How To Protect Your Boxer From Fleas (Safely)

So many of us owners — unaware of the danger of flea products — give them to our dogs almost automatically, month after month.

We think we’re looking out for our dog’s health.

But there is growing evidence that flea preventives — both oral and spot-on — are far from a safe choice for Boxers.

Make sure you understand that these products have caused seizures and death in dogs, including Boxers.

Get familiar with the nontoxic alternatives that can more safely protect your pup from pests.

Dangers Of Flea Products

When you give your dog a flea treatment or preventative, you are giving him an insecticide.

Two Out Of Three Dogs Have Bad Reactions

A large-scale survey of veterinarians and owners published in June 2020 found two out of every three dogs given a flea/tick product had a bad reaction.

Those reactions ranged from muscle tremors and ataxia (loss of coordination) to seizures and death.

You can read the study here.

FDA Warns Flea Products Can Cause Seizures

In 2018 and 2019 the US Food and Drug Administration issued alerts for flea and tick products containing the insecticide isoxazoline …due to the potential for “neurologic adverse events” in dogs and cats.

The FDA warned the products could induce seizures in animals without any prior history.

None of them was removed from sale.

The still-available products include many popular brand names, like:

  • Bravecto (both oral and topical)
  • Nexgard
  • Simparica
  • Credelio

There are more than 19 000 members in this Facebook group, formed to connect owners whose dogs have gotten sick or died after using flea products.

Boxers appear to be among the breeds most sensitive to these chemicals.

The incidence of problems may be significantly underreported because toxins can accumulate in the body, not giving rise to symptoms straight away but only via a “stacking” effect over time.

This means owners might not connect the eventual disease with the flea treatment.

Often owners overlook these products as the potential cause of their dogs’ symptoms, thinking “Nothing has changed with his flea and tick treatment. I’ve been giving the same product forever, and it’s never caused a problem before.”

It’s not just the chews and spot-ons that can be dangerous.

Another grieving dog owner started this group to raise awareness of how flea collars can affect dogs and cats.

EPA documents reveal Seresto collars generated 75 000 incident reports between 2012 and 2020, and have been linked to almost 1700 pet deaths.

A Vet’s View

Is the potential benefit of protection from fleas worth the chance that something might go wrong?

No, says integrative veterinarian Dr Karen Becker.

“While it’s true that some pets are given chemical flea/tick preventives regularly for a lifetime and have no observable adverse reactions, the volume of reports of negative outcomes connected to these products should have every pet parent asking, ‘Is it worth the risk?’

“In the majority of cases, my answer is no.

“The purpose of these products is to kill things, which makes all of them toxic on some level.

“Every chemical flea/tick product on the market has the potential to cause adverse events.

“Despite the constant drumbeat from veterinary drug manufacturers, conventional veterinarians and increasingly, print and broadcast ads promoting flea and tick preventives, these chemicals aren’t as harmless as their advocates would have us all believe.

“My advice is to exhaust all possible nontoxic alternatives first.”

What Is Your Boxer’s Exposure To Fleas?

Before you give flea preventatives to your Boxer, ask yourself what chance your dog actually has of getting fleas.

If your Boxer:

  • lives in an apartment
  • walks mostly on city sidewalks, and
  • has little contact with other dogs

…his likelihood of getting fleas might be slim.

You may well be able to avoid subjecting him to insecticidal treatments.

In many cases, regular checks will be enough to protect your dog.

Even if you live in a rural area where fleas are endemic, they are usually only an issue in the warmer months.

And there is a lot you can do to protect your dog from fleas, without resorting to harsh chemicals, including:

  • check your dog’s coat regularly
  • feed a fresh, raw diet
  • treat the yard with beneficial nematodes
  • make natural flea repellant sprays
  • keep flea repellant plants
  • avoid carpets
  • add garlic to your dog’s food
  • flea disks
  • Baltic amber collars
  • diatomaceous earth

Check Your Dog’s Coat

When it comes to preventing fleas, the single most powerful thing you can do is be vigilant.

Check your dog regularly.

Inspect your pet’s entire coat for fleas and ticks after you’ve been to a high risk area e.g. walks in the woods in Summer.

One benefit of a Boxer’s short, tight coat is that you can generally spot fleas quite easily — even more so if you have a white Boxer.

Look especially on the belly, the base of the tail and the back of the neck.

Be sure to check between the paws and in the folds on the back of the ears.

A dog coat or sun shirt can help deter fleas and ticks from hitching a ride as your dog runs through the woods or long grass.

However, it may well be too much of an overheating risk for your Boxer.

The Importance Of Diet

Feeding your Boxer a fresh, natural, species-appropriate diet will go a long way towards protecting him from parasites of all kinds.

Make sure your dog is eating a raw meaty bone-based diet.

Parasites seek out weak individuals as hosts.

As Dr Becker says, “fleas are not likely to be attracted to a healthy pet”.

Beneficial Nematodes

If you have a yard or outdoor area where your dog regularly spends time, consider treating it with beneficial nematodes.

Nematodes are microscopic roundworms that occur naturally in soil and happen to be natural predators of fleas.

They feed on flea larva and can reduce flea populations in as little as a few days.

You can find them online or at garden centers.

You simply mix them with water and apply with a watering can or sprayer.

Ladybugs are another natural flea predator.

Keep your yard mown and free of debris and leaf matter where fleas can hide.

Store woodpiles off the ground and away from the house.

