Your Health

Weigh the Options for Flea and Tick Control

Are the medicines you are giving to Fido and Mr. Whiskers putting your family at risk?

If you can, it’s best to avoid flea and tick medicines that are applied to your pet’s skin/fur/hair or collar because they might actually be rubbing off onto you, your loved ones, and your carpet.

“The commonly used topical flea and tick products (Frontline, Advantage, etc) expose pet owners to pesticides chronically at a low level. These products work by diffusing over the skin surface in the surface lipid layer and creating an invisible barrier that the insect encounters when it tries to feed on the pet. The chemicals also end up on the pet’s fur where people are exposed when they pet their dog or cat,” Steve Gardner, DVM, DABVP, says.

Keep in mind, the products used in typical topical treatments are often pesticides and can cause some problems for both you and your pet. Medicine options that are taken orally are generally safer than topical because they don’t have the ability to rub off or irritate the skin. Your vet should be able to talk to you about which safe options are the best choice for both you and your pet.

“In recent years I have advocated the use of oral products that appear to be well-tolerated by the animals in order to avoid the potential public health issue of exposing children and others to pesticides. These products are not on the surface of the skin but are concentrated in the skin, therefore the fleas and ticks are exposed but not the humans who touch the pets,” Dr. Gardner says.

There are lots of different products on the market, and, as always, some are safer and work better for certain families than others. Try a few different options in consultation with your vet until you find one everyone involved is happy with.

If you think medicine-free might be feasible, the best option would be to make sure your pets aren’t getting fleas or ticks in the first place. It can sound impossible but here are a few tips that might help. Many vets and organizations recommend brushing your pet regularly with a fine tooth flea comb. This will keep your pet’s fur clean and catch fleas they may have. Be sure to have a bucket of soapy water on hand to dip the comb into to deal with any fleas you do find.

You can also take some prevention steps by cleaning pet beds often in warm water. You don’t want all your hard work of brushing them to go to waste as soon as they settle back down for a snooze in their bed.


It’s also a good idea to try controlling fleas and ticks in your garden or whatever area your pets play and roll around in outside. Beneficial nematodes are one option. Nematodes sound like something prehistoric, but really they are worms that eat flea larvae; they can be found in garden supply stores. You just sprinkle them in the yard. Diatomaceous earth (but not the kind treated for use in pools) is a similar method (read the directions carefully), but this is better for places like the edges of your yard where you and your pets won’t be likely to roll in it. It can hurt pets if they eat it or it gets in their eyes.

While you’re thinking about your pets, read about how to protect your pets by choosing non-toxic products for them and your home, which is great for your whole family!