10 ways to safely keep your pets flea and tick free

Consumer Reports News: July 22, 2009 05:22 PM

If your dog or cat has ever been attacked by fleas, you know it’s uncomfortable for your pet, and uncomfortable for you to watch the constant scratching. But these pests can be more than a nuisance for your pet. In one day, a single flea can bite more than 400 times, consume more than its body weight of blood, and lay hundreds of eggs, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. And your furry friend can contract dermatitis from the flea saliva, and permanent hair loss and other skin problems from the constant scratching. Flea bites can also cause anemia. But fleas aren’t the only pests that can cause trouble for your pets. Ticks can transmit Lyme disease, and in turn your pet can bring ticks into the home, putting you and your family at risk.

You’ll want to protect your pet, of course, but it’s important to be cautious when using flea and tick products. In April, the Environmental Protection Agency issued an advisory about spot-on pesticide products for pets and intensified its evaluation of the products due to an increase in reports of bad reactions, ranging from skin irritation to burns, seizures, and in some cases, death. Spot-on products are generally sold in tubes or vials and are applied to one or more areas on your pet’s body, such as in between the shoulders or in a stripe along the back. While spot-on products can be effective treatments for fleas and ticks and many people use them on their pets with no harmful effects, the EPA asks pet owners to carefully follow label directions, monitor their pets for any signs of a bad reaction after applying, and to talk to their veterinarian about responsible use of these products.

Follow these safety tips when treating your pet for ticks and fleas:

  • Always read the label carefully before using a flea and tick product. If you don't understand the wording, ask your veterinarian or call the manufacturer before using.
  • Follow the directions exactly. If the product is for dogs, don't use it on cats or other pets. If the label says use weekly, don't use it daily. If the product is for the house or yard, don't put it directly on your pet.
  • Keep multiple pets separated after applying a product until it dries to prevent one animal from grooming another and ingesting a drug or pesticide.
  • Talk to your veterinarian before using a product on weak, old, medicated, sick, pregnant, or nursing pets, or on pets that have previously shown signs of sensitivity to flea or tick products.
  • Monitor your pet for side effects after applying the product, particularly when using the product on your pet for the first time.
  • If your pet experiences a bad reaction from a spot-on product, immediately bathe the pet with mild soap, rinse with large amounts of water, and call your veterinarian.
  • Call your veterinarian if your pet shows symptoms of illness after using a product. Symptoms of poisoning include poor appetite, depression, vomiting, diarrhea, or excessive salivation.
  • Do not apply a product to kittens or puppies unless the label specifically allows this treatment. Use flea combs to pick up fleas, flea eggs, and ticks on puppies and kittens that are too young for flea and tick products.
  • Wash your hands immediately with soap and water after applying a product, or use protective gloves while applying.
  • Store products away from food and out of children's reach.

—Ginger Skinner

For more on flea and tick prevention and treatment, see the FDA’s guidance. See our information on coping with summer pests, preventing tick bites, and removing a tick from your dog.

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