Flea and Tick Prevention
What Works and Why it’s Important
Dr. John Eustis, DVM- Orchard Veterinary Hospital, S. Burlington

Fleas. They’re a nuisance that gets into your home, bites your pet and you, cause annoying allergies, but they don’t generally transmit diseases. Ticks are MORE than a nuisance. They can transmit Lyme disease, Ehrlichia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and other nasty diseases we will talk about later. How do you get rid of them? It is much easier to prevent them than get rid of them. Spot-on topicals, pills, collars, shampoos, sprays; the list goes on and on. They all advertise that they are the best but are they safe for my pet? Are they safe for me? Are they safe for my kids?

These are the questions that should go through your head when confronted by the myriad of flea and tick products that are now available. It seems like every few months some new type of flea and tick product comes out. Even veterinarians have trouble deciding which is best and we are constantly being bombarded with information about all the new offerings. Basically, you can boil it down to three questions about the product: Is it effective? Is it safe? Is it easy to use? Answer “yes” to all these questions and you’ve found your product.

Collars, shampoos and sprays: Do they work? Yes, for a short time. Are they easy to use? No. Are they safe? NO! These products are commonly made with something called organophosphates (OP’s) such as chlorpyrifos, dichlorvos, phosmet, naled, tetrachlorvinphos, diazinon and malathion. In overdoses, OPs can kill people and pets. Even with normal use of flea-control products containing OPs, pets and children may be in danger.

Pills: Do they work? Yes, but only against fleas and only against fleas after they have bitten your pet. Are they safe? Yes. Are they easy to use? Yes, but some of them have to be given daily which might make them not so easy to use.

Spot-on topicals: Do they work? Yes, if you buy a good quality product and follow the directions. Unfortunately, at present there are no good products for cats that kill both ticks and fleas. There are great ones for fleas and there is one very good one for ticks but there are none that I know of that get both. Luckily, cats are not prone to getting Lyme disease and since most are good groomers they can take care of the ticks themselves most of the time. Are they easy to use? Yes. Are they safe? Yes, if you buy a good quality product. Unfortunately there are products in the supermarket, pet shop and on the internet that are advertised as being “just like the products your veterinarian sells”. Most are NOT!! Many of these products are made with OP’s and can be very, very toxic to both your pets and you. I strongly urge you NOT to use these products. This is one of those instances where you absolutely get what you pay for.

Now why is getting rid of ticks so important? It’s true that Vermont and New Hampshire never had many ticks until the last few years, but we definitely have them now! Several tick varieties include Lone Star, American Dog, Black Legged/Deer, and Brown Dog ticks. There is even a Fisher tick. Each is a potential disease-infected parasite! According to the Vermont Lyme Network, “If you, your dog, or your cat is bit by a tick in Vermont, the chances are from 20% to 50% that that tick is carrying Lyme disease.”

Ticks are here, they are going to stay here and they are going to transmit some pretty nasty diseases to both us and our pets. In addition to Lyme disease ticks also can be carrying Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis. What you need to know is what each of these diseases looks like in your pet. The most common symptoms for Lyme disease are lameness and high fever. What we call a “shifting leg lameness” means that the dog could be lame on his right front leg yesterday but today is lame on his left hind leg. High fevers usually cause them to be lethargic and not want to eat. Lyme disease can also cause a severe kidney disease that you would observe as very frequent urination and drinking a large amount of water.

The initial symptoms of Ehrlichiosis can be depression, loss of appetite, fever, loss of stamina, weight loss, eye and nasal discharges, difficulty breathing, swollen glands and limbs. The more advanced stages of Ehrlichiosis can cause severe bleeding, including bleeding from the nose, mouth and eyes, pale gums due to anemia, weight loss, abdominal tenderness and neurological problems. Also, like Lyme disease, there can be lameness involving one or more limbs, muscular stiffness, difficulty standing up and joint swelling and pain.

Symptoms of Anaplasmosis include fever, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures and a reluctance to move due to pain in multiple joints. This disease is most commonly diagnosed in the fall season when the transmitting tick is most active but Anaplasmosis can be seen at any time.

All of these diseases have many symptoms in common but the most important commonality is they are only transmitted by ticks. Spot-on type flea and tick preventative purchased from your veterinarian is the most effective way to stop ticks. Vaccinating your dog for Lyme disease is also highly recommended. Please see your veterinarian for the preventatives before you need a cure.