Collars, Dips, Sprays, and Medication for Flea and Tick Prevention
By Jennifer Kvamme, DVM
Fleas and ticks are not only a nuisance, they can also transmit deadly diseases to you and your cat or dog. If left unchecked, you can have a serious problem within your household. There are many options available for cat and dog owners to keep fleas and ticks at bay. Here are some of the most common ones used today.
Please note that you should seek your veterinarian’s advice if your cat or dog experiences any adverse reactions after being given a flea and tick control product. Read all labels carefully when choosing a flea and tick preventive, so that you find the best one for your pet. Use them only as instructed, and only for the type of animal (cat or dog) that is specified.
Flea and tick medications that you apply to your pet’s skin, usually between the shoulder blades or at the base of the neck, are called "spot-ons." These popular products typically contain ingredients that repel and kill fleas and ticks as well as mosquitoes. The ingredients commonly found in these products include fipronil, methoprene, imidacloprid, permethrin, pyriproxyfen, and moxidectin.
Spot-on chemicals spread over the animal’s entire body, depositing into the sweat glands of the skin, where the active ingredient can be released over several weeks’ time. They are very convenient to use and will continue to work even if your cat or dog is bathed or goes swimming. There are precautions to take, since these products can be toxic if ingested. If you have children or other pets in the home you will need to watch over or seclude your dog or cat until the product has dried in order to prevent children from getting it on their hands, or other pets from getting it in their mouths while grooming the treated pet.
If you don’t like the idea of using a topical medication on your cat or dog, there are a few different monthly oral medications available. Some products not only kill fleas and ticks, they also prevent heartworm disease and even some internal parasites like roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms.
Not all of the oral medications work to kill adult fleas. Medications that contain lufenuron, for example, work by preventing adult fleas from producing eggs, stopping the life cycle so the population of fleas cannot continue to grow. Other common ingredients seen in oral medications include spinosad, nitenpyram, and milbemycin oxime. Nitenpyram is an ingredient that can be given daily if necessary, as it kills fleas within an hour and does not stay in the pet’s bloodstream for an entire month. For this reason, it is safe to use in pregnant and nursing cats or dogs.
Side effects of oral flea and tick preventive medications are generally few, but can include vomiting and diarrhea. Some animals may develop a skin reaction that causes redness, itching, and/or hives to develop. Depression and lack of appetite have also been reported.
Sprays and Powders
A relatively inexpensive method for controlling fleas and ticks on your cat or dog is to use a spray or powder. These products typically contain pyrethrins and other ingredients to enhance their ability to kill fleas, ticks, and even mosquitoes, flies, and gnats. Some products contain insect growth regulators that kill the immature stages of the flea, preventing them from developing and reproducing.
Natural products are also available that use citrus oils or other plant extracts to repel fleas and ticks. Care should be used with cats, as they can be sensitive to citrus extracts. Again, read all labels carefully. Even "natural" products can be harmful to animals that are sensitive to them.
Depending on the product you select, flea sprays can last for quite some time (up to several months), as long as the pet stays dry (i.e., the product is not washed off). Application of sprays is relatively easy, but be sure to avoid getting the product close to your pet’s eyes or mouth. Read all instructions carefully before applying anything to your pet.
Powders are dusted over the entire body (again avoiding the eyes and mouth) and rubbed into the fur and even between the toes. Side effects of sprays and powders may include vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, depression, lack of appetite, and shaking.
Flea and tick shampoos will help wash away adult fleas and their eggs for a short period of time, but will not usually stop an infestation or keep the fleas from returning. The common ingredients in these products are usually pyrethrins, which kill adult fleas quickly on contact. When using a shampoo, make sure you allow it to stay in contact with the skin and coat for at least 10-15 minutes before rinsing thoroughly. Avoid getting this product in your pet’s eyes or mouth. You may need to treat your pet more frequently if you decide to use only shampoos, but your pet will feel more comfortable for a short period of time.
A flea and tick dip is a concentrated liquid (usually containing a pyrethrin) that is diluted with water and applied to the animal with a sponge or poured over the body. The pet is not rinsed off after the dip is applied, and is allowed to air dry. These products should never be used on very young animals or on nursing or pregnant animals. Dips can be quite concentrated, so use caution when applying. Protect your own skin and eyes while you are applying the dip to your pet, and take care not to allow the product to get in your pet’s eyes or mouth.
Flea collars use a concentrated chemical to repel fleas (and sometimes ticks) from a dog or cat. The chemical will disperse all over the animal’s body and can last for several months. The common ingredient in flea and tick collars is usually pyrethrin, but some will also contain insect growth regulators to reduce flea populations. Flea and tick collars are relatively inexpensive and can provide some protection to your cat or dog, but they can also smell quite strong and can be irritating to your pet.