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Dog Ticks and Fleas Q&A

WebMD veterinary experts answer commonly asked questions about fleas and ticks on your dog.
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Q: I know about Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, but now I’m hearing about new diseases my dog can get from ticks. Are these diseases rare? How worried should I be about my dog contracting a tick-borne disease?

A: It depends on where you live. Some of these diseases are local. What you have to do is, depending on where you live, talk to your veterinarian and find out what diseases are important in your area. The diseases that are important to dogs and cats in Kansas are not the same diseases that are important to dogs and cats in Connecticut.

Q:  An environmental group has sued several pet stores and manufacturers claiming that flea collars have high concentrations of chemicals in them that are dangerous to pets and people. Are these over-the-counter flea collars safe?

A: I’m not a toxicologist and I try to steer clear of all that. But I will say that I believe the best way to manage fleas and ticks is go to your veterinarian and find out what products they recommend for your area. The issue we have with many of the over-the-counter products is that many are what we call pyrethroids, or synthetic pyrethrins. We know that is a class of insecticides that fleas are commonly resistant to, so one of the reasons over-the-counter formulations don’t work very well is that fleas are resistant to them. What that leads to is people tend to over apply them because they didn’t work that well and then you tend to have problems.

Q:  There are also reports that the EPA is looking into an increase in adverse reactions from topically applied flea control products, the ones we usually put on our dogs and cats between their shoulder blades. So are these unsafe?

A: I generally believe, based on my experience and our field studies, that the products we get from our veterinarians are generally very safe and generally do a very, very good job. But you’ve got to understand that millions of doses are used each year. With that many doses, things happen. Do rare reactions occur? Absolutely. We know they do. But generally with a veterinary-recommended or prescribed flea or tick product, if they are used according to label directions, they are extremely safe in my experience.

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