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Flea and Tick Free Pets, Naturally


Alternative flea and tick remedies abound in the marketplace.
By Kerri Chladnicek

Natural Pet Product MerchandiserIn the battle pitting humans and their pets against fleas and ticks, natural products are emerging as a powerful force in the marketplace.

Health experts, government officials, retailers and pet owners have been paying more attention in recent years to the chemicals used on animals. Attention has turned to conventional flea and tick treatments and preventive measures such as collars, spot-on treatments and flea dips.

At the same time, manufacturers have looked for alternatives, not only because of a vested interest in natural formulas but also because environmental regulations have made it more expensive in some cases to produce products containing pyrethrin and other traditional insecticides.

dog scratching fleas
The result is a marketplace with a lot more options, a few unclear labels and many environmental- and health-conscious customers interested in trying new things. This can create a healthy bottom line for the retailer who chooses wisely, markets prominently and trains staff members to answer any concerns pet owners may have.

“A lot of companies are getting away from conventional methods,” said Dave Campanella, sales and marketing director at Best Shot Pet of Lexington, Ky., which markets a product called All Natural Bug Spray as a repellent against fleas, ticks and flies.

Best Shot’s spray formula uses tea tree, cedarwood, peppermint, pine and other extracts. It’s safe not only for dogs, cats and horses, but for people, too, Campanella said.

“The companies that are going to do well are the ones that are devoted specifically to natural products,” Campanella said. “What’s nice is folks have always had concerns about putting pesticides on their pets. There’s a trade-off. Pyrethrin and conventional pesticides—those truly are the most effective, but there are a lot of concerns and issues about them.

“Going the all-natural route, you can use it more frequently,” he continued. “While pyrethrins are effective, they tend to dry out the skin and the coat, and they’re not always fabric-safe.”

Other manufacturers noted that natural pest-control remedies seem to be safer for animals that are sensitive to conventional formulas. Minerals Health and Nature Products of Tel Aviv, Israel, markets a number of natural repellent formulas under the brand name Mystic Sea. The company uses Dead Sea minerals and aromatic oils such as juniper, neem, rosemary and lavender.

After the release of the company’s flea prevention shampoo for dogs last year, veterinarians and pet owners asked for a product that was safe for cats and suitable for use in cold weather, when people typically don’t wash their dogs as much. The result was Mystic Sea Natural Flea Prevention Drops, said Dubi Spector, the company’s online marketing manager. 

Tick products for pets

Spector said the company focuses on repellents as opposed to a formula that kills pests after the fact.

“Natural products that are adjusted to the right pH and have a balanced formula will not create any allergies, long-term damages or disorders in the dog,” he said. “All the chemical treatments usually contain toxins as active ingredients, either by ampoules that enter the bloodstream of the dog or by toxins that lay on the dog’s coat.

“The parasites need to suck blood from the dog and create a wound and infection, and only then they will die from the toxins in the dog bloodstream. In our product, we do not kill the parasite; we reject it and prevent it from coming to the dog, meaning there is no wound, no infection and no damage from the toxins in the bloodstream.”

Marketing Products
Independent retailers are investing in natural products and finding that customers appreciate the offerings.

“I’ve been involved in natural for a long time,” said Jim Kelly, owner of Just for Pets in Austin, Texas. “Carrying flea and tick products in that category was a natural progression.”

His shop carries a number of options, including a pyrethrin-based shampoo, he said, but the most popular product is a natural one.

“We sell a cedar oil product that is wonderful. It’s called Wondercide Evolv,” he said. “We have people who are getting off the topical spot-on treatments because they’re using that. We do grooming here, too, and if a dog comes in with fleas, we always treat them with Wondercide.”

Howard Nelson, owner of Doggie Style pet supply stores, with 12 locations in Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey, said natural flea and tick products were an obvious addition to the inventory.

“It’s definitely a product that our customers and their pets want,” he said. “They’re good, safe and effective products. It was a great supplement to our grooming business and an addition to our [retail] grooming products, too.”

Nelson said he likes to offer customers a satisfaction guarantee, so he looks for flea and tick products whose manufacturers offer one. One line he is happy with is Richard’s Organics, which is offered by SynergyLabs of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Flea Circus in Home
Killing fleas on a dog is important, Kelly said, but his store also recommends a more comprehensive approach.

“For repellents we recommend the neem-based products,” he said. “For the home, we offer a boric acid product.”
 

Stock natural flea repellents for pets
Nelson agreed with this approach and said his stores sell FleaVac Kill Pellets, which pet owners can use inside a vacuum bag to kill fleas living in the carpet.

Vet’s Best markets a number of peppermint and clove oil products for flea itch relief and protection, according to the company’s brand manager, Mike Mockler.

“We have a natural flea product to spray on carpets and floors to kill any fleas that might end up in the home,” he said, noting that the company also sells a repellent for the yard. “It’s really safe for everybody in the family, and what sets our products apart is that it’s a natural product that also kills the eggs.”

For retailers uneasy about the safety of conventional treatments, or about the reactions some sensitive animals might have to them, natural treatments may offer a route that is easier to feel good about.

“I don’t like the conventional stuff,” said Richard Forsythe, owner of Ruff Haus Pets in Chicago. “I don’t trust spot-on treatments. It says right on it that if you get it on your skin, you should wash it off immediately, and here we’re putting it on our pets’ skin. I do wonder how different their skin is from ours. You’re putting a pesticide in their bloodstream.

“And as far as collars, I worry about the respiratory effects of collars. Plus, around the neck isn’t that effective. It doesn’t prevent fleas from jumping on the butt.”

What Does It Do?
As with many natural supplements marketed for humans, some natural flea and tick remedies for pets are labeled somewhat vaguely, said Richard Beigund, owner of Quadruped Pet Care in West Sayville, N.Y., because manufacturers must adhere to government regulations. Quadruped Pet Care products contain Mojave yucca.

“It’s a super water softener,” he said. “It contacts the flea, passes through the shell and is an instant, non-toxic type of kill. It destroys everything in the flea.”

Quadruped’s labels, however, cannot say that the product actually kills insects.

“We had a rewrite our labels to work with the EPA regulations,” Beigund said. 

This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of Natural Pet Product Merchandiser.

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