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Ask A Vet: Flea & Tick Control FAQs

tickupunctureFleas, 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_9581

Yes, 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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I live out in the country in a very small town in Missouri and have creeks and woods all around. I am fighting a battle with fleas and nomatter what I do, I seem to be losing the battle!! My dogs are small to medium. ..I have 4 of them. They are from a 3 legged pappy pom almost 3 yrs old & 4-5 lbs…2 miniture Italian greyhounds (bro &sis) around 1 yrs old & 10-13 lbs each…and a medium sized mixed breed, unsure of breed but think she has terrier in her, who is around 5yrs old and 50-55lbs. 

They pretty much have free run in our town…no pins…no fences…so they are everywhere. The are caught up on immunizations and have had rabies vaccination and distemper too. ( added info to help discussion!!)
Anyways, im not happy with our local vet…he dont listen and has a gruff bedside manner…also have noticed his prices are never tne same on meds (up and down…more up then down lol) so I avoid him as much as I can. Ive wanted to go to a diff vet but I live so far away from all the best talked about ones. So im reaching out to anyone that has common sence and the knowledge of what they are saying when they advise me on my fur babies.

So, in ur opinion…What is a good non persciption med to kill and repeal fleas from infesting the dogs?? And is there something safe and effective I can use out in the yard to help??  You mentioned revolution…ill check into that :)

Also im needing a wormer…a good wormer. They’ve never had a worm issue till the fleas…they are the little white ones that flatten out. Which im told are common and seem to be due to the fleas and or eating trash…which my IG’s are awful scavengers and are always in trouble for getting in the burn pit!
What in ur opinion is a good reliable, fast working wormer???

Im looking for safest and most effective yet at a reasonable price for all the diff sizes and weights of them.

Hi Shanna. Pleased to know that this blog prompted some questions! We really would suggest you giving your dog’s veterinarian a call to see what their recommendation for a deworming medication might be for your dog. Best of luck!

I HAVE A 1/2 YORKIE & 1/2 DASHOUND (I DON’T KNOW THE CORRECT SPELLING). I LIVE ON A FIXED INCOME, DISABILITY & CANNOT AFFORD TO TAKE HIM TO A VET. HE HAS DRY SKIN, FLEAS & TICKS. I’VE TRIED STORE BOUGHT SHAMPOOS & OINTMENTS. THEY ARE NOT HELPING. PLEASE HELP.  THANK YOU.

Hi, there!  We just recently rescued two three-week-old kittens, and our vet recommended that we use a 1/3 dose of adult (8-15 lb.) Revolution on them.  Everything I’ve read indicates that they are too young for any dosage, and I’m concerned, because I don’t want to poison them.  What’s your opinion?

Hi Yvonne,

You could see if there are some vet schools or cheaper vet clinics in your area that will give you a discount based on your income. Some vets have a bin of donated medicines they offer to lower income clients or people who bring in strays for emergency treatment before they can get the stray to the shelter.

Make sure you’re not giving him flea/tick meds right before or after a bath. If you use a flea/tick collar instead, which may be the cheaper option for you, make sure you read the instructions carefully. It might not work as well if your dog already has fleas and ticks, for example.

Bathing your dog too often might contribute to the reason he’s so dry and itchy. When you do bathe your dog, let the shampoo sit on his skin for several minutes, just like you would for conditioner in your own hair.

Talk to your vet about medicated shampoos and see if they can provide a discount.

I hope these tips help. Thanks for reading!

Hi Kate,

I would call Revolution’s customer service to confirm. My vet told me kittens with fleas generally need a gentle flea bath instead of adult cat flea meds.

I took my 2 cats to the vet 3 days ago and they gave them capstar tabs now they tell me I have to put something for long time killing of fleas. what would you recommend.

Hi Deborah,

It sounds like your vet gave your cats Capstar to kill existing fleas on pets. Once all of the fleas are dead, you’ll need a monthly preventative flea medication for your cats. You can use flea collars, pills, or topical treatments like Advantage, Frontline, or Revolution. Some of these will also work on other parasites like heartworm and ticks.

You should talk to your vet about the best option for your cats. The best option depends on whether they’re indoor or outdoor cats, if they’re good about taking pills, other medications they’re taking, etc.

Thanks for reading!

Hi, just came across this blog and topic. Am a Nigerian and I live in Nigeria and have 2 Caucasians, male and female. The female is 18 months whilst the male is 4months old. First noticed a tick on the female last year and my partner just pulled them out. Now, we noticed they ve been breeding. The compound is infested. I look under the window panes outside and I see them, tiny, medium black clusters of them. We really don’t know what to do as the vets here aren’t really good.

Is there a chemical we can spray in the compound and around the house to kill and prevent them? Note: it’s a personal fenced property so the dogs move around but are not allowed inside.

We ve called our vet and he said he doesn’t know what to do. Help, i hate these things and the whole thing makes my skin crawl.

Hi Jane,

Sorry to hear about your pest problem! You need to talk to a professional exterminator. Let them know you have dogs and see if they have a tick spray that’s safe for pets to be around.

Make sure your pets are also on a good preventative flea medication like Revolution, Advantage, or Frontline to keep the ticks off and prevent them from getting their meals from your dogs.

Thanks for reading, and good luck!

The hair on the back of my daschound is deteriorating from fleas.what can I use to help her from digging and scratching all the time?

Hi Darby,

Your dachshund might have a flea allergy.

Getting rid of the fleas is the first step to stop the itching. Talk to your vet about medications for removing and preventing fleas.

You might also need to talk to pest control if there are lots of fleas in your yard causing repeated infestations.

Good luck and thanks for reading!

I have a 2 pound dog. She is 2 years old and I can not find a tick med for her. I have had people tell me to use the meds that are for 4-15 pound dogs. I feel that that would be like giving a 25 pound child meds that you would give a 10 year old. What do I do that is safest for my little girl. She is so low to the ground that she picks up everything as she walks in the yard. Thank you

Hi Deb,

You need to talk to your vet about the safest flea and tick control.

You’re right that pets can get very sick if they don’t get the right dosage. If a topical flea med isn’t an option, your vet can help you compare other options like flea collars or pills.

Another thing you can do is try to prevent your dog from getting fleas and ticks. Keep the fur on her legs and belly trimmed short. Avoid walking in tall grass or heavily wooded areas.

Thanks for reading!

Dogs Naturally Magazine just issued an article on heart worm.  It appears that Orange County (I am in Mission Viejo) has a problem from November to February.  The article recommends DNA testing for presence of heart worm at the beginning and in the middle of this four-month period, treating if heart worm is present but not using a preventive.  Would you comment on this please?

Hi Carol,

There is a cost either way you decide to go. By not treating your dog with a monthly preventative, you’re taking a risk. Preventing heartworm is much simpler than treating it.

Heartworm pills cost maybe $10 a month. With DNA tests, you have to pay for vet visits and bloodwork.

Many dogs don’t enjoy the painful blood sample process. And if your dog does get heartworm, he’s also in for months of treatment, which can be expensive. If the heartworms grow to the adult stage, your dog won’t be able to have walks or playtime during treatment either.

Giving your dog a monthly heartworm pill is the safest and cheapest option to keep your dog happy and healthy.

Have a chat with your vet to go over your dog’s options. You and your vet will be able to come up with the best way to manage your dog’s health.

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