Misinformed Pet Segment


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Garlic can be dangerous to dogs, and does NOTHING to prevent fleas. NOTHING!

Back to all that in moment. I am often introduced as a pet expert. I don’t know – not sure what expert means. I know as well as anyone that doing live radio or TV (I’m sure I’ve logged as many hours at this point than most who speak about pets) can be tricky. It’s easy to say the wrong thing. HOWEVER, in a segment on WGN-TV news, Dana Humphrey, the self proclaimed “pet lady,” made major blunders which could be a problem for pets, and a major omission as well. She’s misinforming people.

The topic of the segment (you can see it here) was pet travel. Humphrey offered lots of nice tips, which I think are great.

Until she spoke about keeping fleas away, she mentioned getting a flea comb, giving a flea bath and providing garlic as a natural solution.

  • Flea combs can be handy to identify that there are fleas, and you may be able to brush out some fleas, but does nothing to deter them!
  • Flea baths are considered old technology. You’re dipping your pet into poison. I doubt you’d find a veterinarian in 2016 who endorses the idea of going over-the-counter to pick out a flea bath as a preventive.
  • Garlic may actually be dangerous to pets, and for certain doesn’t do a thing to deter fleas.

If you don’t believe me – check this out pet lady – veterinary parasitologist Dr. Michael Dryden, professor Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine Medicine, who has published many journal articles, and speaks all over the planet on flea and tick protection for pets. In fact, he’s known as “Dr. Flea.”

Dryden tells me, “Of course garlic has never been shown in any scientific paper to protect pets against fleas.  Flea control products purchased through veterinary offices are proven to be effective because they’ve been rigorously tested. That’s not the case for (generally less expensive) over-the-counter products,” says the world’s flea guru. He adds that to be effective a flea preventative must have a kill rate of 90 to 95 percent minimum. “Any less than that, the fleas win because their reproduction rate, laying 40 to 50 eggs daily, beats the product.”

The allure of some of those over the counter products is marketing, suggesting they are all natural and organic – which may be true. However, Dryden cautions, “Natural and organic doesn’t necessarily mean safe. Mushrooms are natural and organic, and I don’t eat any mushroom I find, or encourage my dog to. I’m all for green and all for saving the planet. But I am also all for using a product which is proven safe for my pets.”

And Garlic is NOT safe for pets.  Garlic is classified as a species of the Allium family. Other species in the Allium family include onions, shallots, leeks, chives and rakkyo (otherwise known as the Chinese onion). Unfortunately, dogs and cats cannot digest these particular plants as humans. The ingestion of Allium species in dogs and cats causes a condition called hemolytic anemia, that’s the bursting of red blood cells circulating through your pet’s body. Ingestion can also lead to gastroenteritis, also known as an inflammation of the stomach and intestines, causing stomach pain, diarrhea, etc. Now, a little garlic may not be harmful, but remember a little to a toy dog isn’t a t-spoon’s worth, that’s a lot! Some of this depends on the individual pet, and some pets may be fine. But garlic is toxic to pets and to encourage pet owners to use garlic is wrong, and reckless in my opinion.

A credible source, the Pet Poison Helpline supports what I just indicated.

Now about those flea baths, Dryden adds, “In the old days, veterinarians did what they could, sprinkling flea powders on pets and dipping them into a toxic bath. Flea powders and dips are today mostly products of the past. Even flea collars aren’t any longer needed, which is a good thing since they don’t work very well.” Instead, Dryden strongly advocates any of the many choices of products available through veterinary offices. They are mostly monthly spot-on products (dispensed between a pet’s shoulder blades), and some or chewable tablets. Another plus are the additional label claims many of these products carry, including killing and/or repelling disease carrying ticks and mosquitoes (which carry heartworm disease), or dealing with mites which may cause mange.

To be clear, I do not hold WGN or the host responsible in any way for what an educated guest is supposed to know. She is supposed to be the all-knowing pet lady. It’s one thing not to know, it’s another to misinform. And by the way, Humphrey should have mentioned microchipping pets (that is a permanent form of ID) in addition to the product she was touting. And for pet travel on a plane, a travel certificate is typically required, including proof of rabies vaccination.

(Gratitude to Jeff Carlin, eagle-eyed WGN Radio producer, who informed me regarding this segment…clearly he is a knowledgeable pet owner, and instantly thought Ms. Humphrey was mistaken)

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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