The question isn’t so much, should you protect your pets from fleas and ticks, but instead, where should you buy flea and products, and how do you decide what to buy?
Generic versions of quality flea prevention products available for many years primarily through veterinary clinics have joined an ever-growing list of new flea-busters available everywhere, from over the counter to online.
There are plenty of choices, “but all those choices aren’t the same,” notes veterinary parasitologist Dr. Michael Dryden, a professor at Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Manhattan. So, how can the consumer know which product is best for their pet?
“It may be impossible for consumers to understand all the differences — sometimes subtle nuances — between the various products,” Dryden admits. Therefore, he advises that pet owners buy flea and tick products only through a vet.
Dryden begins to rattle off a long list of considerations when suggesting specific flea or tick prevention products. For starters, what types of pets are in the household? Is it an all-cat home, or dogs and cats? Are there any young puppies or kittens? What are the lifestyles of the pets? Are cats indoor-outdoor? Do people in the household travel with the pets? And if so, where do they go?
Additional considerations include pregnant pets, the general health of the pets and any specific medical conditions such as idiopathic epilepsy (seizures). Are any pets in the home on anti-anxiety medication? If pet owners are seeking a tick product, what flea product are they currently using?
Another key question: What’s a better choice, a chewable product or a spot-on, squeezed between the shoulder blades? Along those lines, Dryden points out that specific considerations may matter for the pet owner. For example, some products can be challenging for the elderly or people with arthritic hands to dispense.
“Another factor is the speed of kill,” said Dryden. “Equally important is what we call the residual speed of kill over several weeks to not only protect the animal, but also to limit egg-laying.”
Your veterinarian will know all the choices for effective flea prevention. At a retail store, you’ll only see what that specific store happens to carry; the same is true for online stores.
Dryden concedes that in this still-faltering economy, cost is a huge driver. Still, to assume products available over the counter or online are less expensive is a mistake, particularly if a website charges for shipping. In any case, the cost difference between buying at a veterinary clinic, a retail store, or online isn’t huge.
If you pick the wrong product for your pet by buying over the counter or online, or if you use the product incorrectly, Dryden is also concerned about adverse reactions. Of course, treating any adverse response may be costly, not to mention the pet’s suffering.
In addition, there’s the significant cost of eradicating fleas if the product you buy doesn’t perform as promised. Dryden points out that some products purchased over the counter can work great, others not so much. Fleas are stubborn little buggers who excel at reproduction. If you have an infestation, Dryden adds, you need to deal with fleas on your pet, as well as in the environment. Simply put, buying products that don’t work is a waste of money.
Dryden also worries that people may skip a vet visit because they bought a flea or tick product at the store and feel no need for an exam because the pet appears healthy — this is particularly true for cats who are adept at hiding illness.
“Sometimes, people discover there are fleas when a pet itches,” says Dryden. “Well, that pet may likely have allergy flea dermatitis (a flea allergy response), and while getting rid of those fleas is important, so is treatment for the condition. Also, when veterinarians get their hands on pets, they [may] discover disease, and may do a blood test to find tick-borne disease. If clients choose going to the store over a veterinary exam, the pet loses big time. I am very serious about this, and very concerned.”
Also, in an effort to save money, many owners are increasingly treating only one or two pets with a flea product, leaving others untreated because they don’t go outdoors as often, or never leave the house, such as an indoor cat.
“I can’t tell you how often infestations occur when consumers do everything right, except that they don’t treat each pet in the household,” Dryden says.
If you are interested in saving money, one way is to use a veterinary-recommended product before there’s an infestation, and before pets might need treatment for a flea allergy. Use the product regularly; skipping doses allows fleas to literally jump in the window. Also, depending on your pets’ lifestyles, ask your vet about two-in-one products that combat both fleas and ticks. Dryden notes that Vectra 3D and Frontline Plus can be purchased through veterinary clinics.
Steve Dale welcomes questions and comments from readers. Although he can’t answer all of them individually, he’ll answer those of general interest in his column. Write to Steve at Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name, city and state. Steve’s website is www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated “Steve Dale’s Pet World” and “The Pet Minute.” He’s also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.