Fleas and ticks are most active this time of year, so pet owners should consider the variety of treatments on the market and keep their pets and their families safe from the little critters.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently issued updated guidelines for using flea and tick control products. Those guidelines can be found online at http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm169831.htm. What follows is a condensed version of that update.

There are two pieces of advice we consider critical. Don’t go “off-label” when treating your pets, and always consult your veterinarian when beginning or changing treatment.

We’ve read plenty about the dangers of Lyme disease from ticks; complications from incorrect treatment also can have serious consequences.

Fleas are insects, while ticks are arachnids or spider-like creatures. Getting rid of them requires different treatments, as product manufacturers generally do a good job explaining. FDA regulates animal drugs, but some products that deal with external parasites come under rules issued by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Dogs may be treated either with medication or topically, with what are called “spot-on” products.

Only topical treatments are safe for cats, according to Dr. Robert Feher of the Brewer Veterinary Clinic. He says pet owners must be extra careful not to use flea products designed for dogs on their cats. Because of its grooming habits, anything that’s applied to a cat will end up inside it; any product used on cats must be safe for cats.

Topical treatments coat the hair shaft of the pet. When a pest rubs against it, it picks up the active ingredients that cause it to move faster, so it runs into more hair and treatment. Soon after, the pest dies.

Medication works by being in the bloodstream. When a pest gorges itself on the animal’s blood, it ingests the medication in the blood, which kills the pest. Veterinarians advise pet owners who use medication to do so with great care, especially when giving doses based on a pet’s weight.

Thin animals can be especially at risk for adverse effects due to overdosing.

“Be very careful of weight; don’t guess,” Feher urged. He said that some new flea and tick treatments just on the market have more finely tuned “weight splits,” designed to help owners make better dosing decisions.

Feher, a vet for nearly 40 years, said treatment should continue year-round to protect both pets and people. However, he said kittens and puppies younger than 8 weeks and smaller than two pounds should not receive any treatment.

If side effects do occur — such as vomiting, diarrhea, poor appetite, excessive salivation or depression — discontinue treatments immediately.

If a topical treatment is suspected, immerse the pet in water to remove as much of the product as possible and call your vet. You can call the National Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435. While the call is free, the center does charge for consultation. Save packaging and instructions; they can help pinpoint problems if they occur.

What about flea and tick collars? Experts are split, mainly due to some questionable ingredients in some collars.

Manufacturers of those have agreed to stop using the active ingredient called propoxur by April 2016. Some vets say because collars concentrate active ingredients around the neck, they’re less effective than other treatments.

One off-label use we’ve heard of involves treating the clothes of those who work or spend time outdoors. Put clothing in a recloseable plastic bag and drop in a tick collar; seal the bag, and the next day any ticks that may have come home on the clothing should be dead. Wash clothes thoroughly to remove remnants of both ticks and active ingredients from the flea collar.

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