Flea and Tick Medication Guide for Pet Parents
Fleas and ticks are external parasites that feed on the blood of their hosts, typically dogs, cats, and other mammals. Heavy infestations can lead to anemia and potentially serious complications especially in young kittens and puppies, senior pets, and those suffering from debilitating illnesses. Fleas and ticks can trigger allergies in hypersensitive pets. Ticks are carriers of serious tick-borne illnesses, some of which can be transmitted to humans. For these reasons, it’s important to protect your beloved pet from these and other parasites. Continue reading for an in-depth look at common preventative options.
What happens if my pet has fleas?
Fleas are usually the first thing that veterinarians check for when a cat or dog is itching. After a blood meal, most adult female fleas jump off the host animal to lay eggs in the surrounding environment. This is one reason why many pet owners are unable to see adult fleas on their pets. But the absence of fleas on your pet’s body should not be interpreted as your pet is free from fleas.
To find adult fleas, you can run a comb through your pet’s coat, paying special attention to the neck and base of the tail. You should also check your pet’s belly.
If no adult fleas are scurrying over your pet’s body, you can check for flea droppings (flea dirt) and flea eggs. Flea eggs are white specks that you may see in your pet’s hair coat.
Flea droppings or flea dirt are dark specks on your pet’s body that are composed of digested blood. Place a white sheet or towel under your pet while you brush the hair coat. If there’s an infestation, pepper-like granules will drop to the sheet below. Confirm it’s flea dirt by placing it on wet tissue where it will become red like blood.
Many dogs and cats are hosts to fleas without showing any symptoms. However, some pets suffer from flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). These pets are hypersensitive to a protein that is present in the saliva of fleas, and even a flea bite or two can cause intense itching. Excessive licking or scratching can eventually damage the skin surface and cause scabbing and hot spots (indicates the presence of bacterial infection).
Pets with heavy flea infestations can develop severe anemia and can become weak and have pale gums.
How do ticks affect cats and dogs?
When your cat or dog has ticks, you can see them anywhere on your pet’s body but most often on the ears, paws, neck, around the eyes, or head.
In addition to being blood-sucking parasites, ticks can transmit diseases. When you spot a tick on your pet, try to remove it as soon as possible, but be sure you know how to remove ticks properly - pull straight up and don’t twist.
With heavy tick infestations, a dog or cat can suffer from severely damaged skin and have higher risks of anemia, paralysis, and other possible complications.
Ticks thrive in warm, grassy areas, but they can also live and reproduce inside the home. Their favorite hiding places include curtains, under the carpet, furniture, and cracks on the walls and floor.
How to Find the Best Flea and Tick Medication for Your Pet
The flea and tick season occurs during the warmer months of the year. But these ubiquitous parasites are hardy and can survive throughout the year, even during the harsher winter months. Because of this, most vets recommend year-round flea and tick prevention for all pets.
Topical Flea and Tick Medications
The most common active ingredients in topical flea and tick medications are fipronil, imidacloprid, and pyrethroids.
1. Flea and Tick Collars
Flea and tick collars are ‘impregnated’ with active ingredients that are slowly released from the collar and spread over a dog’s or cat’s body through the oils on the skin and hair coat. The chemicals on the collars usually start working within 24 hours of being attached to the animal’s body. The chemicals can kill fleas and ticks. Protection from flea and tick collars usually lasts for about seven months.
Precautions when using flea and tick collars on your pet:
There are different types of collars, so make sure you get the right one for your pet. Some chemicals in dog flea and tick collars can be toxic to cats. This means you can’t use a tick and flea collar for dogs on cats and vice versa. Monitor your pet closely for any signs of toxicity and/or adverse reactions and be careful when handling the collar. An absorption-based collar might not be right for you if you love cuddling your cat or dog.
Advantages of flea and tick collars:
- Provide long-term protection against ticks and fleas
- More budget-friendly compared to most methods of flea and tick control
- Pretty straight-forward to use
Disadvantages of flea and tick collars:
- The chemicals/active ingredients the collars contain can be harmful to humans and pets.
- The overuse or misuse of flea and tick collars can lead to chemical burns, allergic reactions, or even the death of pets.
Types of Flea and Tick Collars
- Absorption collars - This is the most type of flea/tick collar. They contain chemicals that can kill and/or repel fleas and ticks.
- Frequency-based collars - These collars repel fleas and ticks using high-frequency sound waves. They do not use chemicals but do not help kill the fleas/ticks.
- Gas-based collars - These collars emit a gas that can kill fleas and ticks. They’re ideal as a preventative for pets that spend a lot of time outdoors.
2. Spot-on Flea and Tick Preventatives
Spot-on flea and tick products consist of liquid or gel that is applied between the shoulder blades or down the back of dogs and cats. It can be applied directly using a pipette or by squeezing the contents of the tube. The chemical solution spreads quickly through your pet’s skin and hair coat via the oil glands. Spot-ons can kill fleas and ticks within one day after application.
As your pet sheds off dead skin cells and hair, the chemical ingredient will also be shed off into your pet’s immediate environment, killing any flea larvae that are present. Since it’s also effective against flea larvae, infestations can be prevented by spot-on products for up to a month.
Things to know before applying spot-on flea and tick preventatives:
- Read the label. If there is something on the label that you don’t understand, ask your vet.
- Make sure the product is labeled for use on specific species, either cat or dog. Never use a spot-on product labeled for dogs on cats or vice versa as this may cause severe adverse reactions.
- Know your pet’s weight and use a spot-on that matches your pet’s weight range.
- Don’t buy a larger-size dose and split it to treat several smaller pets. You can never apply an accurate dosage this way and there is the possibility of underdosing or overdosing.
- Don’t use a spot-on on kittens or puppies unless it is specifically stated on the product label.
- If your pet is old, pregnant, nursing, debilitated, or has a history of adverse reactions to flea and/or tick products, you should consult your vet before applying spot-ons on your pet.
- Use protective gloves when applying a spot-on product to your pet. Thoroughly wash your hands immediately with soap and water after application.
Oral Flea and Tick Preventatives
The most common active ingredients in oral flea and tick medications include lufenuron, spinosad, and nitenpyram.
Oral flea and tick preventatives come as pills or chewables. They can be a better option than other modes of treatment that leave residue on your pet’s skin and hair coat. Most oral preventatives, however, need a veterinarian’s prescription and tend to be more expensive.
One flea and tick medication has been formulated to kill adult fleas within 30 minutes and can be given to your pet daily. There are oral medications that you can give monthly to prevent flea eggs from hatching. Also, some oral products are formulated to kill adult fleas and ticks. Check with your vet to see which product is best for your dog or cat.
To ensure your pet’s adequate protection against ticks and fleas, you should work closely with your vet in creating a preventive health program that will include year-round protection against ticks, fleas, and other parasites.
Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding your pet’s flea and tick medication or another condition?
Click here to schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets. You can also download the FirstVet app from the Apple App Store and Google Play Stores.