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Flea Prevention 101


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Did you know there are more than 2,200 types of fleas? And any of those thousands of flea species can wreak havoc on your pup’s fur and skin. While it’s unlikely your dog will never come in contact with flea parasites during his lifespan (especially if you both enjoy spending time outdoors in the Spring and Summer), there are many proven flea prevention methods to keep your dog healthy in those flea-prone months. As always, before choosing the best treatment plan for your pup, consult with your vet.

Spot-On Medications
Topical medications from brands such as Advantage and Frontline are applied directly to your pup’s skin, typically through a drop administration on the neck. The drops work by a process of translocation, meaning the medication spreads itself all over the body through the dog’s oil glands. These medications will kill and repel fleas for several weeks before reapplication is needed and may also interrupt the flea life cycle if already in progress. Another plus? The medication is “waterproof” meaning bathing, swimming and rain do not affect the medication’s potency. A downside of these medications is that they can make your dog’s fur sticky and greasy and it’s suggested humans refrain from touching the dog for a certain amount of time after application.

Oral Medications
If your pooch comes down with a serious flea infestation, the vet may prescribe an oral medication along with a spot-on treatment. These pills are typically taken once a month in small tablet form and disrupt the life cycle of fleas, but do not kill adult fleas on contact. The positives of oral medication include easy and safe administration (the pills can be hidden in food) and you don’t have to worry about the messiness of the topical ointments.

Flea Shampoos
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An inexpensive, albeit time-consuming method of flea prevention is to bathe your dog with a special medicated shampoo that kills fleas and/or ticks on contact. While somewhat easy to do at home, the downside of a flea bath is that the ingredients in flea-specific shampoos are typically not strong enough to be as effective as the spot-on or oral medications. You’ll likely need to repeat the shampoo bath often (approximately every two weeks) for optimal protection.

Flea Collars
Certain collars on the market are designed to repel and kill fleas by either emitting a gas that repels the pests or releasing a spot-on medication that seeps into the skin and then spreads through your dog’s natural skin oils. However, flea collar effectiveness can depend on several factors including the correct application of the collar. With a collar treatment, you run the risk of your dog chewing or excessively scratching it from discomfort so make sure when choosing one, it’s the right size for your pet.

Flea Dips
Flea dips contain concentrated chemicals which need to be diluted in water and then applied to a dog’s fur with either a sponge or poured directly over the back. Unlike a shampoo bath, you will not rinse your dog off after applying this product. These dips can be very potent, so take care in reading the instructions carefully before use to prevent toxic reactions in both your dog and the person handling him. These dips cannot be used on animals of a certain age (typically 4 months or less) so check with your vet before purchasing.

Powders or Sprays
These products found in any pet supply store are inexpensive ways of repelling fleas; however, use extreme caution in application as sprays and powders can be toxic or irritating to both dogs and humans if ingested or breathed in through the eyes, nose or mouth. These products are also typically much less effective than the recommended spot-on treatments and need to be reapplied frequently.

Clean Your Home
If your dog gets fleas, no matter how serious or mild the infestation, it’s imperative to have your house thoroughly cleaned on a daily basis until your dog no longer presents any sign of fleas. Your goal is to not only remove adult fleas, but also to remove all opportunities for flea eggs and larvae to live and eventually hatch in your home. At any given time, about 57% of the fleas in someone’s home are in the larval stage. Vacuum all flooring (carpet and hardwood) including the baseboards and then toss all vacuum bags, wash all dog bedding and toys with soapy warm water, launder any clothing or bedding your dog may have come into contact with, and be sure to clean any other places your dog frequents such as the car.

Household Sprays
To further treat your home after a thorough cleaning, you may use sprays or foggers sold at pet supply stores or your vet office to increase chances of killing off adult fleas and larvae/eggs as they hatch. The same careful attention should go towards using these products as with any potentially toxic chemicals. If you’re still concerned about infestation, it may be worth calling a professional exterminator to spray the house properly.

Flea Traps
Your local hardware store sells ready-made “flea traps,” which consist of sticky pads that are laid on the floor, where fleas will get caught while jumping around. This may eliminate adult fleas, but not eggs or larvae. Make your own light trap by setting a small dish of soapy water on the ground near a light at night. Fleas are attracted to warmth and light, so they will jump in the water and drown.

Clear Your Yard
Keep your lawn, bushes, and trees trimmed low to reduce flea population in your back and front yards and prevent fleas from jumping onto your dog. Consider yard sprays or granular treatments available from the pet supply store, vet or garden center. Hiring a professional pest control service to spray outdoors is not a bad idea either, especially during flea season.

“Natural” Methods
Unfortunately, ultrasonic devices, garlics, and brewer’s yeast have all been proven ineffective against these malicious pests. So, you may be left with no choice other than using chemicals to eliminate fleas. Do know that while these chemical flea treatments are safe when used properly, they are still pesticides and must be used with extreme care.