Ask A Vet: Flea & Tick Control FAQs

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tickupunctureBy Dr. Patrick Mahaney, VMD

Fleas, ticks and other insects aren’t just nuisances for both pets and owners alike, they can also spread mild to fatal diseases. All pet owners must strive to prevent their canine and feline companions from contracting infectious diseases transmitted by fleas and ticks with lifestyle management and appropriate anti-parasitic medication.

Here are some of the most common questions I field from pet owners about flea and tick prevention.

How do flea and tick preventatives work?

To best understand how such products work, we have to recognize that there are multiple stages of the flea and tick lifecycle that can be targeted to prevent infestations on our pets and in our homes.

Flea eggs are laid on pets, then fall off into our environment, where they mature into larvae, pupae, and finally become adults. Tick eggs are laid in densely wooded areas, hatch into larvae and then become nymphs. These adolescent nymphs require a blood meal to mature into adults.

Many products are neurotoxic insecticides that work on specific nervous receptors which adult fleas, ticks, and other insects have in greater quantity than mammals like cats, dogs, and people. As a result, the insect is paralyzed and killed by the insecticide, but your pet isn’t affected by the preventative.

Other products include insect growth regulators (IGR), which stop the proper maturation of flea eggs into larvae. Flea and tick eggs are typically resistant to adulticides, so IGRs fit the bill in disrupting the life cycle before maturation occurs.

Which product is best for my pets?doodle with squeeze meeze

The best product to use for your pet is one that will provide sufficient protection for the types of parasites in your region and for your pet’s lifestyle.

Most dogs spend time inside and outside, so they’re more prone to infestations with both fleas and ticks. If your cat is 100% indoors, then providing a product that protects against ticks may not be essential. However, ticks can always get into your home from another household pet or a simple ride home on your pant leg after a rigorous hike through the wood.

Many flea and tick products have either single or multiple insecticide ingredients effective for multiple parasites, so you may end up treating your cat for both even if she is only exposed to fleas and not ticks.

If your dog or cat lives in a mosquito-heavy part of the country, then protection against heartworm disease is vital in addition to fleas and ticks. Some products treat multiple parasites using one single ingredient, like Selamectin (Revolution), which is my preference for general flea, tick, and heartworm prevention in our canine and feline companions.

Veterinary Partner features these helpful Flea Product Comparison and Tick Product Comparison charts.

Can’t I just purchase an over-the-counter product for my pet?

General Lifestyle_cat_9581Yes, you can purchase over-the-counter flea and tick products for dogs and cats, but I strongly suggest checking with your veterinarian first.

Be sure to check species and weight requirements on flea and tick medication. Cats are extremely sensitive to certain insecticides, including pyrethrin and pyrethroid, so it is essential that canine products with these ingredients aren’t used on our feline friends. Your cat could suffer serious health problems if she takes your dog’s medication. Your pet’s size also effects the efficacy of the medication. A 100-pound dog needs a larger dose than a 10-pound dog to keep fleas and ticks off his larger frame.

What’s the best way to give my pet flea and tick medication?PetSafe Dog Park 20

This mostly depends on your preference. Some pets don’t take oral medication very well, so a medicine applied to the skin is most effective. On the flip side, a topical medication can leave your pet’s skin sticky for a day or two, and a bath or a jump in the pool can wash it right off. Talk to your vet about your pet’s lifestyle to pick the best kind of parasite protection.

What can I do from a lifestyle perspective to protect my pet?

There are many things you can do to help prevent your canine or feline companions from becoming infested with fleas or ticks. My top recommendation is to consider the environments in which your pet spends time in. Cats and dogs don’t inherently have fleas and ticks living on their skin and coat. They must go to an area where an adult flea or tick jumps on them. Your pet can be exposed to parasite at parks, daycare, shelters, veterinary hospitals, and heavily wooded areas where wildlife thrive.

You can choose to keep your pet away from those high-risk areas, or you can take these steps to prevent parasites from sticking around.

  • Limit your pet’s exposure to fleas and ticks.
  • Check your pet for bugs after visiting a high-risk parasite area.
  • Feel all over your pet for skin crusting, irritation, or sensitivity.
  • Check places on your pet where he can’t easily lick, chew, or scratch, including the head, neck, and tail base.
  • Check areas that might come in contact with bugs including the face, ears, legs, belly, and sides.
  • Check your own clothing and body for ticks so you don’t bring them in the house either.
  • Wash and dry all human and pet bedding weekly.
  • Vacuum all carpets and upholstery weekly, then seal the vacuum contents and remove it from your home.
  • Schedule your pet’s anti-parasite treatments as a calendar entry.
  • Stock up on extra flea & tick medication.

Your dog and cat’s comfort and health depends on your proactive involvement in their external parasite prevention. How do you keep your pets safe? 

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