In the past several years a wave of new flea control products has hit the market. While flea control is now easier and more effective than ever, the variety of products available can be quite confusing. We hope this will help you to know when, where, how often and what to use to keep your pets flea free!
1). COMFORTIS/TRIFEXIS: The “flea pill” for dogs containing spinosad, given once a month. It is not approved for use in cats and should not be used in dogs with a history of seizures. However unlike previous products in pill form, it does kill the fleas for a month after given. We started using this product fall of 2009 and so far it seems to be very safe and effective. Beginning in the spring of 2011, the same active ingredient is now available in a combination product including a heartworm preventative (milbemycin, same active ingredient as interceptor) called Trifexis.
WHEN TO USE: When using Comfortis as a preventative, we suggest starting by May 1 and giving the last pill no sooner than October 1 (August, September and October are usually our worst flea months in this area so you want to be sure your pet is covered for these three months in particular. If you have had an ongoing flea problem, we would recommend keeping your pets on Comfortis until you have seen no evidence of fleas for at least three months AND the flea season is over for the year. Heartworm preventative (either Trifexis or Interceptor) should be given year round.
TROUBLESHOOTING: Currently we are finding these products to be quite effective, even when the animals have heavy ongoing exposure. Make sure to give with a full meal to ensure it is absorbed fully from the stomach. If you have cats in the household, you likely will need to use some sort of flea preventative on them as well. In all cases when flea control on the pets is not effective, adding in treatment of the environment may be necessary. It is not approved for use in breeding animals; we have used it on a limited basis on a few stud dogs with no issues, but would definitely not recommend its use in breeding bitches.
2). FRONTLINE/TOPSPOT: This is a topical product for your pet which has been available since 1996. The active ingredient is fipronil, a new product which kills the adult fleas and has long lasting action. Fipronil is effective against both fleas and ticks; flea protection will last 30 days on cats and dogs, although the label claim is for up to 90 days on dogs (we did see this when the product was newer, but unless flea exposure is very light you will lose considerable effectiveness after 30 days). Tick protection is for 30 days for both dogs and cats. Frontline is the spray form which is applied in number of pumps per pound of body weight. Topspot is the “spot-on” product, which is a liquid applied topically between the shoulder blades of the pet. Both products will continue to work even if you bathe your pet, BUT is it important to remember not to bathe or get them wet for 2 days before and 2 days after application. Frequent bathing and use of “degreasing” type shampoos may shorten the effective interval. The flea does not have to bite your pet for the product to work, which makes it ideal for those animals with fleabite allergies. WHEN TO USE: Puppies and kittens must be at least 8 weeks old to use, but we prefer to wait until 12 weeks unless there is a serious ongoing flea issue. Topspot will kill 96% of the fleas within 2 hours and the remainder within 24 hours. It also contains a product which will prevent flea eggs from hatching.
TROUBLESHOOTING: If you are using Frontline or Topspot and are still seeing fleas, look first of all at their number and activity. If there are one or two sluggish fleas, the product is probably working- remember it takes up to 24 hours to kill a flea after the initial quick kill at the time of application. In some extremely heavy infestations we have seen live fleas congregate on the face for 1-2 days after treating; these fleas were much slower moving than usual and died soon after. In areas of multiple pets and heavy environmental exposure, it may be necessary to repeat every 2 weeks until the problem is under control as well as treat the environment. Topspot/Frontline is sometimes sold through non-veterinary and internet outlets; be aware that this is “grey market” product which typically may not come direct from the distributor, and counterfeit, improperly labeled, and product illegal for sale in the US is sometimes seen. I do believe we see more treatment failures from Topspot obtained elsewhere; whether due to inferior quality of product or lack of education on proper use.
USING ONE OR MORE OF THE ABOVE PRODUCTS PROPERLY WILL ELMINATE FLEA PROBLEMS FOR ALL BUT THE MOST SEVERELY INFESTED PETS. FOR THOSE ANIMALS, AND FOR GENERAL INFORMATION, A BRIEF SUMMARY OF OTHER AVAILABLE PRODUCTS IS LISTED BELOW.
