THE BLOG
05/06/2013 06:18 pm ET | Updated Jul 06, 2013

Flea and Tick Control: Your Decision

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Over the past 10 years there has been an explosion of newly released flea and tick products for dogs and cats. Choosing the right product for your pet has become daunting given the choices available. Additionally, advertisers and their makers make it more confusing to the pet owners by flaunting their flea and tick product as "the safest," "the most effective," "the most convenient," and "the quickest kill."

I've decided to tackle this confusing purchasing decision by educating you on how to make the most informed decision. I'm not going to recommend one product for all pets because you will soon discover that every pet faces its own risks. In my opinion, there is no one product on the market that is best for all pets.

These eight questions will help you select the best flea and tick control product for your pet:

  1. Does my pet have exposure to ticks?

Yes, if it goes outside according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, which reports that ticks are present in every state of the United State. Why should I be concerned about ticks? Ticks carry diseases like Lyme, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Anaplasmosis.

  • Is my pet high or low risk for exposure to ticks?
  • Living in an urban setting does not mean ticks are not there. For example, 10 years ago, Chicago veterinarians rarely discussed tick control but due to our frequent traveling with pets and wildlife presence, we now have ticks in Chicago. Ticks live on the ground, whether it is on a city lawn or in a forest. They usually crawl up on a blade of grass, wait for a warm-blooded animal to pass by, and then drop onto their host to take a meal.

    Determining your pet's risk for tick exposure will help narrow or eliminate some of the products on the market. Products containing Selamectin, Fipronil, Amitraz and pyrethoids are usually labeled to control ticks. If your pet has negligible exposure to ticks, then the tick efficacy of the product is not that important to you. You may want to select a product that just has flea control in it. If your pet roams in dense, wooded areas, then your tick exposure is high and tick control efficacy is a very important consideration when choosing an insecticide.

  • Does your pet go to daycare, grooming parlors, or parks? Or, does your pet stay in its own backyard?
  • If your pet is social, then this increases your pet's exposure to fleas. Although you may think that if your dog stays in its own backyard that its exposure to fleas is negligible, this assumption is incorrect. Unfortunately, wildlife - like opossums, raccoons, and stray cats can carry fleas into your yard. I believe all dogs and cats that go outside are at risk for exposure to fleas and should consider excellent flea control of utmost importance when selecting a product.

  • Does your pet swim or get bathed at least once every two weeks?
  • If yes, then it is imperative that you choose a flea and tick control product that is guaranteed to still be effective after exposure to water and soap. When applying topical insecticides that are labeled waterproof, don't forget to wait at least 24-hours before or after applying the insecticide before allowing your pet to swim. Most topical insecticides need this time to be absorbed by the skin in order to be effective. Obviously, if your pet does not swim, your chosen product does not need to be waterproof.

  • Do you own a cat?
  • Applying a pyrethroid (like cyphenothrin, deltamethrin, permethrin, and phenothrin) or amitraz containing product on your dog can be toxic to your cat. Just allowing your cat to rub next to your recently treated dog can be extremely toxic to your cat.

    If you are choosing a flea and tick product for your cat, make sure when purchasing the product that it is specifically labeled for cats. Not only would I avoid the amitraz or pyrethroid containing products, but I would also avoid applying flea collars on cats. Cats that roam outside can get the collar caught on branches or fences, and strangle themselves.

  • How old is your pet?
  • Some products are not safe to apply on pets less than eight weeks of age. Some products are definitely not safe to apply on ill or pregnant pets. Read the label for age and health restrictions before choosing and applying them onto your pet.

  • Does the product kill both adult fleas and eggs?
  • I personally believe that a product that only prevents the flea eggs from hatching or larvae from completing it's life cycle (insect growth regulators) misses the mark of an acceptable product when used alone. Lufenuron is an example of an insecticide that prevents eggs from completing their metamorphosis. Examples of insect growth regulators are pyriproxyfen and methoprene. No one, including you or your pet, finds it acceptable to have an adult flea biting its skin. On the flip side, if the product only kills the adult fleas and not the flea eggs, this creates a situation where the eggs in the environment can hatch, jump on your pet, and bite them. One female flea will lay 20-40 eggs per day.

  • Are you concerned about absorbing this product when you touch your pet?
  • I hesitate to recommend any insecticide product that is intended to remain on the surface of the pet's fur. I do not want any personal exposure to these products. I would never apply flea powder or use a flea collar containing propoxur or tetrachlorvinphos on my pets for fear that not only could it be carcinogenic or toxic to my pet but also to anyone exposed to it. Reported by the National Resources Defense Council, when an adult plays with a cat or dog wearing one of these insecticide collars they could be potentially exposed to up to 500 times the safe levels of the pesticide set by the EPA. This number is substantially higher for children. Their exposure to the toxin is up to 1,000 times the safe level.

    A case study: My golden retriever, Zack, lives in Oak Park, Illinois but frequently goes to Michigan during the summer where his tick exposure is high. So, tick control is extremely important to me. He swims at least two to three times per week in the summer so I want to choose a flea and tick product that will not wash off him. Although he does not go to dog parks, he does walk the streets where many dogs pass by so his flea exposure is high. I own two exclusively indoor cats so I am going to avoid products containing pyrethroids or amitraz. My dog is 10 years of age and in good health so I don't have to worry about him being too young or too ill to apply. I definitely don't want adult fleas on him or eggs in my environment -- so both of these properties will be in my selected product. I don't want to smell or feel this product on him -- so topical sprays or collars are unacceptable. Next, I would contact my veterinarian to recommend a flea and tick product that kills ticks, waterproof, kills adult fleas and eggs, safe around cats, and is absorbed by his skin or taken orally.

    Do not fall victim to a boastful flea and tick advertising campaign by the manufacturer. Choose the best product for your pet based on your concerns and the advice of your veterinarian. And then, apply your flea and tick control on your pet as directed by the manufacturer's label. Being proactive with your pet's health allows you to enjoy more sunny days with your beloved pet!