Fleas and ticks are not only a gross nuisance, but they can also transmit diseases, make your pet miserable, and affect their quality of life. Fortunately, parasite prevention is safe, effective, and easy—but must be used consistently to keep your pet free from these ever-present pests. 

At Columbia Pike Animal Hospital, we receive many questions from pet owners asking how you can best prevent these disgusting and dangerous hitchhikers from preying on your pets and invading your homes. Here, we provide answers to our most frequently asked questions, and offer some helpful tips on how to protect your pet. 

Question: What is flea and tick prevention for pets?

Answer: Flea and tick preventives include a range of products and strategies to prevent external parasites from biting and feeding on pets. Preventives can be applied topically to the skin or given as a flavored chewable. Most products provide 30 to 90 days of protection per dose, and act by killing any present parasites, and breaking the life-cycle to prevent further infestation. 

Q: Why does my pet need flea and tick prevention?

A: Fleas and ticks are present throughout the United States, and are especially prevalent in warm or humid climates. Fleas and ticks must bite and feed on mammals to continue their life cycle, and both parasites find easy targets in unprotected dogs and cats. A flea or tick that settles on your pet will bite, attach, and feed, and potentially transmit infectious bacteria in their saliva. Female fleas then hop off your pet and lay eggs—up to 50 per day—in the pet’s bedding and on furniture, where young fleas will later hatch and return to your pet, or other warmblooded household members, to bite and feed. 

Q: What diseases can fleas and ticks transmit to my pet?

A: Disease-carrying fleas and ticks transmit infectious pathogens, which can also infect humans, through their saliva as they feed. One parasite can carry and transmit multiple diseases at a time. 

  • Tick-borne diseases — These include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and tick paralysis.
  • Flea-borne illnesses — Fleas can carry and transmit bartonellosis (i.e., cat scratch fever), the plague, tapeworms, hemoplasmosis, and tularemia. Flea bites can also trigger an allergic reaction (i.e., hypersensitivity) in pets and cause intense itching, hair loss, and skin irritation. Some pets are so sensitive that a single flea bite can initiate a severe reaction.

Q: Are flea and tick preventives safe for pets?

A: While many internet groups have formed against some products and caused widespread pet owner concern, veterinary-recommended parasite preventives are backed by research and clinical trials and have been proven safe and effective. Because all medications are chemicals, no drug can be guaranteed 100% risk-free—especially in pets with pre-existing medical conditions (e.g., epilepsy, neurological abnormalities, genetic mutations such as MDR-1). This is why talking to your pet’s veterinarian for a customized recommendation is essential. We’ll consider your pet’s species, breed, age, health, lifestyle, and personality, to ensure coverage that is safe, reliable, and easy to administer.

Q: How often should I give my pet preventives?

A: Parasite prevention must always be administered year-round. Although pausing your pet’s preventives during colder weather is tempting, ticks can reemerge on mild days and fleas can over-winter indoors. Only year-round dosing can ensure effective protection from parasites and their diseases.

Q: My pet is indoor only—do I need to use preventives?

A: All pets should be treated year-round, according to product label directions, including indoor-only pets, who can still be exposed to fleas and ticks at veterinary or grooming facilities, or when people and other pets carry them inside. Many untreated indoor pets become easy targets for fleas and ticks, and suffer from hidden disease or infestation when protected pets bring the pests inside.

Q: How does flea and tick prevention work?

A: Although flea and tick prevention products act differently, in general they work as follows:

  • Topical preventives — Topicals are a medicated liquid that is applied along the pet’s spine or at the base of the neck. The liquid is then absorbed through the skin, into the bloodstream, or across the body surface through natural skin and coat oils. Topicals may contain a repellent to deter parasites from climbing on or biting the pet, while a parasiticide ingredient kills any fleas or ticks that manage to bite.
  • Oral preventives — Oral treatments are typically chewable tablets or treats containing anti-parasitic medication. Once consumed, the medication enters the pet’s general circulation, and remains there for 30 days. When a flea or tick bites the pet, they ingest the preventive and die.

Q: Are there other ways to protect my pet from fleas and ticks?

A: In addition to year-round flea and tick prevention, you can take these steps to reduce your pet’s parasite exposure risks:

  • Keep your yard trimmed and tidy
  • Avoid hiking in wooded areas during peak tick seasons
  • Treat all household pets 
  • Groom pets regularly, to check for visible parasites or irritation

Fleas and ticks may be small, but their threat to pet and human health is immense. Implementing a consistent and effective parasite prevention plan, including veterinarian-recommended preventives and environmental management, is the best way to prevent your dog or cat from falling victim to parasitic infestation, disease, and misery. Contact Columbia Pike Animal Hospital to discuss your pet’s flea and tick prevention needs and receive a customized recommendation, or schedule an appointment.