Bad Bugs: Flea and Tick Prevention
It might not seem like it today, but warmer weather is coming and with it come the creepy crawly (and jumpy) creatures we love to hate: fleas and ticks. These pests can not only make your dog uncomfortable, but they pose serious health risks. These external parasites can cause or transfer many different injuries and illnesses to our dogs, ranging from mild skin irritation, secondary infections at the site of the bite, transfer of internal parasites like tapeworms, and life-long and/or life-threatening diseases like Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and ehrlichiosis. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Beginning and maintaining parasite preventatives is one of the easiest things you can do to keep your dog healthy.
Even with preventatives it is recommended to regularly check your dog for fleas and ticks, especially if they have been outside in tall grass, brush, or other areas where these parasites are common.
Keep in mind that even animals who do not spend much or any time outdoors or off your property are still at risk. Other animals or people in the home can easily carry these pests indoors with them. Wild animals and roaming cats and dogs can also carry them into your yard. Additionally, while most pet based businesses make every effort to keep their facilities clean and free of pests, there is a small chance that your pet could pick them up from other pets in places like veterinary offices, grooming salons, pet stores, boarding kennels, doggie day cares, and training facilities.
There are many products on the market to keep these bad bugs at bay, such as topical drops, collars, oral medications, sprays, and shampoos. We’ll discuss some of these options here, but as always, please speak with your veterinarian about which options are best for your pet.
Drops: A variety of flea and tick drops are available from your vet or over the counter. Most are formulated for fleas and ticks, and some will repel mosquitos and other pests as well. These treatments are usually applied to the dog’s skin over the withers (shoulder blades). Be sure to read packaging carefully before buying or applying these products, as they are typically labeled by the weight of your dog. These products need to be reapplied once a month and often, the dog is not to be bathed or go swimming for 3-5 days after application.
Collars: These are commonly called “flea collars”, but many kill and repel ticks as well. Like drops, collars are designed for certain weight ranges of dogs, so be sure to read the labels carefully. Flea and tick collars have an effective lifetime of 4-12 months depending on the brand. Some brands claim to remain effective during swimming and bathing.
Oral medications: Oral flea and tick medications are most commonly available by prescription from your veterinarian, though there are a few over the counter varieties. Most prescription medications prevent a variety of parasites during all life stages. Effective time usually ranges from 1-3 months. It is worth noting that common over the counter medications such as Capstar may only work on certain parasites or life stages of those parasites, and only kill the parasites that are present rather than preventing infestation.
Sprays: Flea and tick sprays are available for use in your home, in your yard, and some can be applied directly on the pet. There are sprays formulated to kill parasites and some sprays are formulated to repel parasites. Some sprays do both. Sprays usually begin to be effective almost immediately, but they must be reapplied often. Insect repellant formulated for dogs can be useful as an added layer of protection during outdoor activities like hiking, camping, and hunting and often repel other insects such as mosquitos, flies and bees. There are also a number of all-natural insect repellants available, such as Cordoba Farm’s Bug Off Spray, available for sale at Diva Dog.
Shampoos: Flea and tick shampoo is readily available over the counter and is effective for killing parasites currently on your dog. Typically these products are required to sit on the dog for a number of minutes before rinsing. It is important to lather all parts of the dog while avoiding the shampoo getting into your dog’s mouth and eyes. Shampoo generally will not prevent further infestation. (Please note: We do not use or apply flea shampoos in our facility).
As stated earlier, it is imperative that you discuss all of these options with your veterinarian before using them. Some of these options might be safe for the dog in question but still pose a risk to other pets in your home such as young puppies, cats, pocket pets and birds and possibly to young children that may touch animals and then put their hands in their mouths or eyes. Be sure that your veterinarian knows about everyone, human and animal, in your household when discussing flea and tick options.
Keeping your dog safe from fleas and tick is relatively easy and inexpensive, and your furry friend will thank you for keeping him healthy.
Robin Pitoscia is the owner of Diva Dog Grooming LLC, located in Duluth, MN. She has been a professional dog groomer for 15 years, working in a number of grooming salons across the Midwest. In addition to grooming dogs, she also breeds and exhibits Chinese Cresteds in a variety of AKC dog shows and sports. She is a strong advocate for building respectful relationships between humans and dogs through positive reinforcement and an understanding of canine cognition and behavior.