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Fleas and Ticks Buzz Off … Naturally

Pesticide-free flea and tick control products use the power of plants to prevent infestations.


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Dog and cat owners are looking for an alternative to conventional flea and tick control products, and they’re finding one in natural repellents made from plants.

“Customers don’t want to have to put chemicals on or in their pets, so they’re looking for something different,” said Laura Whitman, owner of Pet Headquarters in Palmyra, Pa.

 

Identifiable Ingredients

The American Pet Products Association’s 2015-2016 National Pet Owners Survey said that the use of all-natural, chemical-free flea and tick products has been on a steady uptick since its 2010 survey. “The use of all-natural, chemical-free flea and tick products is creating its own niche, with 8 percent of dog owners and 9 percent of cat owners purchasing this kind of product,” reports the survey.

Why the shift? Consumers want safe, effective pest control, said Vincent Hourihan, vice president of Muntech Products Inc. in Campbellford, Ontario, Canada, and so retailers are stocking their shelves with products made from easily identifiable ingredients.

“More retailers are adding the natural solutions because the consumer is familiar with natural from the dog foods and treats on the market,” he said.

Kevin Metz, senior brand manager for the Vet’s Best brand, manufactured by RPG Innovations in Dallas, agreed.

“Many consumers are drawn to natural flea and tick products because they contain ingredients that are simple, easy to pronounce and familiar,” he said.

Natural flea and tick control has become mainstream, and pet owners are demanding safe products that work for their pets, their homes and their yards, said Stephanie Boone, CEO of Austin, Texas-based Wondercide Natural Products.

“Essential oils are also very popular right now, and both our customers and retailers love our variety of aroma-therapeutic flea and tick sprays,” she said.

Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face in Redlands, Calif., sells these types of products. Many of the all-natural flea and tick control items she stocks, which include shampoos, sprays, soaps, yard sprays and powders, contain food-grade diatomaceous earth and essential oils—and she even makes a house blend duster product infused with bug-chasing essences, she said.

“It can be sprinkled through a pet’s coat and used in beds and carpeting,” she said. “That makes it popular with our customers.” 

“Many plants have developed a natural defense against destructive insects,” said Kevin Metz, senior brand manager for the Vet’s Best brand, manufactured by RPG Innovations in Dallas. “Natural flea and tick products employ oils and extracts from such plants, drawing from a list of ingredients that are generally regarded as safe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Depending on the specific ingredients used, natural flea and tick products are exempt from EPA registration, which is required for ‘traditional’ flea and tick products.”

Plant Power

The latest wave of natural flea and tick preventives replaces the pesticides with plant extracts that repel biters, bloodsuckers and stingers. 

“Many plants have developed a natural defense against destructive insects,” Metz said. “Natural flea and tick products employ oils and extracts from such plants, drawing from a list of ingredients that are generally regarded as safe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Depending on the specific ingredients used, natural flea and tick products are exempt from EPA registration, which is required for ‘traditional’ flea and tick products.”

Applied externally according to the label’s directions, these essential oils “kill pests and create a barrier around the pet to keep them away,” Boone said. 

The plant parts used by manufacturers include seed oils, flowers, leaves and essentials oils, said Cindy Wenger, owner of Peaceable Kingdom Essentials in Hershey, Pa. Some of the plants used in natural flea and tick preventives include:

Neem Leaf, Seed Oil: The neem tree’s leaves and seed extracts are used for their antibacterial and antiviral properties, Wenger said.

“It is an effective insect repellant, and its astringent properties make it an excellent treatment for skin conditions ranging from acne to eczema,” she said. “It is used to treat ringworm and other parasitic skin infections and promotes healing of wounds.”

Neem oil affects insects that chew or suck, said Vicki Rae Thorne, an aromatherapist, an herbalist and the owner of Earth Heart Inc. in Dundee, Ill.

“When neem is ingested, it disrupts the insect’s normal functions,” she said. “Some forget to eat, fly or lay eggs, or they might lay eggs that are sterile. Without food or larvae, the insects will die, and insect populations can diminish.”

Essential Oils: A range of essential oils—including peppermint, lavender, citronella, cedar, rosemary, lemon, eucalyptus, geranium and sweet orange—repel fleas and tick, Wenger said.

“Fortunately, the scented oils fleas dislike happen to have pleasant scents,” she said. “They chase fleas away without smelling noxious to people or animals.”

Flowers: Flowers such as feverfew and chrysanthemum contain pyrethrums, which have a paralytic effect on ectoparasites, while mullein extract helps soothe skin ailments when applied externally, Wenger said.

“It contains the compound rotenone and other insecticidal compounds, making it effective in the fight against fleas and mange,” she said. 

When discussing essential oil usage with customers, retailers should note that some can irritate pets’ skin, Thorne said.

“Products containing essential oils of cinnamon, clove, thyme and lemongrass can cause skin irritation, and those containing citrus essential oils can cause photosensitivity,” she said. “And, as with all essential oil products, you must use caution with cats.”  

 

Communicate, Educate and Inform

Educating customers about the proper use of these all-natural options is key, Furry Face’s Grow said.

“People have been marketed into thinking that it’s only chemicals that work and that anything natural won’t work at all,” she said. “That’s untrue. We explain how easy it is to control pest environments naturally. I also point them to our blog and business page, where we share information with customers.”

In addition to talking to customers about the benefits of natural flea and tick control products, retailers should post clear signage and offer promotional take-home materials, Metz of Vet’s Best said.

“Retailers we have seen that have the most success selling natural flea and tick products have them merchandised together in a ‘natural’ section adjacent to the traditional flea and tick control products,” he added. “This creates a brand-blocking effect that helps the category get noticed by shoppers, rather than having the natural SKUs blend in with traditional products. It also helps the shopper compare between natural brands to determine which product is the best fit for their needs.”

Wondercide’s Boone said retailers should merchandise the natural pest products as a complete system for pets, home and outdoor areas.

“Customers should be able to walk into their local pet supply store and find exactly what they need to protect their family from pests without using chemical pesticides,” she said.

Thorne agreed, noting that consumers want information that’s easy to understand.

“Point-of-sale material should be easy to read, with pictures or simple text showing how to use the product,” she said.

Add to that a well-trained staff that can answer questions, and pet owners will clamor for the natural alternatives, Boone said.

“It’s all about knowledge and training for the store staff,” she said. “We’ve seen this time and again with our retail partners: When we fully train the staff, there’s a significant and sustained sales uptick for that location. When a customer comes in with a flea problem, they need immediate solutions and guidance on long-term prevention. A properly trained staff can provide those answers.”

 

This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Pet Product News' special supplement, Natural Pet News.

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