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Those Pesky Fleas and Ticks

Jul 02, 2018 09:56AM ● By Louisa Asseo

Dr. Louisa Asseo, owner of Oasis Veterinary Hospital, 6635 Alhambra Ave, Suite 100, 925.954.8087

I grew up in a time when we didn’t have many options for flea and tick control for our pets. Today, we are fortunate to have many options to control these pesky and dangerous pests. I remember powdery flea collars (which tended to provide shelter to the fleas more than kill them), flea “bombs,” and flea and tick shampoos and dips. What we tried to ignore was how these products could be toxic to our pets and not just their parasites.

In the early 1990s, an insect growth regulator called Program (lufenuron) emerged on the market and revolutionized flea control by offering an oral product that was safe for our pets. As a “birth control” for fleas, it was a way to control flea populations. 

Just a few years later, the market exploded with topical products such as Advantage (imidacloprid) and Frontline (fipronil). These products were so effective that flea infestations became much less common. What a fabulous improvement this was! The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not get involved in safety and efficacy of these products, which can be used in home-based as well as agriculture pest control. These products definitely work, but perhaps they work too well as they can affect all insects and not just fleas and ticks. In 2015, a study proved that sublethal doses of fipronil could alter honeybee behavior and decrease their fertility. These products can also harm grasshoppers, butterflies, moths, and earthworms. They can get into our fresh waters and oceans, affecting the native invertebrate species. Fish that feed on these invertebrates are then ingesting and concentrating these pesticides in their tissues. As this continues up the food chain, who knows what effects we can see in generations to come.

We improved again. Revolution (selamectin) came out in the early 2000s. This is a topical product for both dogs and cats, but the medication is absorbed into the blood stream and thus does not have negative environmental issues. In 2013, the isoxazoline type drugs hit the market in products such as Nexgard (afoxolaner) and Bravecto (flurolaner). These are oral chews for dogs that protect against fleas and ticks. Bravecto even has a topical version for cats. These products really work! All of these products are approved by the FDA and proven to be both safe and effective. Revolution and the isoxazline products are not perfect either, but they truly are safer than our other options. Discussing these products with your veterinarian will help you decide if this is the right method of flea and tick control for your pets.

No system is perfect. We need to protect our pets against parasites. We need to protect our environment from unwanted pesticides and their long reaching impacts. We have truly come a long way, and innovation will continue to provide newer and safer products in the future. We need to make an educated decision about parasite control. In doing so, we can help our dogs, cats, honeybees, butterflies, and fish live happy and healthy lives.   


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