How Do Flea and Tick Pet Medications Work?

How Do Flea and Tick Pet Medications Work?

An infestation of fleas or ticks on your pet can be a nightmare for your both, from endless flea baths and powders to the threat of Lyme disease. Using preventative medication can combat those bugs and keep your pet happy, healthy and doing what they do best — running, jumping and playing outside. Learn more about flea and tick medications and how they work, below.

The Importance of Flea and Tick Medication for Pets

Preventing fleas and ticks is an important part of caring for your pet and keeping yourself (and home) pest-free. 

“In addition to being a nuisance, [fleas and ticks] can transmit parasites and numerous disease-carrying organisms, with illnesses that could range from mild to life-threatening,” Bell says. “This risk isn’t just for cats and dogs, but for the people who share their environment.”

Left untreated, fleas can cause skin rashes, anemia and bacterial diseases while ticks can be a carrier of Lyme disease, a dangerous and potentially damaging condition for your pet. Fleas can be picked up from the outdoors, other pets and indoor areas where fleas may be present. They reproduce rapidly, and can be a major problem for people’s clothing, furniture, and hair in addition to their pet. Ticks are generally picked up outdoors, especially in heavily wooded areas.

How do Flea and Tick Medications for Pets Work?

There are a variety of different types of flea and tick medications, including topical treatments, oral medication and flea and tick collars. To be effective, the medications rely on chemicals that paralyzes and/or kills fleas or ticks at their various life stages, said Susan O’Bell, DVM at the MSPCA-Angell Animal Medical Center. Common chemicals found in these medications include permethrins, fipronil, amitraz and diatomaceous earth that are responsible for killing the bugs before they can lay eggs on your pet’s skin.

Topical treatments tend to be the most popular form of flea and tick prevention, and are used by applying the medication between your pet’s shoulder blades or at the base of their neck. They are absorbed by the animal’s oil and sweat glands in the skin, and help your pet repel fleas and ticks within 24 hours. These treatments are waterproof, but need a full day to dry after being applied. Some products claim to repel mosquitos and flies, but both don’t, according to Bell. For prevention of additional pests, including heartworm, mites and round or hookworm, talk to your veterinarian about the proper product to use for your pet.

Finding the Right Flea and Tick Medication For Your Pet

There are a variety of products designed to help keep your pet flea and tick free, including sprays, oral medications, topical medications and collars. Your veterinarian will often have these types of products in their office, and you should consult with them before choosing the right treatment for your pet, Bell says. If you’re looking to purchase preventative products elsewhere, be sure to always shop for flea and tick medication from trusted, reliable sources. Knowing the source of these products, particularly in case of product failure or an adverse reaction, will help you seek help if you need it, Bell says.

“Use the expertise of your veterinarian and support staff to help you make the best decision for your pet based on a risk assessment for flea and tick infestations,” she says. “The advantage of all these options is that you’ll be able to find a product that fits the needs of your pet quite well.”

Once you’ve determined which product you’ll use, make sure to read the instruction labels carefully and follow the directions closely, Bell said. Call a consumer hotline or your vet if you have any questions before use, and make sure you follow the age, weight and animal guidelines on the label. Some medications safe for dogs, like permethrins, can be very toxic to cats, making it essential to use the right product for the proper pet.

Though rare, more adverse reactions to these medications is possible, so be sure to monitor your pet closely in the first few days following its application, and try not to give your pet any additional medications when trying a new flea and tick treatment, Bell says.

Get more information about flea and tick medication and prevention here


Shop flea and tick medications here


Ermolaev Aexander via Shutterstock 

Social Image Tricia/Flickr

Was This Article Helpful? Check Out Our Spring Guide for More Great Tips >>