Spring is Back… and So Are the Bugs

Shortly after we moved into our new home a few years ago, my daughter had a little girl from down the street over to play. She was petting Brody and said, “What is this lump?”

I ran over like a bolt, thinking to myself, “Here we go again, another mass,” but open taking a closer look I realized the grey bump on his neck was not cancer but an engorged tick. I said as much out loud, and then the girls screamed and, I’m assuming, the neighbor then went home and told her mother we were gross because she didn’t come over again after that.

It’s my own fault, really. We had moved from an area where we just never saw ticks, so it wasn’t on my radar to look for them, and Brody was on a combination flea and heartworm prevention product. Our new home, close to an open space area, has just about everything fun a pet can be exposed to.

Here on the West Coast we had an exceptionally wet winter thanks to El Nino, so we’re expecting an early and vigorous crop of springtime creatures. Baby rattlesnakes are already hanging out on the hiking paths and I can assume ticks and fleas aren’t too far behind (if they ever went away at all, which is questionable).

There is a dizzying array of parasiticide options for dogs and cats, enough to make even an experienced veterinarian cross her eyes. There are pills and spot-ons and sprays, collars, shots—whatever way you can think of to deliver a product to a pet, we seem to have it. Some work against one type of pest, some are combination products.

To make it even more confusing, there truly is not one best product for fleas and ticks. Years ago when Advantage was the only player on the field for good flea control, life was easier. Now you have Advantage, Advantix, Bravecto, Trifexis, Comfortis, Seresto, Frontline, and those are just the ones off the top of my head, ones I actually have tried and recommended. When you factor in the natural product market and the manual tick twisters and the list of products I don’t like for various reasons, you have a small book chapter.

The optimal choice for you depends on a lot of things, starting with what sort of parasites you have in your area. Once you determine if you need to prevent fleas, ticks, or both (I’m leaving heartworms out of this because then the post turns into two chapters), you need to decide what sort of product you want. I like chewable tablets because they’re easy and less messy than the topical products. That being said, some dogs won’t eat them, others have food allergies, and some have medical conditions that are contraindicated with the oral preventives.

Topical products come in sprays, spot-ons, and collars. They rely on the oils in the skin to spread, so dogs who swim every day or need frequent baths may not get a full 30 days’ worth of protection from them, but by and large almost everyone can find one that works for them. Families with cats also need to be careful with tick prevention products for dogs, as some of them contain ingredients that are toxic to felines and aren’t recommended if your cat grooms your dog or likes to cuddle up.

I know lots of people love the natural options like cedar and lemongrass and clove, and while they’re usually pretty harmless, I find they are much less effective than the other options—particularly for ticks, who seem to just laugh at them. While they might eventually work, after 36 hours or so on the host the Lyme carrier species can pass on the disease, so you want a product that gets them off as quickly as possible.

I use the natural products to spray my dog’s bedding, and that seems like a good compromise for us.

For us, I keep the flea meds going year ‘round and just this month added the tick prevention back in. There are tons of choices and no real right or wrong ways to go about it other than to ignore the problem entirely, which I don’t recommend.

It’s time! Spring has sprung! What is your buggy action plan?


Lyme Disease in Dogs

How to Remove Ticks

Natural Flea and Tick Prevention

Pesticide Toxicity in Cats

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