Flea and Tick Prevention for Pets

When it comes to ensuring that pets are properly protected from fleas and/or ticks, there’s no room for passivity. Tackling the problem before it occurs is key to avoiding a harmful, irritating infestation.


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Anyone who’s ever had a bug bite knows the misery that comes along with those small, red welts. As humans, we have the advantage of watching them fade away after three or four days without much effort on our part. Sure, antihistamines are helpful in providing temporary itch relief and a few hours of comfort, but they’re a luxury, not a necessity. Pets, on the other hand, aren’t as lucky. Once they get an infestation of fleas and/or ticks, those little bugs aren’t going away on their own. Chemicals are needed, and with them comes potentially negative side effects. Instead of sitting back and only worrying about fleas and ticks once pets are suffering, there should be a proactive approach to prevention and protection.

 

If you live in an urban or suburban area, it’s easy to believe that there’s no pressing need to protect your pets from fleas and ticks. Your cat sits in the window of your city apartment all day, there’s no way he’s going to get a tick or a flea, right?

 

“There is no such thing as a flea free zone,” says Steven Rosenfeld, owner of Bronxville, N.Y.-based F.C. Sturtevant. “Even if your dog or cat is bathed regularly and has little or no direct contact with other animals, it can become infected when visiting a groomer or even walking from your home to your car when traveling with your pet.”

 

Pet parents also need to be aware that the possibility of an animal getting a flea or tick isn’t limited to certain seasons or climates. James Brandly, associate trade marketing manager for Tropiclean, explains that ticks are found at any time and in any place, from a “deep woods hike to your afternoon walk through your neighborhood.”

 

Even more alarming is the rise of super fleas and super ticks, which are mutated versions of the fleas and ticks that were around in earlier decades. As the insecticides and pesticides we used to control them kept growing stronger, the little bugs adapted.

 

Dr. Bob Goldstein, co-founder of Westport, Conn.-based Earth Animal with his partner Susan Goldstein, explains that climate change has increased the resiliency of these tiny nuisances.

 

“If you had fleas and ticks in the winter, it would be over, and you’d start from scratch in the spring,” explains Dr. Goldstein. “That doesn’t happen so much anymore, and the population of fleas and ticks may [carry] over.”

 

Rosenfeld believes that it’s “critically important for pet owners to place a high degree of importance” on flea and tick control for the safety of not just their pets, but their entire house. Fleas and ticks can carry several diseases that are transmittable to humans, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis. They can also cause severe hair loss and spread serious secondary skin infections to pets.

 

An Abundance of Options

While flea and tick prevention products range from topical and oral solutions to collars, there’s no real answer on which one is the most effective. There’s a strong case to be made for each.

 

Brandly cites an APPA statistic that shows that out of the two-thirds (64 percent) of dog owners that purchased flea and tick solutions, topical solutions were the most popular. Wentzville, Mo.-based Tropiclean offers soothing shampoos, pet spray and bite relief, which help relieve itching and irritation from flea and tick bites.

 

On the other hand, Susan and Dr. Bob believe that the most effective type of prevention works from the inside out.

 

The Goldsteins explain that Earth Animal sells internal powder and internal herbal powder, consumed orally, that work to change the blood’s biochemistry and the odor of an animal’s body, at a microscopic level, so that the aroma repels fleas and ticks while being unnoticeable to humans.

 

Tampa, Fla.-based Ark Naturals’ scientific advisor and formulator, Dr. C. Leigh Broadhurst, PhD, explains that she finds collars, activated by body heat, to be highly-effective. As an added bonus, they don’t seem to have the same side effects that may come along with oral or topical medications.

 

There’s also a number of factors that need to be considered before choosing a prevention product, advises Rosenfeld. Retailers should be asking questions about how many pets are in the house, their ages and general health; the amount of babies, toddlers or children in the house (if any); and if the pet enjoys activities such as swimming. He also believes there’s no such thing as too safe. Rosenfeld recommends regular application of topical skincare products in addition to an oral medication or collar.

 

With so many different types of flea and tick prevention products on the market, and given consumers’ various lifestyles and household elements, there isn’t one option that’s head and shoulders above the rest. They’re all viable.

 

What’s Inside?

The first thing that likely comes to mind when thinking about flea and tick control products is harsh chemicals, such as pesticides and insecticides. The follow-up question almost always concerns the safety of the pet.

 

The flea and tick category isn’t only stuffed with brands; it’s overflowing with an unending stream of prevention and treatment options. Being that only so many ingredients are approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it leaves the flea and tick control segment between a rock and a hard place.

 

“The marketplace for natural flea and tick treatments appears to be fairly uncreative with a lot of very similar, or ‘me too,’ products,” says Broadhurst. “This is because there is only a handful of active ingredients designated as ‘Minimum Risk Pesticides’ by the EPA.”

 

She explains that the Minimum Risk Pesticides list includes botanicals such as mint, rosemary, cedar, orange, clove, lemon and citronella, which have been utilized safely for centuries. There are other botanicals that are used as natural pesticides all over the world, but if any of those are added to products in the U.S., they’re legally no longer allowed to be called flea/tick repellent, killers or controllers.

 

Although oranges and lemons are considered two of the EPA’s Minimum Risk Pesticides, Justin Pohl, vice president of Bio-Groom, warns against using topical products that contain citrus, as they can burn and irritate the skin while causing damage to the coat.

 

That’s why the Longview, Texas-based company works closely with the EPA to ensure every ingredient in its flea and tick formulas are tested for stability, effectiveness and safety for the animal.

 

Even though the ingredient guidelines are clear, independent research is still required to ensure that only the best products are being used to treat these pests.

 

“Pet parents should rely on the advice of their veterinarian and not use the internet as a reputable source of information,” advises Rosenfeld, citing how easily misinformation is distributed online.

 

Given all the companies, brands and options, it’s easy to see how consumers can get overwhelmed while trying to find the right product, especially if they’re in the midst of an infestation.

 

“It is important to educate the pet parent and provide them the opportunity to compare and contrast different products, ensuring they pick the right product,” Brandly explains.

 

Flea and tick products are a necessity to carry in stores. While it may seem redundant to have a wide variety of them—given their similarities—providing a comprehensive collection is essential to another, less considered aspect.

 

“Insects often become resistant to a product, especially if it contains just one or two active ingredients,” says Broadhurst. “It is a good idea to rotate through natural products.”

 

So, You’re Infested

Of course, there still may come point where a pet somehow picks up fleas or ticks. Pet parents will inevitably come looking for options and answers.

 

Broadhurst explains a good strategy for clearing up an infestation starts with “a good, hot bath with, for example, a Neem shampoo. Follow this with heavy vacuuming around the house, including upholstery, and wash all animal and human bedding. Then a natural flea spray can be used to check fleas and eggs that remain.”

 

However, if a pet parent is dealing with a particularly bad infestation, Dr. Bob says that pet parents may have to resort to using chemicals to get it in check.

 

“There are certain times that you have to rely on chemicals and knock that population down because of the serious side effects of having an infestation,” he explains.

 

When trying to figure out which brands effectively prevent and eliminate fleas and ticks while being relatively side effect free, research once again comes into play, but this time on the part of the retailer. Rosenfeld advises not to get caught up in a bunch of smoke and mirrors.

 

“Sometimes a misleading advertising claim or a paid celebrity spokesperson can generate some sales momentum for a product,” he says. “In order for a product to be successful over time, it needs to provide a solution to an existing need.” PB

 

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