Could Choosing the Wrong Flea Medicine for Your Dog Bring on the Plague?

Dog scratching his ear

A Plague of Fleas

Fleas! Yewh. Nasty itchy bity things that serve no purpose other than to irritate your dog and spread disease. Oh, did I mention disease? As if you need more motivation to protect your dog against fleas, did you know that scientists are monitoring the resurgence of that most medieval of diseases that is spread by fleas - bubonic plague? Double yewh! If you're wondering how best to kill those critters in triple quick time, then read on to learn about finding a product that fits your pet's lifestyle needs.

Also known as Black Death, this disease is caused by Yersina pestis bacteria. It's been around for centuries. Its claim to fame is wiping out a quarter of the European population in the 14th and 15th centuries. In the United States, the last outbreak occurred in Los Angeles, 1924 - 1925, and from time to time cases still pop up in the Western areas of the country.

This is history, right? Well, yes and no.

What's all this about bubonic plague?

A recent article in the Journal of Infectious Diseases cites a world-wide rise in the flea population as cause for concern. Around 2,000 cases of plague occur each year (globally), and the disease is now classed as 'reemerging' and one to watch.

Of course there's no need to panic. The risk is extremely low, but according to scientists, it needs to be watched. In the United States, the focus of concern is rural and semi-rural areas, with the grasslands and semi-arid forests that are most likely to be home to the rodents that the plague bacteria are particularly fond of. In turn, when fleas bite these rodents, they ingest the bacteria, which are passed on again when the flea bites.

Now you're squirming in your seat and wondering if your dog's flea control has slipped. It's not that you're unwilling to treat him, it's just that these days the choice is so wide as to be overwhelming.

Too Much Choice?

There is such a thing as too much choice, and being faced with confusion leads to inactivity. If you're baffled by the different benefits of spot-ons, sprays, and tablets, or you're puzzled because your vet told you flea collars don't work, yet now they recommend one, panic not. We're here to help!

The first thing to know is that not all flea products are effective. That 'spot-on' product you bought off the shelf from the pet store is likely to contain a different active ingredient than the one sold by your veterinarian. I see so many clients make the basic mistake of thinking the words 'spot-on' on the box are a guarantee of effectiveness, so it's important to be aware it's the ingredients that count, not the method of application.

OK, so what will work?

Products sold by your vet are guaranteed to be effective. Some pet store products work, but others don't. In short, pick up the package, find the active ingredient, and then phone your vet clinic to ask whether it works. This is a minor hassle that could prevent an expensive mistake.

Now to find the perfect formulation for your dog.

Lifestyle Choices

Each product has slightly different properties, which is why choosing a product is so confusing. Those properties include how quickly the product works, how long it's effective, other parasites it kills, the method of application, and how frequently it needs to be topped up.

To find your ideal product, decide what's most important for you. If your dog swims regularly, it is essential to use a product that isn't washed off by repeated wetting, in which case a tablet or the Seresto collar is right for your dog. Perhaps your pet has a heavy flea infestation and you want something that kills the entire population within minutes to hours. Alternatively, your concern may be not just fleas, but also other parasites such as ticks or heartworm.

Draw Up a List

To help you decide on a product, it helps to write down what you want from your ideal product. Are fleas your only concern, or do you need the product to be effective against heartworm? Do you want a product you can put on and forget about for months, or do you prefer the flexibility of a monthly treatment?

Here are some suggestions to get you started. Choose the two or three items that are your highest priorities:

  • Rapid kill of fleas but short-acting, or delayed kill time but long- acting
  • How often you have to apply the product (daily, monthly, every 8 months)
  • Tablet vs. collar vs. spot-on
  • Kills fleas and ticks
  • Kills fleas, heartworm and mange mites

Compare with the Table

Now match up your requirements with the table below, or speak to your veterinarian, to identify the ideal product for your dog:

flea treatment
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Many more flea products than those listed are available, but now you get the idea of what to look for. Being aware of your dog's needs and knowing what questions to ask the pet store owner or veterinarian can keep you from suffering a plague of fleas, with all that implies.

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