GSD Health: Flea and Tick Prevention

Here in New England, we rejoice when winter loosens its grip and spring finally arrives. But along with the warmth of the season come pests that make both our lives and our pets’ lives miserable: fleas and ticks. Fleas can be both a nuisance and a health hazard to you and your pets. Not only are their bites itchy and painful, but many animals have flea allergies causing severe itching, chewing and biting of their tail, hips, and legs, oozing lesions from the chewing, and hot spots. Along with fleas, here in New England we also have the highest number of some tick diseases in the US.

Where tick-borne diseases are foundSherman scratching

Tick diseases such as Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis and babesiosis cause pets and people untold suffering. They may cause stiff, painful joints, lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea, kidney failure, depression, and neurological signs (infrequently) resulting in seizures and neck pain, weight loss and even death.

Thousands of dogs contract Lyme disease, canine Ehrlichiosis, canine Anaplasmosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever every year, and despite simple testing, prevention and treatment options, many dog owners never realize their pets are suffering from these debilitating diseases. has a list of tick diseases and their symptoms. It also shows maps that highlight the number of reported positive cases in dogs across all regions of the United States. Take a look at your state.

To combat these pests in the past, we’ve reached for spot-on treatments like the ones sold in tubes or vials. But in light of the new EPA news release, included in part below, we’ll be using those products with caution and researching alternatives.

EPA Increases Scrutiny of Flea and Tick Pet Products

(Washington, DC – April 16, 2009) “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is intensifying its evaluation of spot-on pesticide products for flea and tick control for pets due to recent increases in the number of reported incidents. Adverse reactions reported range from mild effects such as skin irritation to more serious effects such as seizures and, in some cases, the death of pets.

Flea and tick products can be appropriate treatments for protecting your pets and your family’s health because fleas and ticks can transmit disease. While many people use the products with no harm to their pets, EPA recommends that pet owners take precautions when using these products. People should carefully follow label directions and monitor their pets for any signs of an adverse reaction after application, particularly when using these products for the first time. Pet owners may also want to consult a veterinarian about the responsible and effective use of flea and tick products.

Incidents with flea and tick products can involve the use of spot-on treatments, sprays, collars and shampoos. However, the majority of the incidents reported to EPA are related to flea and tick treatments with EPA-registered spot-on products. Spot-on products are generally sold in tubes or vials and are applied to one or more localized areas on the body of the pet, such as in between the shoulders or in a stripe along the back. This advisory pertains only to EPA-registered spot-on flea and tick products; these products have an EPA registration number on the label.” 

dog scratchingHow can we protect our animals?

Fleas can be kept off your dog by using these products every 3 months as directed so you are not dosing your dog as often. There are also alternative means to keep your home free from infestations. Comb your pet regularly with a flea comb, vacuum frequently and dispose of the bags immediately after use, mow areas of the lawn where your dog spends time, wash pet bedding weekly, and wash your pet with a pesticide-free pet shampoo.

Marie Thomas, Freelance science & health writer, tells us that “for concerned owners, there is a natural product made by Cedarcide, Inc, that contains primarily oil of Texas cedar trees. This company advertises their product as a safe alternative to chemical spot-on flea killers for pets. It is safe to use inside the house and out, to stop fleas, ticks, lice, and even bed bug infestations using cedar oil sprays, cedar powders, and cedar granules. There is more information on their web site” (Note: not recommended for direct application on your pet. Pure Texas cedar oil may be hazardous to cats. Use another Cedar oil if you have cats in the home).

Ticked Off tick remover

Ticked Off! Tick Remover

For ticks, check your animals daily and invest in a manual tick remover, such as Ticked Off! Tick Remover, that safely and easily remove ticks without chemicals! These can be found online, in pet stores and in many grocery stores. Ticks don’t drown, so once you remove them from your pet, either take them outside and use a rock to kill them or keep a small jar of alcohol and drop the ticks in there.

