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.

Preventing Lyme Disease

July 12, 2010

If you live in the northern portion of the Mississippi River Valley or in the northeast as I do, June, July and August are peak months of incidence for Lyme disease in humans. These are the peak months for Lyme disease because the young Ixodes ticks (nymphs) carrying the Lyme disease organism (Borrelia burgdorferi) are most active in the late spring and summer.

Peak tick activity coincides with peak outdoor activity for both humans and pets, giving the young ticks an opportunity to attach and transmit the infection. In dogs, clinical signs of Lyme disease develop 2-5 months after a tick bite. Veterinarians can detect evidence of exposure to Lyme disease in the blood of cats, but cats seem to be more resistant to developing clinical signs of Lyme disease than are dogs.

Several different products are available to prevent tick infestation in dogs and cats. These days, the most common is a top spot solution applied between the shoulder blades of your dog or cat. Collars and sprays to prevent both ticks and fleas are also available. Ask your veterinarian which type of product will work best in your neighborhood and on your pet.

Annual vaccination is also an option for preventing Lyme disease in dogs. A vaccine is not available for preventing Lyme disease in cats. The Lyme vaccine is not considered a “core” vaccine and every dog does not require this vaccination. When you make your annual well dog visit to your veterinarian, put this vaccine on your list of topics to discuss.

Your backyard will be a source of ticks on your pet. Keep your dog and cat out of areas where the bushes and grass are not trimmed. Wooded areas should be off limits to dogs and cats in Lyme country. As pretty as deer are to watch in your backyard, they can serve as vehicles for tick transportation. Don’t attract deer by feeding them since they can bring ticks with them.

Should your dog or cat come home with a tick imbedded in its skin, removing the tick immediately will help stop transmission of the Lyme causing organism and only requires a tweezer. Grab the head of the tick as close to where it attaches to the skin and pull the entire head out of the skin. There is no need to use petroleum jelly, a match or a sharp object to remove a tick, and in fact these may cause more harm than good.

Preventing Lyme disease in your pet will have a positive impact on your health as well. Pets cannot give Lyme disease to their human or animal family members. They can, however, bring home ticks which can attach and transmit the Lyme disease-causing organism to your family or your other pets.

Not all ticks carry Lyme disease. If you want to identify the tick you just pulled from your cat or dog as one that carries Lyme disease or not, most state departments of health have a website for identification of the ticks commonly found in your state. I recommend this website to my New York pet owners: http://www.cals.cornell.edu/cals/entomology/extension/medent/tickbiofs.cfm

Keep in mind a tick bite does not equal Lyme disease. Only a small percentage of tick bitten pets will develop clinical signs of Lyme disease. Lyme disease is not the only tick borne illness of dogs and cats, others include babesiosis, anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis. If your pet is acting sick, see your veterinarian and don’t forget to tell her about the tick bite.

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.

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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