How to Choose Flea and Tick Preventatives
There are many different types of flea and/or tick preventatives on the market today. We understand that it can be difficult to keep up with all of the brands, application methods, and pros/cons of them all. Here is a guide on the different types of preventives available with information about how they are applied, pros and cons for each one, and some things to think about when deciding if it is the right option for you and your pet.
When choosing a flea/tick preventative it is important to consider you and your pet’s lifestyle. There are many factors that could contribute to the decision of which option is best for you. Age, species, breed, health status, and any current medications should all be considered. All of the flea/tick preventatives are medications and any new products should not be started without first talking with your veterinarian.
The most popular form of flea/tick preventative is a topical medication, often referred to as “spot on” products. These are usually applied at the base of the neck or between the shoulder blades. They contain ingredients that kill fleas and ticks. Some products also contain a repellant quality that adds an additional layer of protection of keeping the pests off your pet in the first place. Topical preventatives spread over the pet’s body either through sweat glands or using a bioadhesive. It is generally convenient to use, and once dried, the pet is able to go swimming or be bathed. It is important to note that the product should be allowed to dry, and that it is important to keep kids and other pets away until fully dried. Also, be sure to bathe your pet with gentle shampoos that do not strip the skin. This could cause the medication to be removed as well. Possible side effects include itching/scratching, redness or swelling of the skin, or hair loss.
Oral medications are becoming more popular, as it takes away the worry of getting the topical medication on and letting it dry. None of the oral medications available have the ability to repel fleas or ticks, requiring the parasites to bite/attach before they will be killed. As with any oral medication, there is a risk of upsetting the stomach or the pet not taking the medication (either refuses to eat it outright or takes it and spits it out later… behind a couch). Possible side effects include vomiting and diarrhea, as well as some skin reactions like redness, itching, and/or hives. Depression and a decreased appetite have also been reported.
In addition to everything listed above, some topical and oral products can also prevent heartworm disease in dogs and cats. It is important to evaluate what each product covers to determine if you are getting the appropriate protection for your pet and their lifestyle
Collars are also popular since they can just be put on the pet and the owner doesn’t have to worry about a liquid product drying or giving the pet an oral medication. Collars contain a concentrated chemical that can kill and repel fleas and ticks. These are relatively inexpensive, but some of them can smell quite strong and can be irritating to the pet. There is also risk in humans touching the collars, especially children.
Sprays are also available, but can be difficult to apply for complete coverage. The pet has to stay dry for these to work also, which makes it difficult for baths, swimming, or even walking in the rain. It is important to remember when applying these to avoid the pet’s eyes and mouth.
Powders are dusted over the body and rubbed into the fur. Again, it can be difficult to get complete coverage and it is important to avoid the pet’s eyes and mouth. Side effects can include vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, depression, and decreased appetite.
Shampoos are available to help wash away adult fleas and their eggs. This is a very short-term solution and will not be a preventative measure. The pet can still get fleas later on. When using, you should allow it to sit on the skin and coat for at least 15 minutes before rinsing well. Be sure to avoid getting the shampoo in the pet’s eyes and mouth.
Dips are similar to shampoos, whereas they are not a preventative, but a short term solution. They are usually a very concentrated liquid that is diluted with water and applied to the pet. They do not get rinsed and need to be air dried. Dips cannot be used on very young pets or on pets if they are nursing or pregnant. It is usually advised to have a dip done by a professional, as they are very concentrated and should be used with extreme caution. If you are administering a dip, it is important to protect your skin and eyes while applying to the pet. You should also avoid the pet’s eyes and mouth.
Some important questions for you, as the pet owner to consider:
- What does this product protect my pet against?
- How does the product need to be applied and how often?
- How long will it take for the product to begin working?
- What do I do if my pet seems to be having a reaction?
- Does my pet need to be on more than one product?
- If I see a flea or tick, does that mean the product isn’t working?
Tips for using a flea/tick preventative:
- Discuss any use of a medication with your veterinarian, even if it is over-the-counter.
- Only purchase products that are EPA-registered or FDA-approved.
- Read the entire label — both the veterinary label and the product label on the packaging.
- Always follow the label instructions. Apply the product as directed and at the interval of time directed, unless under veterinarian instruction.
- Only use for the species it is intended for. Some products made for dogs can be toxic to cats. If you have any questions, ask your vet.
- Make sure the weight range that is listed on the product is appropriate for your pet. Using a product that is a lower weight range can result in the product being ineffective, and therefore a waste of money. Using a product that is a higher weight range can harm the pet. If you ever need to weigh your pet to make sure, all of our hospitals have scales available to weigh your pet anytime — no appointment necessary!
- Monitor your pet for any signs of adverse reaction. This is especially important when using a new medication, but is a good practice each time after that. Look for anxiousness, redness or swelling of the skin, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive itchiness, or abnormal behavior. Report any signs of a reaction to your veterinarian and the manufacturer.
- You may need to also treat your home and yard if the problem persists.
- A good way to reduce your pet’s exposure is to keep pets out of areas where fleas and/or ticks are likely to be. Tall grass, wooded areas, and bushes are homes to both pests.
- Do a tick check on your pet daily, especially when they have had access to any wooded or grassy areas. Larger ticks can usually be seen or felt after feeding, but some of the smaller ticks (like deer ticks) are very small and can be difficult to see.