Natural Flea Repellant Sprays

You can make natural flea sprays to mist on your dog’s coat when you go outdoors.

Lemon And Herb

Canine herbalist Rita Hogan has a recipe that uses nothing but lemon and garden herbs.

Slice 1 organic lemon into thin rounds. Place it in a large stainless steel or glass bowl with 2 sprigs fresh rosemary and 1 sprig of garden sage. Add a quarter of almost boiling water. Cover and steep overnight. Strain and pour into spray bottle. Lasts 1-2 weeks in the fridge.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Alternately, you can make mix 6 ounces of unfiltered, organic ACV with 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt or pink Himalayan salt and 4 ounces of warm water. Spray your Boxer’s coat once a week, avoiding the eyes and any cuts.

The theory is an acidic environment repels fleas.

Dr Karen Becker uses a similar recipe that mixes 8 ounces of pure water with 4 ounces of organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar and 20 drops of neem oil.

The active ingredients, particularly the oil, dissipate from your dog’s coat in about four hours.

Essential Oils?

Essential oils like lavender, peppermint, lemon, cedar, eucalyptus are said to repel fleas.

They should be diluted — one drop per mL — in a carrier oil like fractionated coconut oil.

A note of caution: dogs typically want to lick coconut oil. If this is your dog, maybe go for one of the other homemade sprays.

Boxer dog lies in garden where he might catch fleas

Flea Repellant Plants

Plants that deter fleas by the natural oils they secrete include:

  • basil
  • mint
  • lemongrass
  • sage
  • rosemary
  • lemon balm
  • catnip

Keep some in pots on the deck and by the front door and plant a herb garden.

No Carpets

If you have the option, homes without carpets are much less inviting to fleas and other pests.

Garlic

Many owners and raw feeders add tiny amounts of garlic to their dog’s food to prevent both internal and external parasites.

Too much garlic is toxic but your dog would have to consume enormous amounts for it to be a problem.

Avoid garlic supplements and use organic, fresh whole cloves.

The recommended dosage is 1/4 of a regular sized clove per ten pounds of dog bodyweight or 1/4 teaspoon of freshly chopped garlic per 15 pounds.

Flea Disks

There are various non-chemical tags on the market that claim to use ultrasonic frequencies and something called scalar waves (a type of energy first found and used by Serbian-American electrical engineer Nikola Tesla) to create a protective field around your dog that repels fleas and other bugs.

Do they work? If they do work, do they cause no harm to your dog?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Some dismiss these disks as bunkum, others say they’ve used them with success.

Research and make up your own mind.

Baltic Amber Collars

Some owners swear by these necklaces made from a fossilized tree resin that formed millions of years ago.

The idea is that the aromatic, and possibly electrostatic, properties of the amber make your dog’s body hostile to fleas.

If you’re going to try this approach make sure the amber is raw, not polished.

Baltic amber is also marketed for use in humans, as pain relief and for what are said to be its calming effects. “Teething necklaces” for children are one example.

The theory here is that body heat releases a tiny amount of succinic acid from the plant and animal tissue in the resin. This acid is absorbed through the skin and provides analgesia.

Diatomaceous Earth

This powder is made from fossilized organisms known as diatoms.

Some owners apply a light dusting to floors, bedding and their dog’s back to kill fleas.

Make sure you use food-grade DE, not the industrial-grade product that is used for pools and manufacturing because it is chemically treated.

DE is said to work by breaking apart flea eggs and drying them out before they can hatch.

However, DE comes with warnings to wear a mask when applying it and to avoid breathing it in because it can irritate the lungs.

How does your dog avoid inhaling the DE that’s spread in his bedding and on his fur?

What To Do If Your Boxer Already Has Fleas

Prevention is far easier than treatment.

But, if you inspect your Boxer regularly and have just noticed a single flea on your dog:

  1. pop him straight in the bath
  2. wash all his bedding, and
  3. vacuum thoroughly.

If you’ve caught it early, this will be enough.

Continue to vacuum and check your dog over for the next several days to make sure.

If you have a more serious infestation, it’s going to take a more sustained effort.

Do all of the above but repeat every few days until you find no more fleas.

Go over your Boxer with a flea comb, dipping it in soapy water to kill any fleas collected.

Once you’ve cleared the problem, consider implementing some of the other measures outlined above to make both your dog’s body and your home environment and yard less hospitable to fleas.

Complications From Fleas

Fleas can be more than a nuisance.

Besides itching, which is no small thing, they can cause:

  • flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), a sensitivity to flea saliva
  • tapeworms, if your dog swallows a tapeworm-infected flea while grooming himself
  • severe anemia, especially in young animals

Other Bugs And Your Boxer

Ticks and mosquitoes pose much more of a hazard to your dog than fleas.

Ticks

Ticks can transmit many diseases including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

However, most dogs’ immune systems fight off tick-borne pathogens without any intervention.

Exposure does not necessarily result in infection, so antibiotic treatments are not warranted in most cases.

Mosquitoes

The bite of an infected mosquito is how dogs contract heartworm.

Remember, the life cycle of the larvae requires a run of warm days, so heartworm is generally only a risk in the warmer months.

Conclusion

It takes a little effort to manage your dog’s flea risk without insecticides.

But it’s still easier than dealing with a health disaster if your Boxer happens to be one of the two in three dogs struck down by these products.

References

Popular flea collar linked to almost 1,700 pet deaths. The EPA has issued no warning, USA Today, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, Jonathan Hettinger, March 2, 2021

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