Dog Flea and Tick

Dog fleas and ticks are a frustrating and yet prevalent issue many pet owners have to deal with at some point in their lives. You’ve taken the first step by researching how to prevent or treat dog fleas or ticks, so you’ve already shown yourself to be a caring and responsible pet owner. Not to mention, you’re undoubtedly eager to nip this inconvenient problem in the bud!

At GeniusVets, we firmly believe that petcare information should come from veterinarians and not from “Dr. Google.” That’s why we’ve taken the most common questions on dog fleas and ticks, sent these questions to renowned veterinarians, and compiled their replies to get you information that you can trust when it comes to your dog’s nutrition.

While all of the dog flea and tick information and recommendations below have been sourced directly from leading veterinarians across the country, please make sure to seek your veterinarian’s advice or find a trusted veterinarian near you using the GeniusVets Directory.

Can fleas and ticks spread from my dog to my home and family?

Yes, they can. It only takes one flea or tick getting into your home to cause trouble. Interestingly enough, fleas only spend their adult time on the dog. They leave the dog to lay their eggs and have their younger life stages out of the environment, so they certainly can affect other pets in your household as well. Ticks can also affect humans the same way that they can affect dogs. Even dogs that are primarily indoors can get fleas and ticks. If they go outside to go to the bathroom and one tick or one flea comes into the house, they can spread to you and your other pets.

Fleas live in the environment and not on your pet. Your dog is the source of food for them, and they will typically spend less than half their time physically on your dog. Where you see one flea there are hundreds that you don't see. Ticks will stay on a lot longer as they will crawl on the body to find a feeding spot then feed until they are fully engorged and will fall off to reproduce, then will die. Prescription tick preventatives from your veterinarian will kill the tick before they are able to transmit any tick-borne disease.

Not only should your pet be on prevention but also you should also be aware that the environment will need to be treated in the case of an infestation or to decrease the exposure to the pet. Dog owners in a flea-infested home need to hire an exterminator or use a pet-safe yard spray. Frequent vacuuming to remove the eggs and larva in the carpet and cracks as well as frequently cleaning the bedding in hot water will be necessary.

What health problems can fleas and ticks cause my dog?

Fleas are notorious for causing severe itching and skin issues. Dogs that are allergic to flea saliva can get what’s called flea allergic dermatitis. Also, when a dog bites and eats a flea because it's irritating them, they can get tapeworms. Depending on how long they’ve been on the dog or how heavy the burden is, fleas can also cause anemia. They do so by feeding too much on your dog's blood.

Ticks can cause a lot of skin irritation where they bite, and they also carry many diseases.

Some of the diseases ticks carry are as follows:

These diseases can cause their own issues, like the destruction of body cells, fever, joint problems, kidney issues, and a whole host of other problems.

How effective are flea and tick medications?

Flea and tick medications have come a long way, particularly in the last 10 years. Many of us likely remember when we used to give flea baths and flea dips back in the day. Generally, people don't do that anymore, as we started using preventives. Oral flea and tick medications are superior to either topical or collars. Many topicals now have resistance to them or take too long to kill ticks and are resistant to fleas.

The purpose of topicals is to kill fleas and prevent them from jumping on a dog to begin with—unfortunately, they’re not always easy to apply. You have to get it all the way down to the dog’s skin, not just on their hair coat. That can be challenging in the case of a fluffy dog. Not only that, but many of our dogs go swimming, we give them baths, and in general, we’re washing the topical off or making it less potent as the month goes along.

Of course, consistency with the year-round flea and tick treatment on the part of dog owners is necessary for these medications to be truly effective, so long-acting medications are often preferred. As notes, "Increased client adherence with longer-acting flea and tick formulations offers multiple benefits: pet owners are more likely to give medications that are easy to administer, and pets are less likely to experience gaps in coverage with longer-acting treatment."

What is the difference between over-the-counter and prescription flea and tick medications?

Many over-the-counter medicines, such as Frontline, have been on the market for a long time, and that's why we've seen flea and tick resistance to them. Many generics transmit the chemicals in them and are generally not as effective. Some OTC topicals and collars are reputable, but the non-reputable ones are more similar to how a pesticide might work, so they're not as safe. Many of these OTC options are also not easy to apply, and applying them incorrectly can give you a false sense of security that your dog is protected.

Prescription or FDA products can’t be found over the counter. Any of the tubal products that are going to be given by mouth are always prescription-administered by your veterinarian. We’ve found that these FDA products are more effective. We know a lot more about them and can help you understand when to use them, how to use them, and what to expect with the results. You can always ask your veterinarian which of these products is best for your pet to prevent fleas and ticks.

What different types of flea and tick preventative treatments are there?

As mentioned, there are oral medications, collars, and topicals, and it's best to discuss with your veterinarian what's appropriate for your pet.

What will my veterinarian recommend for flea and tick treatment?

Most veterinarians will typically recommend oral products that will last for either one or three months, and this topical will kill fleas within hours, if not perhaps minutes. Keep in mind, though, that the fleas have to bite the dog first for this to work, and sometimes you’ll see fleas jumping off your dog. Cats typically get topical treatments because we haven’t been able to get enough cats to ingest the oral medication. It’s the same drug as the oral medication but only in a liquid form.

How can I identify fleas on my dog?

Identifying fleas on your dog can be quite tricky, as they are incredibly tiny and dash through your dog’s coat. As the owner, you’d likely see your dog chewing at their butt area. Your veterinarian will look at the dog’s underside where the hair is not so thick to search for fleas there. We’ll be looking for fleas or something called flea dirt. We use a flea comb and run it through the coat. If we see things that look like salt and pepper, we know that the pepper part (dark part) is the excrement of fleas, and the white part that looks like salt is flea eggs. Just because you don't see flea eggs doesn't mean they aren't there; they often fall off and into the environment. 

How can I identify ticks on my dog?

Pet owners typically find ticks when they are attached and fully engorged. You’ll rarely see them crawling on your pets, as they don’t move very fast. You might see what looks like a tiny bump or lump on your dog, but you’ll see that the tick has a head and legs if you look closely. They can typically be found by the face and ears because the ears are so vascular, although they could be anywhere on your dog. If you find one, you can remove it, or you can bring the dog to us to take the tick off for you.

What should I do if I see fleas or ticks on my dog?

Don't panic. Call your veterinarian so that we can help you find the best medication for your dog, depending on their age and your circumstances. Also, decontaminating your environment is exceptionally vital.

If you have any further questions about dog flea and tick prevention or treatment, we can help you find a local vet.