The Dos and Don’ts of Flea & Tick Preventatives

Flea and tick preventatives are highly recommended in most parts of the United States and internationally for dogs and cats. Fleas can cause local itchiness, allergies, anemia, and can transport certain diseases, including tapeworms and the bubonic plague. Ticks are by far the scarier bug, as they can cause life-threatening diseases to dogs, including Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, Anaplasmosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

Here are some Dos and Don’ts for concerned pet parents interested in safe-guarding their furry friends from fleas and ticks:

The Dos:

  • Use a flea and tick preventative prescribed by your veterinarian​. Over-the-counter flea and tick preventatives can be ineffective, or, in some cases, dangerous to your pet.
  • Treat your entire home if one flea is found on your dog or cat. Fleas do not live on your pet, but instead live within your home, and only attach themselves to your pet when they need a meal.
  • Keep your pet on flea and tick preventative year-round​. With warmer winters and evolving species, fleas and ticks are no longer dying or hiding during winter months.
  • Pick the best type of flea and tick preventative for your pet​. Topical is not the best choice for dogs that love to swim daily and oral preventative may not be the best for pet’s with food allergies, since they contain flavoring. Ask your veterinarian to help you pick the best option for your pet.

The Don’ts:

  • Don’t give flea and tick preventative to your cat if it is labeled for a dog​. Dog preventatives contain more than 10x the amount of medication present in the cat version, which can be toxic to cats, leading to tremors, seizures, and hyperthermia. If you give dog preventative to your cat, seek veterinary attention immediate, since symptoms can be delayed.
  • Don’t give topical flea and tick preventative orally or vice versa. Always double check the label of your preventative to see how it should be administered. If you have a question, check with your veterinarian.
  • Don’t bathe your pet within 2 days of applying topical flea and tick preventative​. The preventative is absorbed systemically through the skin which can take up to 48 hours. If your dog likes to swim, consider an oral or collar form of prevention.
  • Don’t forget to check your pet after each excursion into heavily wooded areas or known tick-infestations.​
  • Don’t hesitate to remove a tick from your pet. A tick can be removed by grabbing the head, where it inserts into the skin, and pulling it out. Do NOT burn the tick out, as you are at risk of burning your pet. If an engorged tick is found on your pet, tick-borne disease testing should be performed by your veterinarian in 4-6 weeks.

The safest decision for your pet is to be proactive with flea/tick medications. It is easier to prevent infestations and the diseases that they may carry by preventative medication than by treating the diseases once they are present. It is also less expensive to keep your pet on year round preventative care then to treat the disease once they are infected. In some flea/tick diseases, extensive diagnostics, hospitalization, and treatment may be required.