Veterinarian Offers Flea-Fighting Advice for Pet Owners

By Wednesday, April 24, 2013

According to a Kansas State University study, flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is the most common dermatologic disease of domestic dogs. I asked veterinarian Link Welborn, owner of four Bay Area companion animal hospitals, for advice on giving pets a fighting chance against fleas.
Q:  Last year, many pet owners had a particularly difficult time fighting fleas on their pets. How can you advise pet owners to protect their pets (and homes) from fleas this year?

A:  Pet owners should seek the advice of their veterinarian. There are dozens of flea control products on the market that fall into many categories: with/without heartworm and intestinal parasite prevention, with/without tick control, prescription and over-the-counter, topical and oral, products that kill adult fleas and those that block the development of immature fleas, those that are greatly affected by bathing and others that aren’t, some that are very safe for one species and toxic to other types of pets. The choices can be dizzying.

Veterinarians are in a better position to advise pet owners about the best flea control for an individual pet than anyone. I would like to highlight the word “individual.” Every pet should be treated as an individual with regard to flea control. The species of the pet plays a major role in determining the best product for flea control since products designed and FDA or EPA approved for dogs are commonly different from those for cats.

The lifestyle of the pet is a significant factor to consider as well. For instance, dogs that rarely leave their house and yard may only need to receive a monthly dose of an insect growth regulator. A fast-acting product that kills adult fleas can be administered for the occasional trip outside of the home. On the other hand, dogs that routinely walk in areas frequented by other dogs, such as dog walks, apartment common areas, and parks, should receive a once-a-month product that kills adult fleas continually. Other considerations include potential exposure ticks. For dogs with tick exposure, the use of a combination flea and tick control product is essential. Finally, the frequency of bathing also needs to be considered. Dogs that are bathed more than once a month may benefit more from an oral flea control product.

Flea control can get complicated. Your veterinarian can help you determine the most effective, safest and cost-effective product(s) available for your pet.

Q:  What do pet owners need to know about the possible dangers associated with over-the-counter topical flea treatments?

A:  Many over-the-counter products are relatively safe for mammals. However, some spot-on flea products contain 45-65% permethrin. These products are labeled only for dogs and even small amounts on cats can cause tremors, seizures and death. Ironically, these very potent products often aren’t that effective at killing fleas since they’ve been on the market for many years and fleas have become relatively resistant to them.