The EPA is not advising pet owners to stop using spot-ons, but is asking them to exercise caution and make informed decisions when selecting treatment methods. Though approximately 70 products are included in the warning, most of the adverse reactions have been from the 7 most popular products: Frontline, Advantage, K-9 Advantix, Promeris, Revolution, and Biospot. They have taken these brand names off their website while they research other products to insure they have
a complete list.

While many people use the products with no harmful effects to their pets, EPA recommends that pet owners take precautions when using these products.

In the meantime, here are some of their safety tips:

·         Carefully read and follow the product label.

·         Use flea and tick control products only on the animal specified─for example, dog products for dogs only.

·         Only apply the amount indicated for the size of the animal being treated.

·         Pay attention to the age restrictions. Use caution with aged dogs.

·         Do not apply to kittens or puppies unless the product label specifically allows this treatment.

·          Monitor your pet for side effects.

·         If your pet has an adverse reaction call your vet immediately. Bathe your pet with mild soap and rinse with large   amounts of water.

·         Keep the package with the product container (such as individual applicator tubes). Also keep the package after treatment in case adverse effects occur so you have the instructions at hand, as well as contact information for the manufacturer.

For the full release, check out their website at:

More information on pet products and safety tips, including the EPA’s Q&A database:

Lyme disease


Without treatment, Lyme disease causes problems in many parts of the dog’s body, including the heart, kidneys, and joints.  On rare occasions, it can lead to neurological disorders. Lyme disease most commonly is associated with symptoms such as a high fever, swollen lymph nodes, lameness, and a loss of appetite.

Dogs get Lyme disease from a tick that passes the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria into the animal’s bloodstream when it bites.  The tick must remain attached to the animal’s skin for at least one day before the bacteria can be transmitted. 

The ticks, called deer ticks, generally are found in specific regions of the United States: the northeastern states, the upper Mississippi region, California, and certain areas in the South. Like dogs, people can suffer from Lyme disease—they, too, catch it from ticks carrying the infection. Infected dogs do not transmit the disease to humans. For both canines and humans, the illness is treated by antibiotic medication.


The veterinarian may be able to determine if a dog has Lyme disease after performing a blood test that will show exposure to the bacteria that causes it. In previously vaccinated dogs, a special type of blood test must be performed to differentiate between the vaccine and actual exposure to the organism. Unfortunately, these tests do not provide a simple yes or no answer. The veterinarian must evaluate the results along with the dog’s symptoms, and take into account whether the dog has been in an area of the United States where Lyme disease is endemic, such as the northeastern states, the upper Mississippi region, California, and certain southern states. A positive response to treatment is also important in making a final diagnosis.


Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, which is passed to dogs through a bite from the deer tick.  The tick must remain attached to the dog’s skin for one to two days before the bacteria can be transmitted.

Lyme disease can be a multi-systemic illness, with signs that may include fever, swollen lymph nodes, lameness, loss of appetite, heart disease, inflamed joints, and kidney disease.  Disorders of the nervous system, while uncommon, may occur as well. 

A vaccine is available to prevent dogs from developing Lyme disease, although some controversy exists regarding its use.  An owner should consult with a veterinarian for vaccine recommendations which may vary depending on whether you live in parts of the country with high rates of infection.

Transmission or Cause

Lyme disease is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, which is passed to dogs and people by deer ticks carrying the infection; the ticks get the infection from the white-footed mouse, which acts as a carrier. The only way a tick can transmit the bacteria is to remain attached to the animal’s skin for one to two days. Unfortunately, these ticks are very small and easily can go unnoticed.


Treatment involves the use of an appropriate antibiotic, such as doxycycline, for at least three to four weeks.


Dogs should begin to show signs of recovery two to three days after beginning treatment. However, the disease may recur within a few weeks or months; in these cases, the dog will need to return to antibiotic therapy for extended periods.


There is a vaccine for the prevention of Lyme disease. Quick removal of a tick also will help prevent Lyme disease because the tick must remain attached to the dog’s body for one to two days before the disease can be transmitted. Consult with a veterinarian about the different tick prevention products that are available, as they can be an effective way to prevent the disease.

Article republished here with permission from
Copyright(c) 2000 by


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