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Flea Control Products

How can I safely use flea control products for my pets?

Fleas can be a major problem for pet owners. Not only are these tiny creatures a nuisance, they are also the cause of many diseases such as flea anemia, flea bite dermatitis, and tapeworm infestation. Therefore, strict flea control is a necessary step in the health care of many pets.

The eradication of fleas from our animals and our homes necessitates the use of products containing insecticides, either in the form of a mousses, spot-ons, oral suspensions, powders or spray mists. While there are many safe insecticide products available for use on pets, caution still must be observed. Pet owners should be extremely careful when using flea products on or around their animals. Products should ALWAYS be used strictly according to their label directions. There are several new products on the market that are only available from your veterinarian. Call your veterinarian to find out more.

The following are some guidelines for dog and cat owners to follow when choosing and applying a flea control product:

Never use insecticides on very young animals, pregnant or nursing pets, debilitated or elderly animals without consulting your veterinarian. With such pets, you may want to consider avoiding the use of insecticides directly on your pet. Instead, you could comb the fleas off the pet with a flea comb then submerge the captured fleas in a small container of soapy water. This would also be a good alternative for those pets who love being groomed but who violently refuse baths or the application of a spray.

Before using any product on your pet, read the label instructions completely. If you do not completely understand the instructions, you should contact the manufacturer or your veterinarian for clarification. Observe the species and age requirements listed on the label.

Never use a product labeled “for use on dogs only” on your cats. Cats react very differently than dogs to some insecticides. Some dog products can be deadly to cats, even in tiny amounts.

Use caution when using products that contain organophosphates in your house or on your cat. Cats seem to be sensitive to certain organophosphate insecticides. Currently, there are few flea products in the United States labeled for use on cats that contain organophosphates as an active ingredient. The few that can be used on cats contain a small concentration of organophosphate. However, many household sprays and products that are specifically labeled “for use on dogs only” are widely available. Again, never use “dog only” products on your cats!

Never use flea control products that contain permethrin on your cats, unless they are specifically labeled for use on cats. There are some products that are labeled for use on cats that contain small concentrations of permethrin, usually less than 0.1%. When used according to the label instructions, these can be used safely in cats.

Always use caution when using shampoos, sprays, topical spot-ons or mousse near your animal’s eyes, ears and genitalia. Accidental exposure could cause mild irritation to these sensitive tissues.

When using a fogger or a home premise spray, make sure to remove all pets from the house for the time period specified on the container. Food and water bowls should be removed from the area also. Allow time for the product to dry completely before returning your dogs or cats to your home. Open windows or use fans to “air out” the household before returning your pets to the treated area. Strong fumes can be irritating to your pet’s eyes and upper respiratory system.

If you are uncertain about the usage of any household product, contact the product’s manufacturer or your veterinarian to explain the directions before use of the product.

Insect growth regulators like lufenuron, methoprene, and pyriproxyfen can be used in combination or alone with flea control products. They can help break the flea life cycle by inhibiting flea maturation. Growth regulators have minimal adverse effects and can improve the efficacy when used in combination with adult flea insecticides. You should consult your veterinarian or pest control specialist for advice concerning proper use of these products.

Just because a product is labeled to be a “natural” product does not mean that the product is completely safe. Many such “natural” products can be harmful when used inappropriately on cats. For example, d-limonene and linalool are citrus extracts that are used as flea control agents. Though they are natural products, they still can cause harmful side effects if used improperly.

Observe your animal closely after using flea products. If your pet exhibits unusual behavior, or becomes depressed, weak, or uncoordinated, you should seek veterinary advice immediately.

Once again, ALWAYS read the label. This could save the life of your pet!

(Provided as a courtesy by Jill Richardson, DVM, ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-4ani-help.)

Information courtesy of The American Animal Hospital Association

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