7 Common Mistakes in Flea and Tick Prevention

Lauren Jones, VMD
By Lauren Jones, VMD on May 5, 2022
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Don’t Make These Mistakes With Your Pet's Flea and Tick Prevention

So you can’t remember the last time you plucked a tick off your pup or flicked a flea off your feline? That’s great! But it doesn’t mean you can let down your guard when it comes to prevention.

Protecting your pets from parasites that bring discomfort and disease requires precision and persistence. Avoid these common mistakes to keep your pet healthy.

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Mistake 1: “My pets can take a break from treatment in winter.”

Many pet parents only use preventative flea and tick treatments in warmer months, and stop when colder weather sets in. This is not advised.

Fleas and ticks thrive in warmer weather, but weather patterns and flea and tick season varies from region to region. The South, and hot and humid locations, are susceptible to these parasites all year round. Generally, fleas and ticks thrive in temperatures over 40-50 degrees, and the start to decrease in activity when temperatures start to cool.

The first frost is usually a reliable indicator that flea and tick season is over, especially in northern states, however unexpected warm spells can fluctuate across the country, allowing fleas and ticks to re-emerge.

Treat your cats and dogs year-round to keep ticks and fleas at bay.

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Mistake 2: "It's okay to miss a dose now and then."

Inappropriate administration of preventatives will typically result in pets not getting adequate protection. All instructions should be read carefully, even if the product has been used before, as they may have changed. If you're unsure, call your veterinarian for assistance.

If you tend to forget your pet’s monthly topical treatment or oral medicine, for example, put reminders on your calendar at home and on your mobile device. Or try treating your pet on the same day every month to make it easier. However, be careful and read the frequency label carefully. Some products, like Bravecto, are available in a 12-week chewable tablet. Because months have between 28 and 31 days, 12 weeks is different than 3 months and may result in a few days of your dog being unprotected.

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Mistake 3: "It's okay to mix treatments."

Products typically work best when given consistently, so changing the preventative can decrease how well it works.

While it might be tempting to buy what's on sale at the pet supply store one month, stick to the same product—as long as it is working and your pet tolerates it well.

Consult your vet for the most appropriate and most cost-effective treatment.

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Mistake 4: "I can give my cat the same treatment as my dog."

Cats should never receive a product labeled for a dog. Some preventatives marketed for dogs are actually toxic to cats. It can make a cat seriously ill, or even kill them.

Cat owners should apply only products intended for felines, and dog owners should apply only those marketed for canines. If you have accidentally applied a dog product to your cat, call your veterinarian immediately.

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Mistake 5: "I can eyeball the dosage."

In addition to some products being appropriate for cats and others for dogs, treatment dosages are broken down by the size of the animal.

You don’t want to give a Maltese a dosage meant for a Mastiff and vice versa. Under-dosing pets is ineffective and can lead to fleas, ticks, and the diseases they carry. Overdosing a pet risks complications and side effects. If you think your pet has been under or overdosed, make sure to contact your veterinarian.

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Mistake 6: "My indoor pet doesn't need flea and tick prevention."

Don’t assume your indoor cat can’t get fleas or ticks from your dog just because you treat the dog. Fleas and ticks can come into your house a number of ways, including on your own body or clothes. Your yard, neighborhood, and the animals that live there are likely hosts.

All pets in a household should use year-round prevention to protect the pets, the home, and the humans who live there from the diseases these pests carry.

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Mistake 7: "Vaccines will keep my pet completely healthy."

Ticks carry a variety of infections that can sicken your pet and veterinary medicine currently has a vaccine for only one of them: Lyme disease. Even if your dog is vaccinated for Lyme disease, they may not be fully protected in high tick areas. They also need year-round treatment to prevent other tick-borne diseases like anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and ehrlichia.

Always bring your pet to the vet if you suspect tick-borne illness. Most commonly pet parents note lethargy, fever, loss of appetite, and joint pain. Make sure to talk to your veterinarian about your pet's lifestyle, especially if they spend a lot of time in a heavily wooded or parasite-infested area.

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Taking the Right Approach

Luckily, protecting pets from fleas and ticks is easier than ever. There are several options available: from monthly oral medicines given as treats, to topical liquids applied at your dog’s shoulders or cat’s head monthly, to time-release collars that last several months. And ensuring consistent preventative treatment is the responsibility of not just pet parents but vets as well.

When it comes to protecting our pets from parasites, vets and pet parents are in it together.