Flea and Tick Prevention: 2015 Update

April 8, 2015
Photo: Vetstreet.com

Photo: Vetstreet.com

When I started my career as a veterinarian, the options for flea and tick control were limited, smelly and messy. I dispensed cans of spray, bottles of dip, and cartons of powder, but hardly ever prescribed a flea collar. Back then, the collars were not that effective and some thought the only way a flea collar killed a flea was by squashing it when you put the collar on your pet. Thirty years later, the options for pet owners to prevent ectoparasite infestations are infinitely better and way more numerous.

Better flea and tick control has resulted in healthier pets. I used to routinely see dogs and cats crawling with fleas from head to toe. Many developed flea allergic dermatitis, often complicated by a superficial skin infection. While we still see allergies in pets, flea allergic dermatitis is much less common and pets are much more comfortable, thanks to these new products.

Top Spot Products
The big revolution in flea and tick prevention started when top spot products were introduced. These are the little tubes of liquid that come in multipacks for monthly application to the nape of your pet’s neck. The product then distributes throughout the haircoat and kills fleas and ticks when they come in contact with the medicine on your pet’s hair. They also come with stickers for your calendar or an app for your mobile device to remind you when to apply the medication. Many of the manufacturers of these products have videos on their website demonstrating proper application of the product.

Oral Flea and Tick Prevention
Oral products can be active against only fleas or prevent multiple species of ticks as well. Most oral products come as tasty chew treats and are administered monthly; although long lasting products are also available. Not all oral products start working instantly. If your pet has a flea infestation because you missed a dose, check with your veterinarian about a rapidly acting oral product for quick flea takedown.

Long Lasting Collars
Unlike the early flea collars, today’s models last for months at a time. Depending on which collar your veterinarian prescribes, modern flea collars may be active against a single species of tick or fleas and multiple species of ticks. If you choose a collar, check the label carefully as some collars may take a week to reach full strength on your pet.

Choosing What’s Right for Your Pet
When selecting from this array of products, consider the following criteria:

  1. Talk with your veterinarian about the types of parasites in your area. Selecting a product with a profile that fits your area’s parasite population is critical.
  2. Top spot products often repel as well as kill fleas and ticks. If you live in a geographic locale with high numbers of fleas and ticks, you might want this added protection.
  3. Certain collars and oral preventatives last for months at a time. If you are busy and forgetful, one of these products might be a good choice.
  4. Not all top spot preparations and collars are waterproof. If your dog is a swimmer, choose a waterproof product or consider an oral flea and tick preventative.
  5. If you have a puppy or kitten, make sure the product you select is safe for the newest family member. Some products are not labeled for pets < 6-12 weeks of age.
  6. Use dog products for dogs and cat products for cats. Never switch, or you may need a trip to the animal ER.

Cicada Mania: Will These Bugs Hurt My Pet?

June 4, 2013
Periodic cicada

Periodic cicada

According to The AMC’s friends at Radiolab, #swarmageddon is upon us. Periodic cicadas, the kind that emerge every 17 years have been spotted in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

Scientifically, cicadas are hemipterans, but to our pets they may just seem like a tasty snack. Given the average lifespan of dogs and cats, very few of them have previously experienced a cicada swarm, and inquisitive pets may decide to do a taste test of their own.

Essentially, cicadas are harmless. Unlike ticks, they don’t spread disease and unlike fleas, they don’t bite. Timid dogs and cats may be startled by the loud noise made by the male cicada, while playful pets may find these bugs a source of afternoon entertainment.

But what are the potential dangers of eating cicadas? The bugs themselves are not toxic. Think of them as a high protein, low carb, gluten free snack. Small pets with tiny digestive tracts could conceivably have a cicada lodged in their intestine, causing an obstruction. Over indulgence on cicadas in a dog with an indiscriminate appetite (think Labradors) might cause a serious case of upset stomach, but if access to the cicada buffet is restricted, recovery should be uneventful. If the cicadas have been doused with insecticide, they could pose some health risk to your pets. Best to limit cicada consumption, but should your pet snack on a few, I wouldn’t expect any major problems.

Want to learn more about cicadas? National Geographic and Cicadia Mania have great information. Are you hungry for cicadas? Radiolab suggests pairing a Cicada Taco with a Riesling. Have we whet your appetite for cool science? Hear Radiolab conduct an interview at The Animal Medical Center called “Taking the Plunge.”

What’s New for Fleas and Ticks?

April 24, 2013

scratching dogTicks have been around forever. Even the ancient Roman author, Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.) was vexed by these creatures. He is reported to have said, “Ticks: the foulest and nastiest creatures that be.” Ancient Rome must not have had fleas, or Pliny would have included them on his nasty creature list as well. Besides being nasty, fleas and ticks spread disease to you and your pets.

