Natural Flea Treatments

Photographed by Shirley Bittner
Last fall, after a routine visit to the groomer, I was surprised to learn that Lucky Charms, my eight-year-old Shih Tzu had fleas! Having lived through a lice infestation in my teens, the thought of playing host to another parasite made my skin crawl. I swiftly started my research about how to get rid of the itty-bitty pests and make sure they never came back!

First, the basics. Fleas are small wingless insects adapted to feeding on the blood of their host. While different species of fleas will specialize as parasites on specific warm-blooded vertebrates, including dogs, cats, and humans, they may use other mammals as a host as well.
Fleas are a nuisance for many reasons. Their bites cause an itching sensation which can remain itchy and inflamed for up to several weeks. Some animals may even suffer allergic reasons to flea saliva and develop flea bite dermatitis – a skin condition causing extreme itchiness, thickening of the skin and skin lesions. In other animals, however, the only way to spot a flea infestation is by noticing dark specks in their coat or the fleas themselves. (If these specks are indeed flea droppings, they will “bleed” red when placed on a damp paper towel, if they don’t, the specks are most likely just dirt).

According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council, broad spectrum parasite control should be administered year round to protect against all parasites, not just fleas. Methods of parasite control include, shampoos, dips, powders, sprays, and oral medications, however, the most popular and vet recommended are Advantage and Frontline — monthly topical applications for both dogs and cats. While effective, the active ingredients in these therapies are insecticides, which can leave behind a high chemical residue or be absorbed into the animal’s subcutaneous fat layer. Meanwhile, labels on these therapies warm no to get these substances on your skin, to wash your hands and to keep away from children.

Photographed by Shirley Bittner

For this reason, natural flea remedies are becoming quite popular alternatives to the conventional treatments. Natural and organic sprays, shampoos and collars are available on the market; although , contrary to what the label might say, these may not always be 100% natural. Instead, the easiest and cheapest way to repel fleas is to use what nature has given us. Research conducted in 2003 and 2004 by Cheryl Lans examined three natural treatments for flea problems. 

At the first sight of fleas, pets were soaked with a strained infusion of two cups of packed lemon balm, one cup of boiling water and four cups of warm water, left to steep for 30 minutes, then allowed to air dry. This treatment was repeated twice a week. Diatomaceous earth was also sprinkled on the pet’s skin. This fossilized algae has physico-sorptive properties which cause the fleas to dehydrate and die. Lastly, a spritzer was made with a strained concoction of citrus peels in one cup of water steeped overnight and also allowed to air dry. Lans’ study concludes that all methods were effective in controlling fleas.

While pet parents are left to decide on the best action plan to prevent, treat and control fleas, both conventional and holistic wisdoms agree that the best way to protect your pet against fleas is keeping them and their environment healthy. This begins with a thorough cleaning of your home. Pet’s bedding should also be washed and tumble dried weekly. Lans adds that leaving fresh crushed lavender stems in the bedding also repels fleas.

When it comes to the health of your pet, optimal nutrition is essential. To repair unhealthy skin feed your pet a proper diet. Frequent grooming is also important as it allows you to keep an eye on the condition of your pet’s coat and skin, not to mention you can catch those pesky parasites before they become an infestation.

As always, when it comes to the health of your pet, communicate with your veterinarian. In Lucky’s experience, that one and only flea bath she had at the groomers took care of her flea problem. Currently she enjoys weekly baths as well as a weekly citrus peel spritz. Fleas now cower at the sheer thought of invading our home, and Lady Luck smells nice too!

By Krystine McKinnon

Figuring our Your Finicky Feline

By Mike Golec
If you’ve ever owned cat, then you know that they have their individual quirks. Mew loves green beans. He will hide underneath any chair with that green bean and growl if anybody comes near him. Fluffy enjoys playing fetch with gold necklaces. Kitten loves to have the ABC song sung to him. Henry has no use for catnip, whatsoever.
But for the most part, there are a lot of common cat behaviours and we like to think we generally understand them; like when they start kneading their claws as you pet them. Since they would have started this kneading action when still nursing from their mother in order to make the milk come faster, it’s a sign of comfort and contentment. Or, that time Fluffy brought you a dead mouse and thought you would be pleased? He was actually just trying to look out for you by teaching you how to hunt. This is something cats would normally teach to their kittens and since you haven’t brought any dead birds in the house lately, they just want to give you a hand.

