Making sure that your dog is free of fleas and ticks is an important part of responsible dog ownership. Although neither are likely to eat enough blood to cause an adult dog to become anaemic, they can transmit diseases and cause skin problems.
They’re also parasites that can infect us humans (did you know pet owners are more than twice as likely to get a tick than non-pet owners?), so in preventing our pooches from bringing them into the house we’re protecting ourselves! But, like all drugs, these preventatives can come with warnings and side-effects. Read on for all-important safety advice when using these treatments.
Find the right product for your pet
There are loads of preventative medical options out there, and not all are suitable for every animal. They all prevent different infestations, for different amounts of time. Some come in tablet form, others in spot-on gel form. The best thing to do is to discuss your preventative regime with a vet or nurse if you’re not sure, as it may be that there’s a product out there that suits you better.
In general, spot on treatments need to be applied to the skin on the back of the neck every 4 weeks, although some newer products do last a bit longer. Whilst some are merely repellent, others are absorbed through the skin to protect the whole animal and kill anything that feeds. They’re often not suitable for animals that are bathed regularly or swim often, as the treatment will be less effective and can even wash off into streams and rivers causing a problem for wildlife. They’re also difficult to give in very thick-coated breeds.
Tablet treatments usually need to be given every 4, 8 or 12 weeks depending on the product. They’re good for many dogs as they’re often chewable treat-type tablets and can be given with or without food, but picky dogs may refuse to eat them. They’re spread throughout the body within just a few hours and kill anything that feeds. The long-acting products are sometimes less suitable for young dogs growing very quickly, as they may grow past the tablet’s maximum weight range before the next dose is due.
Collars are also available. The majority of ‘flea collars’ are merely repellent and aren’t much use, but there are some medical flea and tick collars for dogs that have a slow-release formula that is absorbed across the skin. These work for around 8 months, so work well for pets that don’t like being handled too often.
It’s a good idea to weigh young, growing animals before purchasing every dose of flea or wormer to ensure the correct dose is given. Older animals with a fairly stable weight can usually be weighed annually, but don’t forget if your animal is on a diet or has recently gained weight to get them weighed again to make sure the dose is safe. Some dogs that are right on the weight-band change may need to be weighed more often, or a different product with different weight ranges could be chosen.
Storing medicines safely
When you’ve chosen your product and got it home, don’t forget to store it safely. That means checking the information sheet for storage instructions, and making sure they’re out of the reach of any children- but also out of the reach of pets. Whilst most dogs won’t break into a spot-on box (greedy Labradors excluded), many will try to get at the flea tablets as they’re designed to be so tasty. Don’t forget to keep an eye on expiration dates, too, especially if you get your products in advance.
When applying the spot on, or giving a tablet, remember to wash your hands afterwards and wear gloves if the information sheet recommends this.
For wriggly pets it might be easier to get someone to hold them still if you’re applying a spot-on; it can be very damaging to the eyes if they wriggle and get it in there. If you think your dog won’t tolerate having the product applied, consider whether a chewable tablet might be easier, or ask your veterinary practice to apply the product for you. Don’t forget to apply it in a location that your pet can’t lick it off. It’s also worth noting that the solvent in some of these products can cause damage to leather and plastic, so it’s best to avoid contact with furnishings after application until the product has dried.
Specific medical warnings
Some products have specific medical warnings that mean they shouldn’t be used in certain ages, medical conditions, or breeds. If your dog is pregnant or lactating, or very young or very small, you should talk to your vet about a safe product to give to them. This is also the case if your dog is on any long-term medications- the majority of these products are safe to use with any medication but it’s a good idea to check. Some of these products also can’t be used with some wormers due to them containing very similar ingredients- check with your vet if you aren’t sure.
Collies, Old English Sheepdogs and related breeds can have a gene called MDR-1. This gene makes them incredibly susceptible to the side effects of some of these medications.
If you have a Collie or Collie-type, it’s highly recommended that you talk to your vet about safe medications to give your pet before choosing a medication. It’s also imperative that they’re not allowed to lick off any product that is applied, as this can cause a severe reaction.
Some of the tablet-type preventatives slightly increase the chances of a dog having a seizure. Whilst this effect is negligible in most dogs, if your dog has epilepsy this type of treatment may not be suitable for you.
Whilst all of these products have been extensively tested both in the lab and once in use by vets, it’s important to remember that every dog is different and can develop a reaction. If you suspect a reaction has occurred, no matter how mild, it’s a good idea to call your vet, who has a legal obligation to file a report on the medication. In this way, they continue to collect safety data even after the product has been released to the public.
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