Expert Q&A: Flea and Tick Control

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on February 08, 2015
3 min read

With so many new flea and tick products, it’s hard to know which one is right for your pet. Here’s some advice from Ira Roth, DVM, director of the Community Practice Clinic at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine.

Every vet has favorites, and all the products work in different ways. Sometimes they kill just adult pests, and sometimes they kill eggs and larvae, too. Some work against fleas, ticks, and even heartworms. Others work against just one species. It’s really a matter of what type of protection each pet needs, the easiest way for the owner to apply it, and budget.

Generally, you apply the medicine between your pet’s shoulder blades, on the back of the neck. Make sure to part the hair so the liquid goes on the skin, and not just on top of the fur. Because the pesticide can be toxic, wait up to 24 hours while the liquid dries before touching the area or letting children play with the animal. Be sure to use the right dose for the age and size of your pet. Follow directions carefully, and never use dog products on cats. Some pesticides that are safe for dogs can kill cats.

In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered manufacturers to put better instructions on packages when the number of bad reactions jumped dramatically -- often because pet owners used drops incorrectly. However, the EPA did not recall any products. Individual pets can have problems with any type of flea or tick medicine. The main thing is to ask your vet for an appropriate medicine and to follow the instructions.

It’s really a matter of preference. Pills may give a few pets an upset stomach or even cause vomiting or diarrhea, so it’s a good idea to give them with food. There are a number of really good products, some in combination with heartworm control. Before, we did not have an oral product that controlled ticks, and now they’ve introduced chewable, beef-flavored tablets for dogs that help with both flea and tick control.

Collars may actually be the best way to control ticks. There are a couple of new collars on the market that last 6 or 8 months. They don’t have the terrible odor and greasiness associated with the old-style models, and we’re getting really good feedback from clients. They control both ticks and fleas.

Those products are not as effective as the longer-acting ones because you have to use them so often and it’s hard to keep up.

Fleas only spend about 25% of their lives on your pet. Dogs and cats are like little salt shakers. When the female flea lays eggs, they just roll off onto your carpet or sofa. All that nastiness builds up in the cushions with your change and your popcorn. Those eggs can continue to hatch and develop for up to 90 days. Vacuum thoroughly, wash pet bedding, and use flea control sprays or powders in areas where your pet hangs out. And if you don’t treat all of your pets, the fleas will just find a new host.

Be careful with botanical oils, which can irritate the skin. Most of those just repel pests but don’t reliably keep them away. Garlic can actually cause changes in blood cells or anemia in your pet. It may be good for vampires, but that’s about it.