So how can we possibly begin to understand what these creatures are up to most of the time? Providing some surprising insights into these confusing creatures is Dr. Carol Teed, who founded the Cat Clinic of Niagara fifteen years ago.
Most of us are used to the calming sound of a cat purring while he is being pet, and assume it means happiness. But contentment is not the only reason they purr. “We often see kitties that are very ill that are purring,” reveals Dr. Teed. “You want to think that they’re doing it because they are happy, but often I know that they will purr when they are in a lot of discomfort and are feeling bad. I think that they’re often doing that just to comfort themselves.”
There are also some behaviours that can be disruptive and problematic if not addressed or fully understood. According to Dr. Teed, cats very clearly tell us what they need. “When a kitty urinates out of the box, for me that’s telling me that, okay, we’re not meeting all this cat’s needs,” explains Dr. Teed. The disruptive behaviour is a means of acting out, because you, the owner, are not responding to what they need in their domestic environment. “Behavioural issues are much, much more common in indoor cats and especially in multi-cat households,” Dr. Teed continues. “I don’t advocate having kitties go outside, but there’s a whole range of problems that we see in indoor cats that we simply don’t see in outdoor cats.”
Why are indoor cats so much more likely to develop behavioural problems? “It often has to do with the fact they can’t express all their catness when they’re indoors,” says Dr. Teed, who explains that having multiple cats can also increase the number of issues. “Often there is crowding, really where a kitty can’t find the space that it needs when it needs it.”
One of the most common behavioural issues that she deals with at the clinic is litter box related. “I can tell you, it’s a given that you’re going to have out of the box behaviours if you don’t have the right number of boxes. Or if you don’t have multiple locations and you’re not cleaning them at least every single day,” stresses Dr. Teed. “That’s why the rule about the litter box, one box per cat, plus an extra one, is really, really important once you have more than a cat in your house.”  Would you want to use unclean facilities when nature calls? Didn’t think so. Well, neither does your cat!

By Mike Golec
One of the best ways to help your indoor cat avoid going stir-crazy is having a safe way for them to experience the outside world. “There are lots of structures you can build on the market that could even be attached to the house with a cat door,” says Dr. Teed. This type of controlled experience with the outside helps to enlarge their world, which is beneficial. “A lot of interesting things happen outside for a cat. You know, just watching the insects, and the wind through the leaves and all of that. And of course, birds. It’s really expanding, life expanding for them,” insists Dr. Teed, who believes that expansion is a natural part of a well lived life.
You should also play lots of games with your cats to keep them from getting bored and help them stay active. Dr. Teed’s tip is to hide treats, because it not only keeps kitties active, but simulates their instinctive need to capture prey.
Despite their reputation of being lazy and rather blasé about life, cats also experience life stresses. These can include moving, a caregiver leaving, or enduring the introduction of a new pet or even a baby. These changes can be hard for a cat to deal with, but we can help them through these experiences by spending extra time with them. “Basically for them, home is where the mom is. So as long as they are with us, things are pretty good, but they need time and extra comfort from us, during those times,” Dr. Teed patiently explains. “Lots of extra love goes a long way.”
One of the most important things to remember is a cat’s personality. “Every cat is an individual so look at them individually and decide what they need,” says Dr. Teed.
Cats will probably always be mysterious creatures, but we can still make sure that they have the appropriate means to live happy, healthy lives and properly express all their catness in fine feline glory.
By Allison Vorstenbosch

A Musher’s Guide

By Tyler Pollard
There is perhaps no sport that has as much romance and grace associated with it as dog sledding. Over 4000 years old, many believe that life up north would not have been feasible without this ancient mode of travel, because the dogs delivered medicine, supplies, and news, while allowing mobility for hunting and fishing. And although modern day continues to witness the sight of strong, sleek huskies running across crystal white snow in the open expanse of the north, while pulling a musher on a sleigh, often times reality can be far from this romanticized scene. Beneath the idealization of people and animals working in sync lies a dark underbelly of the dog sledding world. Like all sports, there is in fact the good, the bad, and the ugly.


The Good: Mush Fun!

