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Itching to treat your pet for fleas and ticks? Start here.

Itching to treat your pet for fleas and ticks? Start here.

Flea and tick season has returned to much of the United States, which means many pet owners are looking for the best flea, tick, and parasite preventative medications for their cats and dogs.  

We're paying closer attention to our dog Amber, checking her for ticks after hikes in the woods.  We’re also using a carefully-chosen, veterinarian-recommended flea and tick preventative for Amber and our cat, Aretha.  We want to keep them - and our house - safe from the pests.

But with the warm weather comes the danger of inexpensive flea, tick, and parasite preventatives.    

A cat video went viral a few summers ago, and not because it was cute.  The cat was suffering from burns and seizures most likely caused by an inexpensive topical flea treatment such as Hartz or Sergeant.

Here’s how you can safely find the best flea and tick solution for your pets:


1. Use veterinarian-approved flea & tick prevention

Your veterinary office should offer a wide variety of flea, tick, heartworm, and intestinal parasite preventatives.  But you may wonder about the cheaper options you see on the shelves of your grocery or pet store.

They’re cheaper for a reason.  

In a previous life, I worked in veterinary medicine - as a surgical tech and a hospital manager. During my time in emergency medicine, I saw first hand how many pets suffered devastating effects from “cheap” flea and tick preventatives. Burns. Seizures. And yes - sometimes death.

The worst part? The suffering.  And the second worst: emergency treatment always ended up costing the pet parent far more than a 6-pack of veterinarian-approved flea and tick medicine.

2.  Stick to your dosing schedule, especially for heart worm prevention

Fleas are a pain.  Ticks carry the risk of Lyme disease.  Heartworms can be the scariest parasite to treat.

While I choose to treat my pets for fleas in spring through fall, I am vigilant about the monthly, year-round dosing schedule for heartworm & intestinal parasite preventative.  I  accidentally missed 2 doses of Amber's heartworm meds this summer and she ended up with two types of intestinal parasites.  Medical treatment of the worms cost over $300.

I won’t make that mistake again. The price is just too high, and I’m not just talking about the vet bill.

3.  Work with your vet to find the best solution for your family

This spring I switched Amber to NexGuard chewable for fleas and ticks, leaving the old Frontline topical liquid behind.   Fleas seem to be evolving to be more immune to the old Frontline, and my vet explained that clinical trials are showing much better protection with the newer NexGuard.  There have been very few side effects reported, as well.

It was the right choice for Amber, but it may not be the right choice for your pets.  

Flea and tick prevention isn’t one size fits all. Every pet is different and their needs vary - you wouldn’t buy the same size of dog bed for a Great Dane and a Chihuahua - why would you buy them the same medicine?

It’s imperative that you talk with your vet before making a change. If you don’t know how to start the conversation, the American Veterinary Medical Association has some great questions for you to ask.

4. “Natural” doesn’t necessarily mean safe

“Natural” remedies have become popular, and while there are some fantastic natural remedies for different issues, you can't assume that “natural” means safe. 

Take essential oils, for example.  They’re wildly popular and often touted as a “healthy” alternative to traditional science-based medicine.  But they are often unsafe for pets - especially when it comes to flea and tick prevention. I've seen natural flea remedies that include Tea Tree Oil, but it - like many other essential oils - is not safe for pets.

Another "natural" flea remedy that many vets caution against? Garlic capsules for dogs. They are in the Allium family with onions. Even chronic consumption of small amounts can poison a dog.   

I know I sound like a broken record, but I’ve seen too many sad cases in the emergency room. Always talk with your trusted veterinarian before trying any new “natural” treatment.  Many great vets are now trained to blend the best of both traditional and alternative / herbal therapies, and they have your pet’s best interest at heart.

How to Choose The Best Flea Prevention:

  • Always work with your vet to determine the best preventative treatments for fleas, ticks, heart worms, and intestinal parasites.  
  • Avoid Hartz brand and any other “low cost” over the counter flea product. Hartz is actually being sued because their products are suspected of killing pets.
  • Exercise caution with “natural” remedies. Remember: Grapes and onions are natural, but they are poisonous to dogs!  Not all essential oils are safe for pets, even in diffusers.
  • Never use a dog product on a cat or a cat product on a dog. Both inactive and active ingredients may vary and may pose risks to your pet.
  • Avoid online pharmacies that promise steep discounts. They have been found to be counterfeit, expired, or otherwise ineffective or dangerous. It’s not worth the risk.

Remember, a dangerously cheap solution can end up costing a lot of money, not to mention the life of your pet, in the long run.

In a nutshell, you can buy your [fabulously cute] underwear and your [organic, gluten-free] bread at Target, but you should never buy your pet’s flea, tick, and deworming meds there!