A new kind of collar

Collars to prevent flea and tick infestations have been around a long time, but their effectiveness has been limited. A veterinary school professor of mine said, “The only fleas killed by a flea collar are those squashed when the collar is put around the pet’s neck.” Polymer technology has advanced flea collars from a dusty plastic strap to a timed release medical device, and in the newest version even repels ticks before they attach. For additional information on year-round flea and tick control, check with the Companion Animal Parasite Council.

A new way to remove ticks

One of my most frequent calls is from an owner who finds a tick attached to their dog or cat and wants to know how to get rid of the nasty critter. The internet is rife with misinformation on how to remove ticks – nail polish remover, smoking matches and petroleum jelly. All of these are bad ideas. Either grasp the tick firmly with tweezers or a tick removing device and pull the tick, head included, out of the skin. This is easier said than done in a wiggly dog with a teeny tiny embedded deer tick. Now, there is a way that will make pet owners ecstatic with an easier way! A new a non-toxic product has been designed and produced to loosen the tick’s grip on the skin and allow it to be lifted off your pet with a cotton ball or moistened pad.

A new method to decrease ticks in the environment

Currently under investigation for the control of Lyme disease are bait boxes for mice. This clever study aims to attack Lyme disease where it starts, with the deer ticks that feed on the reservoir host of the Lyme disease bacteria: the white footed mouse. Bait boxes are placed outdoors. Mice enter the box and a mouse sized dose of fipronyl gets rubbed on their back. Fipronyl is an Environmental Protection Agency registered product found in several top spot tick and flea preventative medications for dogs and cats. When applied to mice, it kills ticks, decreasing the number of ticks which can bite you and your family.

Do you still want more information about ticks? The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station has an exhaustive tick handbook available online.

Confused about flea and tick preventatives for your dog and cat? Make an appointment with your veterinarian to find the right prescription for your pets. Follow their directions exactly, because reactions to flea and tick products are most commonly due to improper use of these products.

What’s On the Mind of Pet Owners?

December 5, 2012

older man with catA recent survey of both pet owners and veterinarians interrogated the pet health issues each group thought were most important. In last week’s post, I discussed the issues from the veterinarian’s point of view. In this blog I will write from the pet owner’s point of view.

Pet owners said they were primarily concerned with vaccinations, fleas and ticks, heartworms, intestinal parasites, and spending money on medications. This list appears to overlap with the veterinary list on the topic of intestinal parasites, and both owners and vets are squarely focused on preventive healthcare; care to keep their favorite furry, feathery, or scaly companion healthy.


Vaccinations float to the top of most pet owners’ lists because they save pets’ lives. Before vaccinations were available for common diseases like canine distemper and feline panleukopenia, these diseases spread through neighborhoods like wildfire, often resulting in the deaths of many pets. Decreases in the recommended frequency of some vaccines, coupled with the association between injections and tumors, has raised many questions in pet owners’ minds.

Intestinal parasites

Both pet owners and veterinarians agreed intestinal parasite control was an important issue for pets. How could it not be? Intestinal parasites are high in yuck factor, high in pet discomfort, and on the list of diseases people and pets can share.

Fleas and ticks

These critters are very similar to intestinal parasites with regard to yuck factor and pet discomfort. A pet with a flea infestation may mean you also have a house or apartment with a flea infestation since fleas spend more time off your pet than on. Pet owners want to avoid an expensive exterminator bill by preventing fleas on their pet. Pet owners also want to prevent fleas and ticks to protect their pet against diseases like Lyme disease and blood parasites.


Because heartworms are a serious health concern in both dogs and cats, they are an important medical issue for most pet owners. Nearly every state in the United States reports cases of heartworm in resident dogs and cats. This map shows heartworm cases by state.

Year-round heartworm preventative is a “two-fer” since most prevent both heartworms and some intestinal parasites.

Pet medications

Pet owners want the best for their pet. In my mind, the best are veterinary-specific products. I prefer to prescribe medications developed specifically for veterinary patients rather than human or compounded medications. Veterinary-specific medications assure you, the pet owner, the product has been tested in dogs or cats and will be absorbed, metabolized, and effective in your pet. But, because most pets do not have insurance and medications are paid for “out of pocket,” many times pet owners can be surprised at the cost. As a pet owner myself, I believe that these veterinary-specific medications are worth paying for.

After looking carefully at the two lists of pet healthcare issues, one from pet owners and the other from veterinarians, are they really so different? Both groups’ lists really have only one item and it’s the same one: healthy, happy pets.

How Are You Like Your Pet?

