flea otc: over the counter preventatives for pets

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Dr. Kim Smyth
Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Jun 18 2013
Chihuahua scratching skin | Are over the counter flea and tick preventatives safe for pets?

Fleas and ticks have always been a problem for our pets, and not just because they cause itching and scratching. Dogs and cats can be allergic to flea saliva, which causes a severe skin reaction for those affected, and both fleas and ticks can transmit disease. As veterinarians, it is our goal to provide safe, effective flea and tick preventives that are easy to apply or administer at home.

You have probably noticed over-the-counter flea and tick preventives in stores around your town, ranging from products that you used to only see in the veterinarian’s office, like Frontline and Advantage, to other products that have always been offered in big box stores and the like, such as Hartz topicals and flea collars.

Are over the counter flea and tick preventatives safe?

I often get asked about the efficacy of over-the-counter products, but the more important issue to address with these preventives is their safety. I thought I’d take a moment today to address both subjects.

The patent for fipronil, the chemical used in Frontline and Frontline Plus, expired in 2010. When the drug became available for use in other products, we started seeing generic versions of Frontline on the shelves everywhere, from big box stores to online distributors.

In theory, these products should work as effectively as the name brand products do. But this isn’t always the case, due in part to the inert ingredients in some products that act as a carrier for the pest control drug. Some products may work well in the first few days, but may lose effectiveness earlier than expected, leaving your pets at risk for flea and tick infestations.

Other over-the-counter products vary widely in efficacy. There are so many different brands of flea and tick prevention available outside of your veterinarian’s office that it is impossible to cover them all. My main concern with over-the-counter products is their safety. Side effects from flea and tick preventives shouldn’t be taken lightly – they can range from mild skin irritation to severe nervous system problems, and even death.

For this reason, if you are choosing to try a new flea or tick product, always follow the directions on the packaging to the letter. Never, ever use a product on a cat that was made for a dog. Cats are particularly sensitive to some of the chemicals used in dog flea and tick formulations. Also beware if you have affectionate cats who like to groom their housemates – topical medications can accidentally be ingested by cats this way.

I know you want to do the very best for your pets while still making sound financial decisions for your family. If you’ve found a less expensive over-the-counter flea and tick product that you’d like to try, just run it by your veterinarian first. He or she may not be able to guarantee its efficacy, but you should be able to find out about its safety before using it. We all want the same thing for your pet – to be healthy this summer and all through the year!