Safety Tips for Using Flea and Tick Products

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on January 16, 2024
3 min read

Got a furry friend? It’s time to brush up on ways to keep ticks and fleas -- and the nasty diseases they spread -- away from them.

These pests can make both of you sick and uncomfortable. Plenty of products can keep them at bay, but you need to know how to use them safely.

When should you treat your dog or cat with flea or tick products? It depends on where you live.

Fleas are worst during warm-weather months, but they can be inside your home all year long. Spring and summer are usually the heaviest time for ticks. But they can live year-round in some parts of the U.S.

If you see signs of these pests on your pet, treat them right away. Otherwise, start treatment at the beginning of flea or tick season. Your vet can tell you when if you’re not sure. Some areas require year-round treatment.

Many flea treatments are on the market. Some also prevent ticks or other pests.

The most popular products are pills and the "spot-on" treatments that go onto your dog or cat's back under their fur. They work well and are easy to apply. Other products come in the form of dips, shampoos, collars, foggers, and sprays.

1. Check with your vet before you use any flea or tick product. This is key if your dog or cat has a history of seizures or is:

  • Taking other drugs
  • Old
  • Sick
  • A puppy
  • Pregnant or nursing
  • Allergic to flea products

In these cases, the vet might suggest you use a special comb to pick up fleas, eggs, and ticks. Then you can drown the pests in a bowl of hot, soapy water.

2. Follow instructions. Don’t use dog products on a cat, as this could be deadly. Only apply the amount needed for your pet's size. Never double up on products. There’s no need to pair a powder with a spot-on treatment.

3. Wear gloves, or wash your hands with soap and water after you apply the drug. Follow the instructions for proper storage and disposal of packaging.

4. Keep pets apart while the product dries. You don’t want them to groom each other and swallow the chemicals.

5. Watch for signs of a reaction, especially if it’s the first time you’re using the product. Call your vet if your dog has symptoms such as:

  • Poor appetite
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • A lot of drooling
  • Depression
  • Seizure

If your dog or cat has a bad reaction and you've used a topical product, bathe them right away with soap and water. Follow any instructions from the package insert. Call your vet and report problems to the National Pesticide Information Center at 800-858-7378.

It isn't enough to treat your pet. You also have to control pests inside and outside your home. If you want to use an insect killer in your house, ask your vet or an exterminator which ones are safe around pets and children.

Take these extra steps to manage fleas indoors:

  • Vacuum daily, including carpets, cushioned furniture, baseboards, and the basement. Throw away the vacuum bag or thoroughly wash the canister after each use.
  • Steam-clean regularly, especially areas where your pet sleeps.
  • Wash pet and human bedding every week or two.

Here are tips to control pests in your yard:

  • Regularly remove leaf litter, tall grass, and brush.
  • Get rid of plants that attract deer, since deer carry ticks.
  • Cover garbage and store it out of reach of raccoons and rodents, which host ticks and fleas.
  • Trade chemicals for nematodes. These microscopic worms kill flea larvae and cocoons. Ask your pet or garden store for details.