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The One About Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a powder made from the sediment of fossilized aquatic algae. Because the cells of these algae were high in a compound called silica, the dried sediment produced from these fossils are also very high in silica. These deposits are found all over the world and have a very long history of utilization, such as being used to make bricks by the ancient Greeks and being used to brush teeth in ancient Mesopotamia!

Diatomaceous Earth being used in a garden

Diatomaceous Earth is now commonly used as a non-toxic pesticide. It is frequently mixed with chicken feed, for example, to kill any would-be pests. It works in a combination of two ways; its microscopically small sharp and abrasive edges cut into the flesh between the exoskeletal plates of pest insects and then the silica compound draws out fluid so that the insect very quickly dehydrates and dies. It is most effective in this manner - employed against invertebrates with exoskeletons. Although, it can also be used against gastropods (snails and slugs) with various levels of success. The reason why it is less successful on creatures without an exoskeleton and the accompanied physiological composition[1][2] is because diatomaceous earth is most effective when it is completely dry, and gastropods are not only themselves not dry, they live in humid and wet environments. This precipitously decreases the effectiveness of diatomaceous earth. This is why it is inefficient as a treatment or preventative for internal parasites; DE does not remain dry once ingested.

Bovan Brown Hens

One particular study on hens found that when given to two different breeds of chicken one breed had unaffected internal parasite loads while the other breed had a lower intestinal parasite load. This alone demonstrates its ineffectiveness, as it yields inconsistent results from even breed to breed within the same species. Furthermore, the breed of hen that diatomaceous earth was considered positively impactful (Bovan Brown Chickens) still contained internal and intestinal parasites, meaning that diatomaceous earth was less effective than traditional deworming methods would have been. Interestingly, there are other effects noted about the hen experiment. The hens treated with diatomaceous earth did tend to lay more eggs, but they also ate much more feed. Do with that information what you will, chicken keepers. One thing is certain, though; this study (and many others) definitively proved that diatomaceous earth is effective at controlling external parasites such as mites with uniform results across various breeds!

For humans and our four-legged companions, diatomaceous earth has exploded in popularity, thanks in large part to viral posts on both Facebook and TikTok. Most sources between the two social media platforms will tell you to eat it, and to feed it to your pets. There are a variety of claims made about it and why you should do this. To list a few:

  1. it kills and flushes out intestinal parasites

  2. it improves hair growth

  3. it makes your fingernails and toenails healthier and stronger

  4. it decreases wrinkles and fine lines

  5. it reduces bags under the eyes

  6. it helps regulate sleep

  7. it prevents stomach and intestinal cancers

  8. it prevents prostate cancer

  9. it can treat various types of cancers

  10. it can change the color of your eyes from brown to blue (everyone needs to read a little more Toni Morrison)

  11. it will whiten your teeth

  12. it hydrates your dry skin

  13. it dries out skin that is too oily

  14. it increases sex drive

  15. it increases fertility

  16. it prevents flatulence from smelling bad (yes, this is a real claim)

  17. it cures food allergies

  18. the list goes on and on and on and on....

I'm sure it's obvious to everyone reading this article that not all of the above claims are true, and many are downright dangerous (if you have cancer, seek actual medical treatment...and if you have food allergies, don't eat diatomaceous earth and then risk exposing yourself to something you know you are allergic to). But what can diatomaceous do when it is fed to your dog?

Inside a canine diatomaceous earth can actually improve quality of coat and skin, thanks to the silica compound. Nails may be slightly thicker, grow slightly faster, and be slightly harder to trim. But only slightly. Dental health may be marginally improved, again thanks to the silica compound. It has shown some benefit toward improving the strength of skin and increasing skin elasticity, therefore breeds that have exposed or thin skin may receive somewhat of a benefit to ingesting diatomaceous earth (the same can be said for aging humans with thinning or increasingly fragile skin). It may help in digestion thanks mostly to its abrasiveness potentially aiding in breaking down food, but studies on this have been scant and mostly inconclusive. But it is important to remember one thing; almost all of these alleged benefits have very little scientific data to support them, and many studies are plagued with variables that seem to go largely unmentioned (such as the chicken study earlier being done on organic free-range chickens, despite the fact that both of those factors can have an impact on results). Properly controlled studies are just too few in number to warrant a definitive positive claim.

Regardless of whether or not they seem dehydrated, you should try to increase your pet's water consumption if you incorporate diatomaceous earth. Dogs with liver or kidney issues may be especially impacted by the drying effect of DE and this should be a consideration. Negative impacts of DE consumption may take a very long time to become apparent, given the small amount that would be ingested versus the size of the canine.

The long and short of it all

Is diatomaceous earth an effective and efficient method of controlling intestinal parasites? It seems the answer is no, given the inconsistencies with study conclusions. There may be some benefit, but said benefit would be outmatched by traditional deworming methods.

Is diatomaceous earth an effective and efficient method of controlling heartworms. Absolutely not. Silica deposits are present in nearly every living thing, but no ingested silica compound is going to reach the heart and then kill parasites that are hosting in it. Almost every trace of silica compound that is ingested is quickly eliminated through fecal expulsion. There is no equivalently effective heartworm prevention method to that of traditional prescription prevention methods such as Simparica Trio.

Is diatomaceous earth an effective flea and tick prevention method? Potentially. Despite what some sources say, ingesting diatomaceous earth will do absolutely nothing to control fleas. This should be obvious, given that the diatom skeletons that make up diatomaceous earth would have to come into physical contact with a flea in order to kill it, and it can't do that if it is inside your dog's body. However, topical application by liberally sprinkling your dogs fur with diatomaceous earth, as well as sprinkling your dog's outdoor play area (being careful to reapply after each rain dries) may decrease the likelihood of fleas or ticks surviving long enough to feed on him. Still, methods such as Simparica Trio or Bravecto will certainly be far more effective and have been proven to prevent the spread of Lyme to dogs even when they are bitten by a tick that is infected with the disease thanks to how rapidly the tick dies after biting.

Will diatomaceous earth cure cancer? Of course not. If the dust is inhaled it can cause it, though.

Will diatomaceous earth make me rich and happy? No.

[1] - the physiological composition being referred to here is one that has the presence of an exoskeleton and the presence of hemolymph, which is a multiuse substance within insects and arachnids that both acts as their blood, the fluids that enables them to move via a hydraulic-like function, and their means by which to stay hydrated even when the world outside of their body is quite dry.

[2] - another noted potential factor in effectiveness is that insects and arachnids possess open circulatory systems, while gastropods possess closed circulatory systems.



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