Summer’s here and the time is right—for ticks and fleas! Our canine companions’ warm bodies and soft fur are magnets for these pesky pests, which are not just a nuisance but a real health threat. Once fleas and ticks take up residence and begin feeding on a dog’s blood, they can cause a range of problems, from flea allergy dermatitis (a skin infection) to tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease.
Fortunately, many types of flea and tick medications are available to stop these creepy critters from making a home on your dog. The active chemicals in the products vary, work in different ways, and may target one insect or the other. So depending on the treatment, 2 preventives may be needed for complete protection. Ask your veterinarian about which meds are best for your dog and follow all dosing instructions. Don’t use any products meant for humans on your pooch. Also, avoid homemade remedies, such as essential oil mixtures, as there’s little evidence they provide reliable protection, and there’s a chance these anti-flea or anti-tick concoctions could harm your pet.
(Pictured here is newly rescued Simba Boy getting his tick & flea application applied by his foster dad)
Topical treatments are generally applied between the dog’s shoulder blades once monthly to every 3 months. Some of these topicals not only kill fleas and ticks but also repel them. Certain products may not be safe for small dogs and/or cannot be used on cats—or in households with cats.
Oral flea and tick medications come as chewables or pills and are usually given monthly. The medicine is transmitted to the flea or tick when it bites the dog. As with topical treatments, the active chemicals in the various oral meds on the market have different mechanisms of action. Some kill adult insects, others prevent future infestations by blocking growth and reproduction of eggs and larvae, and a few do both.
While topicals and oral medications are essential to flea and tick prevention, other steps are necessary to protect our pooches. First, check your dog daily, even if he or she is on a preventive. Spend a few minutes brushing and running your hands through the fur. Tiny, copper-colored fleas move quickly on your pet’s skin and are most visible in areas where the coat is sparse or thin: belly, inner sides of the hind limbs, and armpits. You may see “flea dirt” or feces—tiny dark spots that turn red from digested blood when placed on a wet paper towel. Ticks typically have cream-colored oval bodies that darken as they fill with blood. They laser in on dark, moist areas on the dog’s body, so make sure to inspect under the tail; around the anus, belly, face, groin, “armpits,” and elbows; between the toes; and under the collar. Feel for bumps all over, parting the fur to check out any bumps you do feel.
Dogs commonly get fleas following contact with other animals, be it pets or wildlife. Ticks hang out in wooded, shady places which often means our backyards. To keep them at bay, mow your grass as short as possible and remove leaf litter, tall grasses, and brush. Finally, remember to wear insect repellent and to regularly check yourself for ticks, if you’ve spent time outdoors walking or hiking in the woods with your 4-legged buddy!
Written by: Michele G