Consult your veterinarian before using flea products

Posted March 29, 2010, at 5 p.m.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently has announced plans to further investigate topical flea and tick products such as Frontline Plus. The Associated Press reports, “The EPA’s effort follows increasing complaints from pet owners that the ‘spot-on’ products have triggered reactions in dogs and cats, ranging from skin irritation to neurological problems to deaths. Cats and small dogs appear particularly vulnerable, the EPA said, especially when given products intended for larger animals.”

The truth is, in the last 10 years the products have changed very little. The biggest change is the availability of flea and tick prevention over the counter. Aside from pet stores, flea and tick products are available at many drugstores, department stores and grocery stores, making it easy to pick up any random product when you discover fleas on your pet.

As the AP article points out, most of the adverse reactions stem from the wrong product being used on the wrong pet. By consulting your veterinarian before using flea or tick prevention on your pet, you can be sure to use the correct product at the safest dose.

Even Frontline Plus, which is among the safest products available over the counter, can be hazardous if not used correctly. For example, you might buy the purple box of Frontline Plus for your 75-pound Labrador retriever, and then think it would be OK just to use a little from the tube on your 8-pound cat. Without precise measuring, you could inadvertently overdose your cat. Some products, such as Advantix should not be used on cats at all.

Consulting with your veterinarian regarding the best flea treatment for your pet also will help prevent you from using the wrong combination of products on your pet. If your flea infestation is very bad, you might feel you need to flea bomb your house, put a flea collar on your pet and apply a spot-on flea product. The toxic effects are cumulative, and what might otherwise be a safe flea product can cause serious health problems.

These reports do not mean that you need to stop using these products, or that they are not safe and effective if used properly. The best thing you can do for your pet is contact your veterinarian and discuss the level of flea or tick problem you are having. Are you just trying to prevent fleas? Protect against tick exposure? Or do you have a full-blown flea infestation?

Your veterinarian can advise you on chemical-free steps you can take around your home, such as frequent vacuuming and immediately discarding the vacuum bag, and explain in detail to you the products and combinations of products that are the safest and most effective.

Your veterinary team is there to work with you on the best care for your pet. With careful consideration of your lifestyle and potential parasite exposure, you may find that you actually end up saving money in the long run, and have a happier, healthier pet.

Tricia Griffith is a veterinary assistant at Veazie Veterinary Clinic.

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