Today survival isn’t the main reason for dog sledding; now is that of sport. The first recreational dog sled race was held the 1800’s and continues to be used for fun today.
“As Canadians, dog sledding is a huge part of our heritage,”says Gavin Baker, owner of Trail Dancer Kennels. “When people from outside our country think of Canada, they think of hockey, maple syrup, and dog sledding. Yet, most Canadians haven’t ever even tried it.”
There are many local and international races hosted here in Canada every year. There are also several holiday escapes that offer dog sledding tours, so everyone can easily experience the thrill of this historic pastime.
One way to truly experience all that dog sledding has to offer is to own a dog sled team. Baker does just that. Like many dog sledding buffs, he started out owning one dog and quickly realized that it would be far more fun to own another, and another, and…you get the idea. Now Baker is gearing up his sled dog team to compete in the 1,635 km Yukon Quest in 2012.
However, it is a good idea to volunteer at a local kennel to first test out the chilly waters if you’re dabbling with the idea of starting a dog-team. This is exactly what Alex Burnet is doing at Trail Dancer Kennels. “The best part of my experience is the amount of knowledge I’m able to soak up. I’m getting to see first hand the amount of commitment and work that goes into operating a kennel,” Burnet says. “I would recommend this as a starting point to anyone who is interested in getting into the sport.”
Not ready to train a team of dogs yourself? Book a dog sledding winter escape instead! Cold Fire Creek Dogsledding, located in Valemount, BC, is the perfect place to experience a Canadian winter getaway for a day. The tours, such as, Ghosts of Cold Fire Creek and Moonlight Run, take people deep into the heart of the Rocky Mountains with nothing but a sled between them and the snow. If you are are not able to make your way out west, however, there are places elsewhere in Canada to rub noses with sled dogs. For instance, for Ontarians, Winterdance Dogsled Tours runs dog sled tours alongside Algonquin National Park that range from 2 hours to full on multi-day excursions.
Another great way to get a taste of this unique sport is to simply watch a race. Check out Sled Dog Central to find races near you.

By Tyler Pollard

The Bad: Mush Madness…

It is important to note that this graceful and impressive sport is not without challenge, risk or danger. Many races are grueling and treacherous, making them risky for both the dogs and the musher alike.
Dangers and Injuries

The last thing you want to happen is to let go of your sled when you are out in the middle of nowhere, for often times the dogs simply will not wait. Deep freeze temperatures, frost bite, hypothermia, and getting lost are all frightening concerns. If unattended, the dogs could get caught and tangled in trees, hit by a car, hurt or in a fight. Exhaustion and malnutrition can be additional risks for dogs separated from their musher and sled. So in short, the musher must always hold on and stay with the team for mutual protection.
Just like any competitive sport injuries can also occur in dog sledding. The wrists and shoulders can sometimes get hurt, but more often it is the feet. Snow can get pushed up between the pads of the foot causing pressure splits. Dogs cannot race if their feet are not in top form, so prevention is a main priority. Apart from which, any foot injury causes pain which is important to avoid.
“I end up spending much more time down on my knees caring for the dogs than I do out running them,”Baker remarks about the importance of providing the proper care for the dogs. “All of [the risks and injuries] can be avoided with due diligence. You and your team just need to be prepared.”
Cost and Commitment
The cost and commitment of dog sledding is another downside that can’t be avoided when it comes to this sport. “It is like having 20 Olympic athletes to take care of,” Baker explains.“You are the coach, parent, trainer, vet caregiver, maintenance guy, and everything else.” When it comes to dog sledding, you are much more than a musher driving a sled. It is a full-time job and consequently a large expense.
“There is so much more work, time, and money that goes into it. Dog sledding is not a sport. It is a lifestyle. This is why many people don’t continue with it once they start. They don’t do their homework or budget for it,” Baker remarks, once again believing that preparation is a key ingredient for success.
Keeping the dogs healthy and happy is a significant cost. Racing is another one entirely. Baker and the team at Trail Dancer Kennels are always looking for sponsorships in order to continue racing competitively.

The Ugly

While most sled dog owners take better care of their dogs than they do of themselves, unfortunate instances of neglect do arise from time to time and it is sadly the dogs who suffer. For example, in late November 2009, about 100 sled dogs were rescued from a kennel in rural Quebec, because they were found to have inadequate food, water, and shelter. 
The fact that the dog sledding industry is largely self-regulating, makes it is difficult to know how often similar cases of neglect or abuse occur; although non-profit organizations do encourage a watchful eye.
“Animal neglect and abuse is a community problem, and it takes a community to solve it,” stresses Rebecca Aldworth, the Executive Director of Humane Society International/Canada. To do your part, you can pressure the government to form stronger animal protection laws, donate to animal protection groups, report known abuse or neglect, and educate yourself and others of the responsibility that comes with owning animals.

