Fleas, ticks, heartworms, and other worms can be dangerous for your poodle and make him miserable. But parasites don't have to be a big problem. If your poodle is in optimal health, he'll be unattractive to parasites. If they do become a problem, your veterinarian can provide you with prescription pesticides to address them.
Treatments for Fleas
Fleas are nasty little bugs that feed off your poodle's blood, causing itchy bites and sometimes an allergic reaction to flea saliva (called fleabite allergic dermatitis) that can be very uncomfortable for your pet. But the adult biting stage is just part of the flea's life cycle, which can take from nine to two hundred days to complete, depending on conditions. After a female flea takes a blood meal, she lays eggs that fall off your poodle onto the floor, furniture, or bedding. They hatch into larvae, then turn into pupae, which mature in cocoons. Then they emerge as adults, ready to feed on an animal and start the cycle all over again.
You can break this cycle by treating your poodle with topical chemicals designed for use monthly (Advantage or K9 Advantix) or every three months (Frontline). These spot-ons kill the fleas before they can lay eggs, effectively stopping the cycle (unless the fleas have managed to drop their eggs before the topical is applied). Another product is Program, a pill taken monthly, which interrupts the reproduction cycle of the flea but doesn't kill the adult flea.
While the manufacturers say these products are safe, they are pesticides. Holistically minded pet owners who try to keep their animals as toxin-free as possible resist using chemicals when pest problems do not exist. Parasites tend to feed on weaker animals, so if your poodle is very healthy (particularly if you feed a raw diet), he might not be attractive to parasites, and therefore may be able to go without any chemical prevention methods.
If you live in a climate with cold winters, where fleas aren't a problem year-round, don't use flea preventives during the cold months. Give your dog a break from the chemicals.
Giving your poodle a bath with any type of shampoo will kill any fleas he might have on him. Shampoos or sprays with neem and/or citronella can also help repel fleas. Some home remedies for avoiding flea problems include feeding your poodle garlic, apple cider vinegar, and/or brewer's yeast, which are supposed to make dogs and cats less attractive to fleas. Garlic and brewer's yeast can be found in tablets sold for use in pets. Used in moderation, these remedies won't hurt and may help. This is true unless your poodle has a sensitivity to one of the ingredients; sensitivities to yeast aren't uncommon.
If you choose not to use monthly flea preventives, keep a close eye on the flea situation. If your poodle starts scratching himself, look carefully for fleas (they're easiest to see on the less hairy parts, like the belly). Comb your poodle over a white towel, and look for flea “dirt,” a euphemism for flea feces, which look like brown specks. If you put water on the brown specks, they'll smear a reddish brown. That's your clue that you have a flea problem.
Attack at the first sign of fleas, before your house has a chance to become infested. You can apply Advantage for a couple of months, or Frontline for a single month. Avoid flea collars or over-the-counter spot-ons, which use more dangerous pesticides.
Dealing with Ticks
Ticks are a bit less insidious than fleas (you can see them and remove them), but they're more dangerous. Although fleas can cause problems — they may transmit tapeworms, and a severe infestation can cause anemia — ticks can transmit very serious diseases, like Rocky Mountain spotted fever, erlichia, babesiosis, Lyme disease, and tick paralysis.
Several medications exist for tick control. Frontline, applied topically, kills ticks for one month (though it works for fleas for three months). K9 Advantix, another topical, kills ticks (along with fleas and mosquitoes) for a month. The Preventic collar is also effective for fighting ticks.
Whether you need to apply regular tick preventives on your poodle depends upon your poodle's lifestyle. If you're in a heavy tick area, and your poodle spends time in the woods or tall grass, ticks might be a real problem. But even in a case like this you may be able to handle the problem through daily tick checks. It takes 24 to 36 hours for a tick bite to transmit disease. If you check your poodle for ticks each day and remove any you see, then pesticides may not be necessary.
Use latex gloves or tweezers when you remove ticks from your poodle. If you squeeze a tick with your bare fingers, it could transmit disease to you. Put your gloved fingers or tweezers as close to the skin as possible and pull the tick out in one straight motion. Then submerge the tick in rubbing alcohol to kill it. Don't put a match to the tick (you could singe your dog!) or smother the tick in petroleum jelly. Just get it out of your dog.
Heartworms are worms that can grow in a dog's heart. They're transmitted by mosquitoes and can be deadly. For this reason, many veterinarians recommend monthly heartworm “preventives.” These pills or chewables don't actually prevent the transmission of heartworms. Rather, they kill the immature worms (called microfilariae) before they have a chance to mature inside your dog.
To learn more about heartworm, check out the American Heartworm Society website. Here you'll find extensive information on heartworms, including the climate necessary for mosquitoes to transmit them. Depending on your location, a careful perusal of this website might make you reconsider giving monthly pills to a dog that spends most of her time indoors.
Giving their dogs a monthly heartworm pill is standard practice for most responsible pet owners. But some of the same holistically minded pet owners who choose not to give their dogs routine flea and tick pesticides also steer clear of monthly heartworm treatment, under the theory that these chemicals undermine the health of their dogs.
Like other medications, heartworm treatment becomes an issue of risk versus benefit. If you live in an area where heartworm isn't a big problem, or where mosquitoes aren't rampant, you may choose not to give your poodle heartworm pills. If your poodle spends very little time outdoors, he might not be exposed to mosquitoes and therefore not exposed to heartworm.
If you are treating your dog holistically, talk with your holistic veterinarian about alternatives to monthly heartworm chemicals, such as biannual blood testing for heartworm (if caught early, it's much easier to treat), heartworm nosodes, or natural mosquito repellents when your dog is outside.
While heartworm pills are labeled for monthly use, they're actually designed to last longer than that, on the assumption that pet owners won't be religious about giving the pill every month on the dot. Talk with your veterinarian about giving treatments less frequently.
A study done by Novartis Animal Health, makers of Interceptor (which kills heartworms and controls roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms) showed that the active ingredient of Interceptor, Milbemycin oxime, was effective in killing heartworm microfilariae when given at a dose just one-fifth the dose of regular Interceptor.
Most heartworm products are designed to control other worms as well, like roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms. In the case of Heartgard Plus, this is accomplished by adding a pesticide to the mix. Interceptor tablets include a higher dose of the pesticide than would be necessary to kill just heartworm microfilariae. If you choose to address heartworms but don't care for these extra-strength precautions, talk with your veterinarian about prescribing a lower dose of Interceptor or giving Heartgard rather than Heartgard Plus.
If you don't worm your dogs regularly with souped-up heartworm pills, you should know the symptoms of worms so you can address them if they become an issue. If you see particles in your poodle's anal region that look like pieces of rice, you're looking at tapeworm. If your poodle has unexplained bouts of diarrhea, whipworm or hookworm might be the culprit. Roundworms look like pieces of spaghetti when vomited up. If you suspect your poodle has worms, see your veterinarian for treatment. It's also a good idea to bring a stool sample to your annual vet appointment.