I’m a light sleeper, which means I wake up pretty much every time my dog has an itch. And in the height of summer flea season, that happens a lot. But as much as I don’t want our pup to suffer—and I certainly dont want him to develop Lyme Disease, which is very much on the rise in the U.S.—I’m also loathe to use harsh chemicals to keep him insect-free, especially now that I’m trying to conceive.
Many brand-name flea and tick treatments contain organophosphates and carbamates—chemicals that, according to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), disrupt enzymes that transmit nerve signals in the insect brain. Problem is, the pathways that these chemicals affect also exist in dogs and in humans. So anytime you take in a whiff of your pup’s flea treatment, it’s potentially affecting you and your unborn child—and according to recent research, we’re inhaling these whiffs all the time. In January, researchers publishing in Environmental Research reported finding traces of the chemical propoxur, a carbamate used in many flea and tick treatments, in the stools of 23 percent of newborns, and in the hair of 21 percent of pregnant women tested.
How do these chemicals harm us and our children? As for us, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention admits that “long-term exposure to organophosphates can cause confusion, anxiety, loss of memory, loss of appetite, disorientation, depression, and personality changes.” Yikes. But it’s far scarier to think about exposing your unborn baby. A 2007 study published in Pediatric Blood & Cancer reported that rates of a rare leukemia were twice as high in children who had been exposed to propostur prenatally, and a 2005 study published in Neurotoxicology reported that women who were exposed to organophosphates during pregnancy were more likely than other women to give birth to children with abnormal reflexes. (I’ve previously addressed why chemical exposures in the womb are especially dangerous.) Since these chemicals have the potential to affect the developing nervous system, young children are also likely to be harmed. (To find out if your flea and tick treatment contains these chemicals, check out the NRDC’s GreenPaws Product Directory.)
How, then, to keep your pet flea- and tick-free? Many people swear by herbal oil-based flea treatments, but some dogs and people are allergic to them, so test them out carefully. (The herbs that are least likely to cause problems are cedarwood, lemongrass, peppermint, rosemary and thyme.) If you want to steer clear of topical solutions entirely, comb and bathe your pet, wash your pet’s bedding and vacuum your house regularly; often, that makes all the difference. And hey, while you’re at it, send a quick email petition to major pet stores asking them to stop stocking these dangerous flea and tick treatments—it’s hard to find a good reason to keep them around.
*Note added 7.15.2010: This post will be part of the Healthy Child Blog Carnival, an effort by Healthy Child Healthy World to help inspire a movement to protect children from harmful chemicals.*
Other carnival posts:
- Prevent Lead Exposure Outdoors
- Shoes Off at the Door Please
- Sunshine and Bugs: A Natural Defense
- Greener and Safer Backyards
- Green Thursdays: A Green Yard
- Our Grass is Greener
- Healthy Green Pest Control and Lawn Care Methods
- Organic Lawn Care
- I am Not the Master of My Backyard
- The Evolution of a Lawn
- Quick Spray to Save Summer Veggies
- Moments, or How to Relax and Let the Kids Have (non-toxic) Fun
- Clean Food and Dirty Kids
- Splendor in the Non-Toxic Grass
- Making Changes to Protect my Children Outdoors: The Grass IS Greener on My Side
- The Most Expensive Eggs We’ll Ever Eat