Despite it being widely recognized that the majority of dog sledders take impeccable care of their dogs both on and off the race trail, authorities at HSI and the SPCA remain nonetheless concerned about the strain that long distance races can have on dogs. “Dogs run incredible distances under grueling trail and weather conditions, and that combination of factors has typically resulted in injuries and death in each year’s race,” Rebecca Aldworth. As a result, there are continuous efforts afoot to ensure the health and safety of sled dogs throughout the nation.

To the Finish Line?

If done responsibly, ethically and knowledgeably, taking a little time to experience what fellow Canadians have been doing for a long time can be a rewarding and exhilarating ride. Just be sure to treat the dogs with the utmost respect, so that both the animals’ well-being and future of the sport can be preserved.
By Claire Rowsell

These Boots Were Made for…Pooches?

By Tyler Pollard
In the era of Paris Hilton, where we’ve seen every type of doggie-fashion from festive Santa suits to itsy-bitsy bathrobes, it’s easy to dismiss the notion of canine footwear as just another frivolous trend. It’s true, there are enough froufrou accessories out there to make any dog howl with embarrassment, but the benefits of using booties might be something to consider for certain owners. So how do you know if your pooch should be rocking the latest paw-wear? Well, unless you’re trying to one-up Tinkerbell in a four-legged fashion show, it’s all about making your pup comfortable by providing protection, and it’s fairly easy to tell when this is necessary.

Doggie-shoes are most useful in regions that experience extreme weather. For example, in the midst of a chilly Canadian winter, you will likely come across plenty of snow and ice as you take your daily strolls. Though the pads of a paw are made of a very thick durable skin, they can still be sensitive to such frigid conditions and are not immune to frostbite either. If you know your pup well, it’s not hard to tell when they’re feeling disgruntled. If they frequently stop and lift a paw in the air mid-walk, that’s a sure sign they are hurting. In this case you would want to go grab some polar-fleece booties pronto (and it’s a bonus if they have rubber-grip bottoms to save your pooch from sliding all over the place). For the city-dog, there’s an added benefit to the footwear. Salted walkways are another great enemy to the bare paw and can cause irritation or allergic reactions if not wiped clean after contact. This is all the more reason to bundle up with boots, one less tedious task for you, and a happier dog—nothing wrong with that!

Even if you live in an area unknown to snowflakes, there still may be some good reasons to think about covering up your dog’s tootsies. Just ask Rockie, a perky black Doberman Pinscher who belongs to Arizona Native, Savannah Crossen. These days the pair reside in Toronto where Crossen works as a stylist at a downtown salon. However, two summers ago Crossen returned to her hometown of Avondale Arizona for a couple months to reconnect with family.

By Tyler Pollard
“Rockie had never experienced the brutal temperatures of a dessert climate; he was totally thrown for a loop,” says Crossen. “Where we were staying, there really wasn’t much grass or shade at all so the plain heat was a lot for him to bear, especially with his shiny black coat. There were also the cactus thorns that would prick his poor little paws.”
After a few weeks of having to bribe Rockie out of the air-conditioned home each day for a bit of exercise, it was obvious that he wasn’t acclimatizing very well. Crossen noticed his paws becoming very rough and beginning to crack in some spots. Seeking a solution, she invested in a pair of Bark’n Boots and some petroleum jelly to sooth his aching paws.
Crossen reminisces on her pup’s initial reaction to the foreign foot-gear. “It was a truly hilarious sight,” laughs Crossen, and truth be told it often is with most first time canine booty wearers. In all seriousness though, the boots proved to be highly practical. Rockie soon adjusted to his new style, and seemed a lot more comfortable as he ventured out on longer and longer excursions. Crossen says she still makes use of them today during the frosty Toronto winters and on those wet mucky days, just to keep things clean. Now that’s versatility!
So they help in the heat and ward off the cold, they can prevent fungal infections from moisture, protect an injured paw, and they even keep your place dirt free. Clearly the concept of doggie booties has become much more than frills and fashion. Having said that, they do look pretty cute in their baby-like sizes and there are many different types. Just look at Muttluks, a Canadian brand, that blends style and practicality – the ultimate bargain these days.
A lot of the time, however, the majority of dogs can manage just fine without shoes. Unless their paws are being subjected to something harsh, it is probably best to let them go ‘au natural.’ Constant unnecessary covering runs the risk of preventing your dog’s nails from being filed down by the pavement, which can cause discomfort.
All in all, it really comes down to your judgment as an owner and the variety of elements you and your pet have to contend with throughout the course of a year. It is truly great to have such a wide selection of products out there to choose from, if indeed paw-wear is the way to go for you. However, for the sake of animal rights, I suggest steering clear of the high heels.
By Hayley Dawson