Veterinarians discuss the best ways to keep your four-legged friend pest-free.

By Karen Asp
April 07, 2020
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Spring is finally here, but unfortunately, so is flea and tick season. But don't worry, just because the critters are out and about, it doesn't mean your pet has to be itchy and uncomfortable for the upcoming months. We spoke with several veterinarians to learn how to protect pets from these pests best and what to do if they end up becoming unwelcome visitors.

Fighting Fleas

For flea control, you can choose between oral or topical meds or a collar. Still, vets advise using only one type of treatment, says Nadine Znajda, D.V.M. at BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital in Tampa, Florida. In general, oral meds aren't advised for pets who have seizures, and cats should never wear collars containing permethrin, which can be toxic to them.

When you start treatment depends on when fleas are prevalent in your area. Fleas thrive year-round in some climates and only in warm months in others. "If you're worried about chemicals, less is more, and you can use these products on an as-needed basis," says Gary Richter, D.V.M., director of Holistic Veterinary Care in Oakland, California. If you want to go the natural route, there are products made with essential plant oils, but experts say they're often not as effective.

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Got Fleas?

Remove any fleas pronto! Brush out your pet's coat with a flea comb, then give her a bath with a pet shampoo. Also, consider a fast-acting oral treatment. Next, treat the house and wash pet's bedding in hot water and vacuum everywhere. You can sprinkle borax where fleas congregate: baseboards, under furniture, carpets; keep pets out of those rooms for at least 48 hours and vacuum after 12 to 48 hours. If the infestation is bad, you might need to fumigate. Also, talk to your vet about treating for tapeworms; pets with fleas are at risk.

Taking on Ticks

In addition to a regular tick-prevention regimen (again, choose between oral or topical meds or a collar), stay on top of yard upkeep. Ticks prefer damp areas, tall grasses, and shrubs, so keeping grass short, trimming trees and bushes, and raking up piles of leaves can go a long way toward minimizing the risk of a tick bite.

A non-toxic way to kill ticks and fleas in the yard is to sprinkle diatomaceous earth (a powder made from fossilized algae). Check your pet's coat daily: tick-borne illnesses are more prevalent in dogs than cats. On a dog, ticks are commonly found in ears, ear folds, and corners of eyes; on the neck; and between toes and the body and legs. On a cat, prime spots are the face and neck.

Got Ticks?

The longer the tick stays attached, the higher the risk of transmitting disease, Richter says. Use tweezers or a tick removing tool (such as the ZenPet Tick Tornado, $4.99, PetCo) to remove the entire tick without crushing or twisting it; leaving any part of the tick could cause an infection. Call your vet; she may start your pet on an antibiotic to ward off any chance of a tick-borne illness developing, which can take months to show up on tests or cause symptoms. Watch for signs of illness, including lethargy and joint swelling that can lead to limping

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