We tend to think of a flea and tick “season”, but the reality is that it is a year-round problem for many pet owners. Here’s how to protect your pets and home from these dangerous pests.
Fleas and ticks are a serious threat to your pet’s health. They can cause significant discomfort and transmit parasites and diseases. Young or small animals can suffer from life threatening anemia if left untreated. Fleas can also carry the larval stage of tapeworm, which pets can ingest while grooming themselves. Ticks carry various diseases, including Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. If left untreated, these can cause a host of health problems. Humans can be affected too, from itching caused by bites, to the same tick-borne diseases.
Look for the Early Signs.
If your pet is scratching itself more than usual, check their skin and coat for signs of fleas. A telltale sign is itching around the top of their tail. This is a favorite spot for fleas. Live fleas can be hard to spot, especially on a pet with long or dark fur. If you don’t see live fleas, check for ‘flea dirt’ (excrement). Flea dirt looks like a fine layer of black dirt close to your pet’s skin. Brush your pet with a fine-tooth comb, paying special attention to their lower back near the base of the tail. After combing, wipe the hair collected on a damp white paper towel. The black ‘dirt’ will turn red as the dried blood regains its moisture. If you see this, it’s a sure sign that fleas are present.
Ticks are more obvious. They range from the size of a pencil eraser, to a tiny pinpoint. Use your hands to feel for bumps or scabs in pet’s fur.
Chemical vs. Natural.
Some treatments use chemicals and others use only natural ingredients. Some pets may be sensitive to certain chemicals while others seem to tolerate them with no issues. Many all-natural products with plant-derived ingredients like pyrethrins are available that effectively treat the problem with fewer side effects. It’s important to point out that even though they are plant-based, they can still be toxic. Please check labels and follow directions for the best results no matter the product.
A three-pronged approach.
To effectively treat for fleas and ticks, focus on three distinct methods – internal, external and environmental.
Prevention is best. Use a food additive that includes herbal supplements and garlic to create a natural defense barrier from the inside out*. Feed your pet a healthy diet to ensure a strong immune system and healthy skin and coat.
There are tablets that can be administered orally that begin killing adult fleas within 30 minutes. However, many include the active ingredient Nitenpyram which does not kill flea eggs, so it’s best used in conjunction with external treatments if active fleas are present.
There are many treatment options that are applied externally. These include shampoos, sprays, external medications and flea and tick collars. It’s important to check ingredients and labels for safety. Many products previously prescribed by a veterinarian are now available over the counter. These external drops and collars are safe and quite effective. Please be aware of these common safety precautions:
Cats vs Dogs. Many medications are used for dogs that are NOT safe for cats. Check product label for instructions.
Fleas vs. Ticks. Not all external treatments kill both fleas and ticks. Check the label for what parasites it controls. Most treatments take 24-48 hours to take effect.
Prevention. A little prevention goes a long way. It’s always easier to guard against fleas and ticks rather than get rid of them. Prevention should start as soon as the weather is consistently above freezing.
Puppies & Kittens. External medications are generally not safe for puppies or kittens younger than 7 weeks old.
Bathing. Don’t bathe your pet 24 hours before or after applying an external treatment. Many require the coat’s natural oils to spread and work effectively.
Check with Your Vet. Consult product packaging or your veterinarian before use.
Multiple Pets. If treating more than one pet it is advised to keep them separated for 24 hours or until the treatment dries so they don’t lick it off of each other.
Use caution with cheap alternatives. You get what you pay for. The ingredients in some value brands have been linked to adverse reactions and health issues.
There are a number of natural and safe sprays, shampoos, collars and drops available that kill fleas and ticks on direct contact. Some products use natural cedar wood oil to effectively kill and repel both fleas and ticks. Neem oil is another natural repellent. Shampooing with neem or using wipes with neem oil, will help to keep pests at bay and soothe affected skin.
Diatomaceous earth can also be used externally to kill external pests. Be cautious when using diatomaceous earth and be sure you and your pet do not breathe it in. For safety, make sure you’re using the food grade product.
Treat the Itch Too!
Some pets suffer from flea allergies from the saliva in a fleas’ bite. They may react with severe itching, red skin, rashes and hair loss. After appropriately treating for fleas, use an external treatment like soothing oatmeal or aloe shampoo and anti-itch sprays and creams to help soothe irritated skin.
If fleas and ticks are on your pet, they are in your home as well. Both pests can reside in carpet, on furniture and in the yard. Treating the environment is necessary to ensure complete eradication.
- Vacuum the carpets, rugs and sofa cushions, concentrating on areas pets frequent.
- Vacuum underneath and behind furniture.
- Immediately dispose of vacuum bags or empty into garbage outside of the home.
- Vacuum or clean other areas pets frequent, such as vehicles or closets.
- Use the hot water cycle to wash couch cushion covers, blankets, bed linens and pet beds.
- Use the high temperature dryer setting to make sure all insects and eggs are killed.
How to Apply Environmental Treatments.
- Use a carpet or area treatment spray directly on linens, carpet and furniture. Cedar oil products will help kill off any remaining pests or their eggs in the environment.
- All-natural diatomaceous earth can be sprinkled in the affected area to kill both fleas and ticks. Diatomaceous earth is made of the fossilized skeletons of diatoms, which are microscopic algae. These tiny skeletons are razor sharp, use caution and don’t breathe it in (you or your pet). Be sure to vacuum up the powder after allowing to sit for several hours.
- Keep your grass short and yard well maintained. Limit your pet’s exposure to time outside or to areas with a high risk of re-infestation.
- Spray outdoor areas with an appropriate outdoor flea and tick repellent.
- Effective flea control requires killing adult fleas on your pet,
preventing eggs from hatching on them or in the environment and exterminating infestations wherever they exist. Repeating treatment over the flea life cycle is important to prevent re-infestation.
- Controlling ticks is often easier. Ticks are mainly found living on your pet. Care should be taken to avoid high-risk areas like tall grasses or woods where ticks are common.
A Word on Heartworm Prevention.
A heartworm preventative, prescribed by a veterinarian should be given year-round. These products contain medication to kill heartworm microfilaria and can be dangerous if given to dogs with heartworms. Dogs should not be put on a heartworm preventative without first having a negative heartworm test from their veterinarian. There are currently no over the counter products available.
Q: I’ve been using an external treatment, but still see fleas in my home or on my pet. Does that mean it’s not working?
A: The fleas you see most likely started as flea eggs that were deposited in the environment before treatment. Consecutive monthly applications of an effective external treatment will stop the indoor flea life cycle. Treating the environment is also necessary to get rid of all fleas.
Q: Are the name brand products PetPeople sells the same as what a veterinarian sells?
A: Yes, our products are the same.