Avoiding Chemical Warfare against Fleas and Ticks

By Dr. Alex Barrientos, DVM

It is safe to say that every dog and cat owner in the Hudson Valley will come into contact with tick and fleas at some point. They usually cope by using veterinary recommended products like insecticides that are applied each month - Frontline, Advantix or other brands of the sort. These products are lipophilic, which means they like fat; they go through the skin and sit in fat and oil glands. Each individual shaft of hair has an oil gland, and lipophilic products work by remaining in each gland and spreading the pesticide along with the oil which is produced by each gland on a daily basis. This creates a toxic environment for whichever insect decides to walk through the pet’s coat.

As pest control goes, it’s an easy and effective method. But this convenient biowarfare has some unintended casualties. Every time we touch our pets’ coat, for example, we touch this pesticide – which in return penetrates our skin and goes into our fat. So far, safety testing has evidenced that even when given in large quantities, these products will not kill you or your pet immediately. But no one knows the long-term effects they will have on our children and grandchildren. We should remember the footprint left in the past by other fat-loving pesticides like DDT and Agent Orange.

Natural repellents and insect killers that are more biodegradable do exist. There are lawn treatments done with pyrethrins (derived from the chrysanthemum flower) as well as an increasing number of sprays and shampoos containing cedar, geranium, citronella, garlic, eucalyptus and derivatives of other well-known plants and trees. These natural ingredients may be used in addition to or instead of the above mentioned heavy pesticides.

In my veterinary practice, I have noticed that there is a growing concern about the safety of synthetic chemicals. I have also found that escaping Lyme disease, a serious condition carried by ticks, involves more than just applying one of these products. With this in mind, I generally recommend a combination of these products. With an emphasis on more natural treatments and fewer synthetic pesticides. I’ve found that this strategy works very well for my clientele.

As a veterinarian, I have used and recommended natural and synthetic products depending on the season and on the severity of the insect problem.

As a parent of two small children, however, I have also wondered what they and future generations will think about our current practice of using heavy pesticides to control fleas and ticks in our pets. These upcoming generations are destined to be more environmentally aware than we are, with a far greater understanding of the long-term legacy of the chemicals we leave behind.


Whenever I see children hugging their pets, not only do I marvel at the uniqueness and beauty of the human-animal bond, as I have done for decades, but I also now wonder about the chemicals our children’s skin is absorbing, and storing, for us to answer to in the future.

Please call Earth Angels Veterinary Hospital at 845.227.7297 for information on available natural/organic tick & flee prevention products.