Take the bite out of fleas and ticks

We couldn’t help but notice that your pet is adorable; irresistible, even. Unfortunately, fleas and ticks are thinking the same thing, which can turn your cat or dog into a feast for these tiny terrors. But there is a lot you can do to both protect your furry friends as well as treat them if and when fleas and ticks take hold. 

The big deal over little pests

In one day, a single flea can bite your cat or dog more than 400 times and consume more than its body weight of your pet's blood. And before it's through, a female flea can lay hundreds of eggs on your pet, ensuring that its work will be carried on by generations to come.

Flea-induced scratching might look like a minor annoyance but infestations can be dangerous for some pets. They can cause flea allergy dermatitis, which is an allergic reaction to proteins in flea saliva. A pet's constant scratching to rid itself of fleas can cause permanent hair loss and other skin problems. A pet can get a tapeworm if it eats a flea that has one. When fleas continuously feast on your pet's blood, it can lead to anemia and, in rare cases, death.
But fleas are not your pet's only enemies. Tick bites can transmit infections like Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. And ticks can give those same infections to you

Have a prevention plan

The best flea and tick treatment starts with prevention, so plan on giving your pet a treatment at the beginning of each season. The time when flea season kicks off and how long it lasts will depend on what part of the country you live in and the average temperature and humidity there. In general, fleas thrive in warmer, more humid environments (70-85 degrees F and about 70 percent humidity). In a warm house fleas can live all year round. Exposure to tick bites tends to spike from early spring through late fall, when the weather is warmer. Again though, it’ll vary by region. When it comes to both fleas and ticks, the best starting point is your local veterinarian, who can provide advice on treatment timing that’s based on where you live. It’s also important to check with your vet to find out how to deal with special considerations like your pet’s age, health and whether it lives indoors or outdoors.

Pet treatment tactics

Flea and tick treatments vary in terms of how they work. Pesticides, repellents and growth inhibitors each take different approaches to keeping pests at bay. Some products kill only ticks or adult fleas, while others break the flea life cycle by preventing flea eggs from developing into adult fleas. Delivery methods range from oral medications that require a veterinarian's prescription to collars, sprays, dips, shampoos and powders. The type of treatment you choose will depend on your situation. If you live in a high flea and tick area with long seasons and your pet goes outside a lot, you’ll probably want a treatment that’s easy to apply, like a “spot-on,” which is applied directly to your pet’s skin, usually on the back of the neck. The Lyme vaccine is also an option for your dog; consult with your vet to find out if it makes sense for your pooch.

Home & yard treatment tactics

When dealing with an especially persistent infestation or if you started using flea prevention products after discovering a problem, you might need to take additional steps to treat your home and yard. Fleas can live in carpet and cushions for a long time. Start with a flea fogger or spray inside the house, to help treat hard-to-reach places. To keep your home flea egg-free, vacuum your carpet and your pet’s bedding several times a week. As an extra precaution, tape up the vacuum bag and throw it away (preferably outside) when you’re finished. If the problem lingers, investigate outdoor areas where your pet spends time. This includes kennels and doghouses, which should be cleaned regularly, including bedding. If you use a yard treatment, make sure it’s dry before letting your pet back outside; and never use a yard treatment on your pet.
If you find a tick on your pet, remove it and monitor your pet for symptoms by following the instructions outlined in How to remove a tick.

Safety precautions

Flea and tick medicines are powerful, which can make them highly effective, but also potentially harmful if used incorrectly. Use treatments exactly as they are intended and follow guidelines for choosing medicine based on your pet’s age and weight. If you have a kitten or puppy that’s too young for treatment, use a flea comb to remove fleas, eggs and ticks.

Safety checklist

  • Read the label carefully before use. If you don't understand the wording, ask your veterinarian or call the manufacturer.
  • Follow directions exactly. If the product is for dogs, don't use it on cats or other pets. If the label says use weekly, don't use it daily. If the product is for the house or yard, don't put it directly on your pet.
  • After applying the product, wash your hands immediately with soap and water. Use protective gloves if possible.
  • If your pet shows symptoms of illness after treatment, call your veterinarian. Symptoms of poisoning may include poor appetite, depression, vomiting, diarrhea or excessive salivation.  
  • Store products away from food and out of children's reach.

With just a little planning each year, you can help keep your pets (and yourself, your home and yard) happily flea- and tick-free. 

Not sure which products will suit your needs best? Visit our Flea & Tick Product Buying Guide.
Some content excerpted from the FDA Veterinarian Newsletter, revised June 2014 
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