Scratching the surface: A look at flea prevention and treatments

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Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher
OFF THE LEASH

Fleas, fleas, fleas! Flea season is fully underway, though, believe it or not, it will get worse in a couple months. This is the time to make sure that your pet is up to date on prevention. It is much easier to prevent than to treat a flea infestation.

Heartworm prevention should still be going on. Heartworms are carried by mosquitos, so if you don’t do it for 12 months you must at least do it while we have mosquitos. There are different varieties of heartworm prevention, but they all work similarly. They work to kill any juvenile heartworms in the bloodstream before they can mature and develop in the heart. Most of these are one pill, once a month, though there are a few versions that you can put on the skin on the back of the neck. These need to be given every 30 days through at least mosquito season to prevent heartworms.

Almost all flea control is paired with tick control, especially for dogs. The good thing is that since they are both things we want to avoid, pairing them is one less step for us.

Collars

Collars should be a veterinary brand, as they have extensive testing. Often, what money you save getting “cheap” collars is outweighed by their poor performance. Most of the veterinary collars last between six and eight months. This can even fluctuate slightly between dogs, based on their lifestyle. Collars work well and often also help repel ticks. Some collars are safe for dogs and cats, while others are dogs only, so make sure you check with your veterinarian. Collars need to be very snug fitting in order to work, so if you are unsure of how they are fitting, check in at your vet. This is especially important for our fluffy pets, since we need it to contact the skin.

Chewables

There are several types of four-week chewables and one 12-week chewable. These are given with a meal. These kill the tick when it bites the pet, but do not repel ticks. Ideally, the tick will die before they transmit disease, but in some cases, they can transmit faster (like with a disease called Anaplasmosis.) The good news is that Lyme disease takes at least 24 hours to transmit, and these will kill the tick before that amount of time.

While you do lose some repellency with these products, you don’t need to worry about them falling off, getting washed off, or other pets coming into contact with them. Some people like the monthly because they can remember it more easily, while others love the 12-week because you get longer stretches without having to treat. Both types work very well. I have heard some myths about the 12-week being “three times as toxic” since it lasts three times longer, but that logic is flawed. The molecules simply work differently, so that they release over a longer period.

Additionally, you would give one of that type versus three of the others, so it all evens out in the end! I encourage people to make this decision based on their ease of scheduling, since all other factors are about equal.

Topicals

Topical treatments are the liquid medications that go on the back of the neck under the hair. There are a lot of different types, but all work against fleas and ticks. Certain brands have better effectiveness against mosquitos and flies. These are the tried-and-true products, and work well. My only caution is that pets must have the product dry before swimming/washing and should not lick it off (themselves or others!) It is also ideal for humans not to pet the spot where this was applied until it has dried, which can be a more difficult concept for children sometimes. Most of these last for four weeks, though there is a topical product for cats and dogs that also lasts for 12 weeks.

The main thing to know is that once fleas are in your house, you have at least three months of torturous cleaning, sterilizing and treating your pet before you can even hope for a resolution. Pets that have flea allergies only need ONE flea bite to break out in a vicious cycle of itching. This then requires anti-itching medicine, antibiotics and flea treatment at the minimum.

The specific decisions are best gone over with your veterinarian, as they can help you assess your pet’s risk factors. Flea prevention is not as “one size fits all” as heartworm prevention, so it may require some investigation into pet lifestyle. No matter what you choose, make sure they get something and have it on board now.

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher is a veterinarian at All Points Animal Care in Rutland. Have a question on this or any animal health topic? E-MAIL: petdocanna@gmail.com

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