It's flea and tick season! Find out why prevention is important for your pet.
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Bloodsuckers! Disease carriers! Does the very thought of fleas crawling through the forest of your dog or cat’s coat seem disgusting to you? It should! Whenever I write about ectoparasites, my head begins to itch.

Fleas cause itching and discomfort for our pets, and for those unfortunate critters who have allergies to fleas, an infestation can result in copious hair loss and a massive secondary skin infection requiring (preventable) multiple veterinary visits and a battery of oral and topical therapies. Fleas suck blood and can infect your cat with cat scratch fever—it’s not just a song… Cat scratch fever is an infection that can be deadly to the elderly, organ transplant patients, people fighting cancer, or those with other diseases of the immune system. Living partners, roommates, couples, families, or any household that includes an immunocompromised person should use monthly flea and tick control for all pets in the home even if they never go outdoors. Don’t take a preventable health risk!

Dr. Rule's daughter and dog

Why Dr. Rule uses flea and tick prevention:
Natalie Rule and Margeaux the dog

Fleas also carry the cystic form of the tapeworm. Cats and dog will eat their fleas to relieve their itchiness. By ingesting a flea, the cystic form of the tapeworm develops into an adult in the GI tract of the host. The result: Little white worms crawling around on your cat or dog’s rear end.

Let’s consider the tick… another blood sucker. Ticks carry many, many diseases that can be transmitted to dogs and people. The primary offenders in our geographical area include Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, babesia, and we think even more. When anaplasma bacterial organisms and Lyme spirochetes infect a dog at the same time, the consequences can be catastrophic. Biologically, the pathogens potentiate each other, resulting in a far worse situation than one infection alone. This is called a co-infection. Cats can also get tick-borne diseases, although this is not as common as the many we diagnose daily in our local dog patient population.

What product is best? There are so many. At Countryside Veterinary Hospital, we carry a number of options but not all of the available options. We have carefully chosen our preventatives to meet the needs of the most pets in our care. The answer to what to use depends on your household: Do you have one pet? Many pets? Live in a high tick area? Have a history of getting flea exposure in your pets? Do you have pets that wrestle or swim? Do you have children? Some households may even need multiple products.

Multiple pet households may need to consider the economics of many pets needing parasite control. The Seresto™ collar is a very economical choice at about five dollars per month and can be used in dogs or cats. The collar lasts for eight months and contains agents that mammals do not have receptors for. The collar works as a nerve poison to fleas and ticks. Arthropod nerves are very different than mammalian nerves. Modern parasite control agents work in a way similar to how antibiotics kill bacterial cells infecting your body without killing your own body cells. The collar has a caution label on it because of a small fastener that poses a choking hazard, not because any of the agents in the collar itself.

There are two oral flea and tick control agents we carry for dogs. One is called Nexguard® and is given once per month. The other is called Bravecto® and is given once every three months. These both cost around $15 per month per pet. The cost can vary by a few dollars depending on the size of the pet. The oral flea and tick control agents are a great choice for families with young children. As a mom of four, even though I know the topical treatments are safe, I don’t want the greasy residue on my dogs, my children, or my furniture. For families with kids, this is a very popular option and a much better one than forgoing protection altogether as many have elected to do because of the residue the topical can leave. However, oral products do have a disadvantage—they do not have a repellant effect.

The topical options for both fleas and ticks include Frontline® Plus for cats and Canine Advantix® II or Advantage Multi® for dogs. Revolution® is an excellent topical product that kills fleas, scabies mites, and ear mites on the outside of your cat or dog and also prevents heart worms and GI parasites—Revolution® is not labeled for use against ticks. The topical products are highly effective and what we commonly recommend for dogs and cats that spend a lot of time outdoors. Some of the topical products are also labelled for use against lice and mites that dogs and cats can rarely become infected with. As there are more dogs going to day care or camp, just like kids in school, we are seeing more lice and mite infections. Frontline® Plus is still a wonderful product for tick control, and it’s still our recommendation for cats, but there have been reports of flea resistance with Frontline® Plus. For cats, a combination of Revolution® on the first of the month and Frontline® Plus in the middle of the month is a very effective choice.

The very best thing an owner can do in addition to tick control products is a daily tick check. It takes 12 hours for a biting tick to transmit anaplasma and 24-36 hours for a tick to transmit lyme, so acting quickly is paramount. Remove the ticks with a tick spoon such as Ticked Off™ Tick Remover sold in our retail area. Finally, consider treating your local environment with pyrethrin impregnated cotton balls such as Damminix® Tick Tubes or learn to make your own tick tubes online. Whatever you do, don’t skip the topical parasite control.

Dr. Tiffany J. Rule is a Countryside veterinarian every Saturday, a homeschooling mother of four wonderful students during the week, and a passionate beekeeper who loves her insects outside, not on her pets.