to work. I would not risk using Revolution anymore, as convenient as it is.
posted by biscotti at 12:00 PM on June 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I second biscotti: I would not trust Revolution as the sole heartworm protection unless it were for indoor cats--who rarely contract heartworm in the first place, and often fight it off on their own. Heartworm is extremely wide-spread where I live currently, and it's definitely gotten worse over the years. And back where/when I grew up, it was simply off the radar for my childhood dog--a yearly test just to be absolutely safe, but that was pretty obsessive of us. Today, ten years after she passed away of old age...heartworm is that far north now, too.

You can get away with inadequate protection in the coldest months where I am, but I literally have a set of broken hearts at work that illustrate the risk of under-protection the rest of the time. (FTR, I have seen dogs with full-blown heartworm, who--from what I understood--probably contracted it in the OP's region, and not locally, as by the time an animal encounters me, 'life-threatening' conditions are no longer the issue at hand. I admit that my particular vantage point has made me the absolute opposite of cavalier w/r/t parasite prevention and management.)
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 4:02 PM on June 26, 2010

Frontline Plus works great on fleas. The fleas die within a day. Plus I just read an article that said you really only need to treat them once every 60 days not every 30 (I'm sure it depends on the area and infestation). So you'll save some money that way.

MAKE SURE YOU BUY THE CORRECT DOSAGE BASED ON WEIGHT. There's a greater chance for side effects if you give a smaller dog too high a dose.
posted by wherever, whatever at 6:35 PM on June 26, 2010

You should absolutely be giving your dog flea preventative every month. Also heartworm protection! I can't believe that your vet didn't insist on it!!!

There is a flea prevention pill called Comfortis that's in a chewable pill so you don't have to deal with the gross liquid rub-on stuff.

If you are extra worried about fleas, there is a heartworm pill that also protects flea eggs - it's called Sentinel. It comes in a chewable pill.

If you only buy a few at a time, they're really not that expensive - maybe $10 to $15 per pill? I think they're a little more expensive than the older pills (Revolution, Heartguard, etc) but not a ton, and it's what my vet recommends. Definitely worth it for your dog's health.

If your dog does get a really bad case of fleas, your vet can prescribe Capstar which basically kills them within 24 hours of taking the pill.
posted by radioamy at 1:21 AM on June 27, 2010

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