3). HOUSEHOLD SPRAYS/BOMBS: These products may be necessary if you are beginning treatment and your pet already has a severe flea infestation. By using a product which has an insect growth regulator, or IGR, you will kill 95% of the immature fleas in the environment. BE SURE to use a product with an IGR; we prefer sprays to bombs as they are generally easier to use, more cost effective, and you can spray in hard-to-reach areas such as under beds, etc. We carry a household spray called Knockout which we have found to be quite effective and relatively inexpensive as well. In heavy infestations, it may be necessary to repeat treatment in 3 wks as that is when fleas which were in the cocoon stage (not susceptible to treatment) at the time of the first application will start to emerge as adults.
4). OTHER TOPICAL PRODUCTS: There are a multitude of other topical products available including both over the counter and veterinary labels. The veterinary labels include products such as Advantage, Promeris, and Vectra. We have chosen to use Topspot because we have found it to give us the best combination of safety and efficacy; however some of these other products may also be effective. The over the counter products include many many different variations on permethrin based products as well as other active ingredients. In general, we have not found the permethrin based products to be effective and they can be very toxic when used on cats, or when used on a dog that the cats are in close proximity to. Some of the worst problems we have seen have come from the “all natural” type products which often are based on essential oils. Not only are the products not terribly effective, but they can be toxic if ingested and are quite irritating to many of the animals. In some cases, I can taste the product in my mouth after being in an exam room with an animal who has had it applied. Imagine how the animal, with a much keener sense of smell, feels with it on all the time! We do not recommend using most of the over the counter spot on products due to their limited efficacy and potential for toxicity. Also be aware that products labeled for sale through veterinarians only, and available online or in pet stores, may be “grey market” products which have been diverted and are of questionable quality. We have found most of our Topspot failures to occur in products bought from sources other than direct from the veterinarian.
5). PROGRAM/SENTINEL: This is a product we have used in the past which prevents the fleas from reproducing but does not kill adult fleas. Program contains this product only; Sentinel provides it in combination with heartworm prevention for dogs. This product can be helpful in fighting difficult flea infestations because it does break the lifecycle of the fleas and keep them from reproducing in your house; however ALL pets in the household must be on it for it to be effective and on its own it tends to work well only for those pets who stay at home, have no heavy exposure in outdoor areas, and are not flea allergic (as the fleas continue to bite the dogs but simply don’t reproduce). We chose to stop carrying Sentinel when we added Comfortis simply because we found the new product to be more effective. Program is now available over the counter without a prescription and it can be a helpful addition if you are fighting a severe problem, but in most cases there are now more effective choices for first line prevention and control.
5). FLEA SPRAYS: May be effective on puppies and kittens too young for Topspot (make sure to check the label for approval for young animals). We have used Vetkem spray frequently prior to the availability of the newer products; it continues to be fairly effective in killing adults and also will de-activate the eggs, but the duration of protection is much shorter. They can be helpful over the short term, but you will get far more bang for your buck from one of the newer products.
6). FLEA SHAMPOOS: May be an effective first step in treating your pet, but rarely will eliminate your flea problem used alone. Flea shampoos provide no residual protection once you rinse your pet. Remember not to bathe for 48 hours before or after Topspot application.
7). FLEA COLLARS/POWDERS: To make it simple, not very effective and the collars in particular tend to be expensive. Most flea collars depend on the fact that fleas will usually head towards the pet’s eye at some point to drink; however a large percentage will jump on and off and never cross the collar. Some of the newer collars may be slightly more effective, but in maximum effectiveness per dollar spent you are better off with Topspot. Flea powder is difficult to apply thoroughly, has an offensive odor, and is not terribly effective.
8). FLEA TRAPS: An interesting idea, generally consisting of a light over a sticky tray. While fleas may be attracted to the light and you will undoubtedly catch a few, many others will go on living happy, productive lives around the trap. The best analogy I have is that you can put a pie plate on the driveway during a snow storm and have it fill with snow, but you still have to shovel the driveway. These traps do not address the primary problem in the house- the immature fleas.
9). GARLIC, BREWER’S YEAST, ETC: Many people give garlic and Brewers yeast in order to prevent fleas; some of them swear by it. While neither product is likely to cause any harm, it is also unlikely they are at all effective (one study showed that fleas thrived best on dog blood and brewer’s yeast; no studies have documented any effectiveness at all). If it makes you feel better, go ahead; but you would be well advised to back it up with a proven regimen.