Decisions, decisions! How do I pick the right flea product for my pet?

Your dog or cat has fleas. You want the fleas gone. It seems like a simple solution: pick a product to get rid of the pests.

But there are flea sprays, flea powders, flea collars, topical treatments, flea shampoos and even oral flea tablets. How in the world do you decide?

A couple things to remember: If you are ever in doubt about what to choose for your pet, check with your veterinarian. He or she can advise you best by taking into consideration your pet’s medical history.

Also, remember to read and follow all label directions. In some cases, that’s going to include picking the right product for the right species (e.g. cat products for cats, dog products for dogs), weighing your pet, or measuring the correct amount of treatment to be used. Flea and tick products are registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), so instructions are included to help you safely buy and administer the treatment.

Let’s walk through your options:

  • Oral flea caplets kill fleas fast. They are administered to cats or dogs orally, and provide rapid relief from fleas. Not all brands work as a preventative; they work only against the fleas that are on your pet. If your pet has brought fleas into the house or yard, you will need to take additional steps to prevent flea reinfestation. Some pets don’t take readily to oral medications and that can mean a wrestling match between you and your pet.
  • Topical flea treatments are specially formulated for either dogs or cats, and for a specific weight range. Depending on the treatment, they kill fleas (and often ticks, too) and if they contain an insect growth regulator (IGR) they help with the “flea burden” in your environment by preventing flea eggs from hatching and break the reinfestation cycle. Topicals provide prevention for 30 days and are generally considered to be safe and easy to apply. Some pets do not like the “wet feel” of the topical (usually applied high on the back of the neck, or sometimes as a strip along the back), and you may have to separate animals from each other for 24 hours. Again, we cannot stress enough: Only apply dog products to dogs, and cat products to cats. They are NOT interchangeable!
  • Flea collars have been around for years. They go where your pet goes, are not messy, and are easy to apply. Their slow-release formula is effective against fleas and ticks. Breakaway collars (for cats) help protect against strangulation, however, pets have been known to get collars stuck in their mouth, or paws caught in the collar, and collars can break.
  • Shampoos are doubly beneficial: Not only do they clean dirty pets, they also kill fleas on your pet. They can help provide immediate relief for pets, but the effectiveness of flea shampoos is not as long as a topical, spray or collar. There is a waiting period before you can apply a topical and, as you know, bathing a pet can be a messy process.
  • Flea powders are relatively easy to apply and have also been around for a long time. Humans do need to avoid inhaling the dust, and powders should not be used around food or food preparation areas. Some flea powders are specifically geared for use in the home, which makes them an effective treatment on areas like pet bedding or on upholstery or carpets.
  • Flea sprays offer a fast treatment, and some are effective against pests for 30 days. They kill pests on the pet, but the rate of application can be imprecise. Most sprays require the user to wear protective rubber gloves when spraying the pet and some animals don’t like the sound or feel of sprays.
  • Finally, to go “old school,” don’t forget the option of the flea comb. These specialized grooming tools are designed to snag fleas and flea eggs on the tightly packed comb “teeth.” Keep a bowl of hot, soapy water nearby to dump the fleas and flea eggs into; that bath will kill the pests. Flea combs are not very effective at reducing the flea population in the environment. Treatments like topicals, sprays and other methods help reduce the irritation, flea allergy dermatitis and disease transmission in pets. Flea combs only physically remove some of the fleas your pet is encountering.

Remember: your veterinarian is your best bet for information about the health of your pet. Be sure to ask them if you have questions, and read and follow label directions of any product carefully.

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