People underestimate how a few fleas or ticks can wreak havoc on you and your pet. Fleas can not only cause flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), which can make your pet miserable with her itching and hair loss, but can also transmit more serious conditions, like tapeworm or the bubonic plague. A flea-infested pet will bring the fleas into your home and cause an infestation that can take as long as a year to get rid of using professional services. Ticks can carry diseases, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, tularemia, or ehrlichiosis, that can sicken you or your pets. Here are five ways you can protect your family members—both two- and four-legged—from fleas and ticks.

  1. Skip over-the-counter flea medications for pets

Over-the-counter (OTC) flea-prevention products may promise the same results as a product your veterinarian recommends, but they are not as effective, because fleas have become resistant to several compounds commonly used in OTC products. Also, it can be difficult to measure the dosing or correctly apply the topical products, which can render the product useless or harm your pet.

  1. Use a prescription-strength flea and tick prevention from your veterinarian

A veterinarian’s prescription is the best choice to ensure the product prevents or treats flea or tick bites. Our veterinary health care team will help you select a medication that meets your pet’s needs. Medication is available in a chewable oral form or as a liquid applied to the skin between the shoulder blades. Be sure to tell us about any pregnant women, children, or cats also in your home, and to discuss any side effects that may occur.

  1. Minimize fleas and ticks in your yard for a safer environment for your pet

If you want to reduce the exposure risk for your pet and your children, begin with your yard. Fleas like moist, shady spots under tall grass, and ticks like to attach to grass and wait to jump onto their victims. So, keep your grass short and bushes and trees to a minimum. Also, keep your yard clear of debris, such as grass clippings, trash, and wood piles, which invite mice, raccoons, deer, and other critters, along with their fleas and ticks, to your yard. The more you can keep other animals out of your yard, the better, although fleas and ticks can travel through fences so cleaning up your own yard is not complete prevention.

  1. Don’t stop your pet’s preventive medication in the winter

Although the winter provides some relief from fleas and ticks, it doesn’t get cold enough to kill them. In addition, a flea or tick that manages to catch a ride into your home can survive in the carpets and your pets’ bedding. A single female adult flea can lay up to 50 eggs per day, so it doesn’t take long before your home is infested.

  1. Sometimes preventives aren’t enough

Even if you give your pet prescription medication, preventing infestation can seem impossible in some homes. Many people may turn to the internet, where anecdotal reports tout the efficacy of homeopathic treatments for fleas and ticks. But, it’s important to understand that no clinical study has shown that flea and tick infestation can be treated safely and successfully by anything other than prescription medication. However, if prescription products alone aren’t 100% effective, ask your veterinarian about the following options:

  • Some low-tech solutions, such as flea combs, bathing, washing pet bedding in hot water weekly, and inspecting your dog for ticks after time outdoors, can all help keep these pests out of your home.
  • Diatomaceous earth can help end a home infestation, but it must be applied and cleaned up by a professional, or all your family members and pets risk inhaling the earth’s silicone particles, which can damage the lungs.
  • Professionals can apply environmentally safe pesticides to your outdoor spaces, but that alone will not keep all fleas out of your yard.

You may hear recommendations for essential oils, but they can cause more problems than they solve, especially in dogs and cats, and should be avoided. Many oils can cause allergic or dermatologic reactions, seizures, and liver failure. Never use essential oils on your pet without first checking with your veterinarian.

Flea and tick prevention is easy and cost-effective, especially compared with the high risk of deadly diseases these pests can cause, and the cost of ridding your home of infestation. Treating your pet monthly is usually enough for a pest-free home and pet. Make an appointment at our hospital to talk about the steps you should take to ensure a healthy, happy summer free of fleas and ticks.