December 19, 2011

One of my favorite paintings by the great American artist Norman Rockwell is the 1952 scene “At the Vet’s.” Rockwell skillfully captures what every veterinarian knows: people often look like their pets. In the center of this painting, a Beagle—the all-American dog of the 1950’s—sits on the lap of an all-American boy of the 1950’s. On the left edge of the painting, an elegantly dressed lady wears a black pillbox hat and veil mimicking the hairdo of her elegantly groomed black Standard Poodle.

Pets are much more than caricatures of their owners. We share many similar diseases – diabetes, breast cancer and food-borne illness. Research into the diagnosis and treatment of diseases like these ultimately helps everyone.

Multispecies Melanoma
Take for example the results of a clinical trial published just this month. A DNA melanoma vaccine for dogs, co-developed by The Animal Medical Center and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, has been shown to improve the long-term survival of dogs receiving the vaccine compared to dogs that did not get the vaccine after their oral melanoma was surgically removed. This information paves the way for a human clinical trial of a melanoma vaccine, and because horses get melanomas too, the vaccine is being studied in them as well.

Dogs and Cats Get White Coat Hypertension Too!
Going to the doctor is stressful for everyone, and approximately 10-20% of the population are stressed enough to elevate their blood pressure above the normal range. In some patients, their blood pressure reaches the level when antihypertensive medications are dispensed. This false elevation in blood pressure has been called the “white-coat effect” or “white coat hypertension.” Physicians must work hard to determine if the hypertension is real or stress-related before prescribing medications.

The same white-coat effect has been seen in both dogs and cats having their blood pressure measured in the veterinarian’s office. If your dog or cat has a disease which predisposes him to hypertension, such as chronic kidney disease, your veterinarian will take multiple blood pressure measurements to be sure your pet does not have white coat hypertension.

Ticks Bite Everyone
Lyme disease is the number one tick-transmitted disease seen in humans and a common one in dogs. Most dogs with Lyme disease exhibit lameness, but serious infections can affect the heart and kidneys. Researchers have shown the presence of Lyme disease in a canine population mirrors the geographic distribution of Lyme disease in humans. Furthermore, an uptick in canine cases of Lyme disease predicts an increase in human cases of Lyme disease.

Surprising, isn’t it? You think you love your pet because it is a great companion and an entertaining family member. But because they are like us in many ways, you now know they help keep us healthy too.


This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Flea & Tick Treatments: Are They Safe or Not?

June 15, 2009

You may have heard or read recent media reports about pet owners who believe their animals have experienced harmful side effects from the use of “spot on” or “top spot” flea and tick preventatives. In fact, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal states that “the number of incidents reported to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the agency which regulates these pet treatments has increased 53% over the past year.”

frontline-applicationThis statistic came from a statement issued on April 16, 2009 by the Environmental Protection Agency announcing an increase in adverse event reports associated with application of EPA approved spot on flea and tick preventatives. The statement suggests that  The EPA will be intensifying its evaluation of all approved spot on products and issued an consumer advisory.

Does this mean you should stop administering the preventative to your dog or cat? Not at all, but it does mean you need to do some legwork to be your pet’s best healthcare advocate.

First, scrutinize the data. If product A has 100 adverse events reported and product B has ten adverse events reported, does that mean product A is ten times more likely to cause an adverse event than product B? Not necessarily.  The answer depends on how many doses of both products have been administered. If 100,000 doses of product A have been administered, it has an adverse reaction rate of 0.1%. If 10,000 doses of product B have been administered, it has an equal adverse reaction rate of 0.1%. 

cat-scratchingSecond, talk to your veterinarian. Have a conversation about the risks in your community of fleas and ticks carrying an infection. An urban, apartment-dwelling pet is not very likely to get ticks, but fleas can easily be transmitted in a carpeted apartment building hallway.  During this discussion, you and your veterinarian can choose the preventative for the pests most likely to affect your pet.  Your veterinarian will also know which flea and tick preventatives work best in your neighborhood. 

Finally, successful use of any medication requires you to follow the manufacturers guidelines and flea and tick preventatives are no different. In fact, the EPA reports the majority of adverse event occur because the pet owner does not follow the manufacturer’s guideline for use of the products. These guidelines are developed with your pet’s health and safety in mind.

This announcement involves only the spot on flea and tick preventatives under the jurisdiction of the EPA. Some flea and tick products are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. For additional information and a list of EPA regulated products, visit these sites:

The EPA suggests the following resources:
• The National Pesticide Information Center has collated information for consumers in the Least Toxic Pest Control Guide
• Less-Toxic Product List, a resource guide by Our Water, Our World

For nearly a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts.  Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

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