As a nation of animal lovers, we are pretty much obsessed with the idea of flea and worm prevention, with most human owners turning to chemical treatments that are freely available at the vets. But how did animals manage before the invention of chemical insecticides? Why do some animals never have problems with parasites but others seem to be plagued, and lastly what effect are chemical insecticides having on our pets and what are the alternatives?
Firstly, we need to consider what a parasite is and how it survives on their hosts. Hosts don’t just include our companion animals, they also include us! Parasites live on every living being in the world in some form or other.
Parasites, including fleas and worms, are opportunists. The problem isn’t so much that they are there, because a dog or cat in tip top condition can deal with their presence, but why they are there. Parasites are only a problem when the animal is unable to effectively deal with their presence, allowing them to multiply, eat and create toxic waste faster than the body can cope with it. When they are present in high numbers, the immune system can ‘dysfunction’ and over-react to their presence, resulting in an allergic reaction to the parasites themselves.
The best defence is a healthy dog or cat!
The best defence against these parasitic invaders, is to keep your pet well-nourished, on a natural diet, with as little preservatives and fillers as possible and give them plenty of exercise to keep their immune systems fighting fit. By doing this, you are creating an inhospitable environment for the opportunist parasites.
It’s also important to identify areas that are causing stress to the body system, for example a food intolerance or environmental sensitivity that hasn’t been identified or addressed properly, or the long-term use of some medications can cause a depressed immune system. In these situations, the immune system is already compromised and defences low before parasites have even entered the body, giving them pretty much a free reign to infect their host.
It’s doubly important in these situations to ensure the digestion is functioning optimally. Roughly 80% of the immune system is in your gastrointestinal tract and healthy gut bacteria are essential for immune cell development. Supplementing prebiotics (these feed the friendly bacteria) and probiotics (these are the friendly bacteria) can help to boost immunity, as well as digestion. Adding BB Herbal’s Prebiotic & Probiotic supplement, which also has the added benefit of herbs that help to promote good digestion, will help to keep your pet’s defences strong.
The use of chemical flea and worm preparations
Over recent years there has been an upsurge in the trend to treat companion animals regularly, usually monthly, with chemical spot-on or oral tablets for fleas and worms, whether the animal has any signs or symptoms of infestation or not. We have been assured for many years that these treatments are safe and also effective for our pets but are they?
In 2010, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the results of a year- long study following a disturbing rise in the number of reported adverse reactions in pets. They found a huge range of adverse reactions, including:· Skin reactions – redness, itching, hair loss, sores and skin ulcers· Gastrointestinal symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea and salivation· Nervous system side-effects, including lethargy, nervousness, problems with movement, tremors and even seizures.
They also found that dosage recommendations were too wide, and that even the inert (non-active) ingredients in the preparations had evidence of toxicity. Add this to the emerging evidence that fleas and worms are starting to develop resistance to these chemical treatments, primarily through their overuse when animals often do not even have an infection; and that these chemical treatments are not 100% selective in what they kill, and therefore healthy microbes, such as those in the gut, are being wiped out, we have to start to question the long-term effects on the health of our companion animals.
Herbal Preventatives for Internal Parasites.
So having explained that a healthy animal should in theory be able to defend itself from the over-population of fleas and parasites, do we still need to supplement a herbal, natural preventative? Well, the simple answer is yes. Life for our companion animals has changed immensely, mostly for the better, however they are now subjected to diets that contain unhealthy fillers and preservatives, to meat full of hormones and antibiotics, regular vaccinations, chemicals and heavy metals in their drinking water and the regular use of antibiotics and steroids. Whilst some of these can be lifesaving, such as antibiotics for a severe infection, they can also have a negative effect on long-term health if used regularly.
So what are internal parasites? Dogs and cats are susceptible to a range of them, including:·
Roundworms – puppies and kittens can get these from their mother. They look similar to white spaghetti, and there are usually no symptoms of their presence. However, in a heavy infestation you might spot them in faeces or in vomit. Your pet might also display a bloated belly and poor weight gain.·
Tapeworms – these often go hand in hand with fleas. Fleas carry the tapeworm eggs and are swallowed by the animal when they are grooming. They grow in the small intestine and use their heads to attach themselves to the intestine walls, growing eggs, which break off and pass in the stool. You will often see them stuck to the hair surrounding the anus – they resemble pieces of white rice. Chemical wormers don’t always actually kill them, they sometimes just cause them to lose the segments containing the eggs and the head is left behind to regrow.·
Whipworms – these are more common in dogs than cats and can lie dormant for long periods. Again, symptoms are not always obvious, but they can cause persistent, watery diarrhoea.·
Hookworms – these are less common than the other parasites but they can cause more damage because instead of sharing the food in the animal’s intestine to survive, they are actually bloodsuckers. Symptoms in a severe infestation include black and tarlike stools, usually very smelly. They may have pale gums as well.
Please note that the symptoms discussed above can also be attributable to other health conditions, so if you have any concerns, you should always get a veterinary diagnosis.
We’ve already discussed the potential dangers associated with chemicals treatments but there are natural alternatives to help prevent infestation.
Oddly, we use the word ‘alternative’ to describe the use of herbs, when in fact herbs have been in use for centuries and the true alternative is the invention of the chemical insecticides.
Herbs work best in synergy, in other words using herbs with different actions to create a product with a multitude of actions against the parasitic invaders. Certain herbs act as anthelmintics, which basically means that they can attack and expel parasites from the body. A good herbal product will also contain additional herbs that act to loosen the bowels and remove dead parasites and their eggs. In addition, there will be herbs that act as a demulcent to protect the delicate membranes of the digestive tract and help to sooth inflammation.
Using a regular herbal product, such as BB Herbal Intestinal Hygiene, help to create a hostile environmental for the parasites, helping to prevent them setting up camp in the body long-term. This product is changed every three months to help prevent any resistance to the herbs building up.
Herbal Preventives for Flea Infestations
Fleas are obviously different in that they are ectoparasites, or external parasites. They are also ‘nest parasites, which means you will find them in greater numbers where your dog or cat sleeps. So it’s important to regularly vacuum these areas and wash bedding and soft toys. Spraying these areas with a natural insect repellent, such as BB Herbal Insect Repellent, will help to repel them from these areas and prevent nesting. Regularly grooming with a flea comb can be very effective too.
Most people think of the Summer months as ‘Flea Season’ but in reality, there isn’t a true season thanks to central heating keeping our homes lovely and toasty – the perfect environment for fleas to set up home. So it’s important to keep on top of any potential infestation all year round.
Using natural flea repellents on your pet on a regular basis is also a useful strategy, and there are a couple of ways in which you can do this. You can add an internal BB Herbal flea mix to their food, where the combination of herbs used help to discourage fleas hitchhikers.
Alternatively, you can use BB Herbal-spot on treatments. These are used in the same way as the chemical spot-on alternatives but instead of chemicals, a combination of essential oils is used to repel fleas and ticks.
Shampooing with an herbal based Flea Shampoo, will also help to maintain a hostile environment for the fleas.
Lastly, remember that on top of potential skin irritation and discomfort that fleas can cause to your pets, they also carry tapeworm eggs, further adding to your pets problems!