Mystified Over Flea Products

Chart in hand, I glanced down the page. Hmmm, “caution, may bite”. Duly noted. A few lines more, blah, blah, blah, no vomiting, no diarrhea, blah, blah. Standard questions on a health exam.  Owner is requesting a refill on a combined flea and heartworm medication, has been used for years. Ok. I finished scanning the page and turned my attention to the family.  The flea medication they were using is applied by spotting a few drops of liquid on the skin of the dog’s neck once a month. Personally I have always preferred oral formulations. I am lazy and don’t want to think twice about small children petting that area when playing with our dog. Did I get it on the skin (yes, correct) or only the hair (a no-no)? I trust that the original topical formulas work well. I see too many flea ridden, suffering pets whose owner has applied a cheap generic to trust generics at all. We find live fleas on more than half of the dogs and cats we see on an average summer day. There is absolutely room for both topical and oral medications and both I and my clients appreciate having choices.


The common dog and cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis (yes, that “felis” means they blame the cat for this one) is going to be here long after we’re all gone. Some facts about this enemy :

An adult flea lives about one month. Two days after a blood meal is sucked from your dog or cat, the female flea lays about 40 eggs a day. They like to burrow in your carpet. They prefer warm weather and warm homes.


The dog needed vaccinations and to have an ear problem addressed. We covered his diet, the condition of his teeth and his weight. It was simply in an effort to be thorough that I noted their choice of an older topical flea preventative and mentioned that perhaps they’d like to switch to a pill form that offered the same protection. You’d have thought I suggested cutting off his leg.


There was exactly a one dollar difference in price for a year’s supply of either medication. Both killed fleas (and heartworm, which we aren’t discussing here). Both acted upon the insects only. The topical one claims to be waterproof, the oral med didn’t care since it was meant to be eaten. The oral med claims to kill fleas within an impressive 30 minutes after the flea has bitten your pet and ingested a blood meal – too soon for it to lay any eggs. The topical product doesn’t mention minutes.


I read all this stuff, you know. There are a bewildering number of choices out there for flea prevention. It’s boring but necessary to stay on top of, because so many of my patients here in the Valley suffer from flea bites. Without active prevention, they are bedeviled by little flea bodies running over them. They scratch like crazy and over time many pets become sensitized to the flea saliva and break out in painful allergy hot spots and open sores. And let me just go on record here that antihistamines do nothing for flea allergy dermatitis in dogs and cats.


You do not live in a bubble-like sterile environment. The flea happily enters your yard on stray cats, various wild life, even hitching a ride on human pants legs. They can jump several feet! It’s not a question of a dirty home or an embarrassment. The flea has existed for so many years maybe they infested the dinosaurs! One female flea can lay 2,000 eggs in its short life. An insect that feeds on blood is defined as “hematophagous”. Now there’s a word for you! Vampires must be hematophagous, too. (Vampire bats ARE).


I had gone on to another patient but was called back into the room. Fixing me with a glare, the woman’s eyes bored into me. Exactly WHY had I suggested they change to another flea and heartworm product? I’ve heard it said that you should pick your battles and quite frankly I had no interest in this one. I told her truthfully that I liked the oral products and I thought this product might be more effective, but either choice would be good. She asserted her right to stay with the topical. I remain mystified as to the excitement this brought to her life, but it was enough energy expended to remind me to remind YOU to please, protect your pets from flea infestations by staying on top of preventative action plans. And honest, I don’t care if you prefer a topical or an oral product.


Christine B. McFadden, DVM

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