Flea and Tick Preventatives and How to Switch Products

By PetMD Editorial on Jan. 20, 2015

By Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell

It may be hard to believe, but getting flea and tick products to work on dogs and cats used to be a long, messy, even smelly process. Today there are so many better options to get these pesky parasites off of your pet and out of your home.

“There are literally a gazillion products out on the market now,” says Keith Niesenbaum, DVM and veterinarian at Great Neck Dog & Cat Hospital.

How do you tell which are the best products for your pet? Niesenbaum recommends consulting with your veterinarian before using any product and if possible, purchasing the product there.

Here is a list of some of the more popular and effective flea and tick products available today and how you can switch your pet from one to another:

Flea and Tick Shampoos, Dips, Collars

"Flea collars use a concentrated chemical to repel fleas (and sometimes ticks) from a dog or cat," says Jennifer Kvamme, DVM."The chemical will disperse all over the animal’s coat and can last for several months." This might be an option for pet owners who don’t like topical treatments due to the residue, or can’t give oral treatments for medical reasons.

Dr. Niesenbaum says that these long-term collars could most likely be used inside of 30 days of the last product used, but to be safe you should wait until you were due to give the next dose of treatment. He also advises against using cheaper collars, which aren't as effective.

According to Dr. Niesenbaum, flea dips and shampoos are only effective for killing fleas and ticks that are already on your pet and can be more toxic and have very little effectiveness compared to other products now on the market.

Flea and Tick Topical Treatments

Today’s topical treatments typically use a compound that is regulated by the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) and does not have to go through your pet’s organs. Some are available at retail stores and others through your vet.

Dr. Niesenbaum doesn’t recommend using more than one monthly product on your pet before the end of 30 days from when the last product was applied. If a product seems to have a shorter span, your veterinarian might shorten the length of time between treatments from 4 weeks to 3, but never do this without consulting your veterinarian first.

If you are concerned with the residue on the coat, especially if you have small children in the home, or cats, which may lick the residue off of the treated dog, you might want to try going with an oral medication. Also, never use a flea and tick topical preventive product that is labeled for a dog on a cat or vice versa.

Oral Medication

The oral flea and tick medications now on the market are a remarkable solution for pet parents who don’t want to use topical treatments.

Are Flea Pills Safe for Dogs and Cats?

Dr. Niesenbaum says that there has been extensive testing on all products of this type by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which showed the products to be safe. However, since some of these products do filter through the organs, pet parents should consult with their veterinarians closely if their pets have liver or kidney problems or are elderly. Dogs should be monitored through blood tests if using one of these products long-term.

If you find that your topical treatment isn’t doing its job, Dr. Niesenbaum recommends switching to an oral medication after 30 days from the last application of topical treatment.

General Considerations When Switching Flea and Tick Medication

Dr. Niesenbaum says you can expect a spike in flea activity when starting any flea product during the 2-3 months it takes to resolve an established flea infestation. Fleas lay eggs which are hidden deep in beds and carpets (you should clean them thoroughly), but with patience and time, effective products can remove all signs of infestation.

If you see any signs of illness in your pets such as vomiting, seizures, loss of appetite or other illness once you begin treatment, discontinue the treatment and consult with your veterinarian immediately.  

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Image: Gajus / via Shutterstock

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