Flea & Tick Control

ALERT!! The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is alerting pet owners and veterinarians to be aware of the potential for neurologic adverse events in dogs and cats when treated with drugs that are in the isoxazoline class.

No dog gets through life without encountering fleas. Fleas are an especially big problem if a dog is allergic to flea bites. Many dogs are.  Dogs often become more sensitive to flea bites as they age because older skin is drier and an aging immune system weaker. Some breeds, like Golden Retrievers, are allergic to flea bites all their lives. As with any health condition, good nutrition is a factor in the strength of the immune system, so it’s a good idea to begin with ensuring that your dog’s nutrition program is sound.

Some people are in denial.  They insist they have no fleas in their home or on their dog. They’ve never seen a flea nor been bitten. Yet, even as they insist they are flea-free, their dog hangs out with bare hind-quarters and several festering hot spots on his body, scratching madly at his undercarriage.  Denial or lack of awareness is common when it comes to fleas.

Fleas are hardy and prolific. They like a temperate, moist climate best, but they can go into a dormant state for as much as a year, waiting until conditions for survival and reproduction are more favorable. They live (or lie dormant) in carpets, furniture, bedding, floor and wall joints, indoor plants, gardens, and yards. They like the cozy, moist places around bushes in your garden. They like the car, too, if the dog goes for rides in it.

You may need to use more than one method for elimination and control of fleas. The advertising literature for some flea control products makes it sound as though your problem will be solved by using just one method of flea control. One method alone usually will not work.   Review the excellent information on flea products and how to apply them here.  Then, use the following three-part plan of attack. It’s the best way to achieve good results.

Part One: Getting Rid of Fleas on Your Dog

Using brush and flea comb on a daily basis will help you to discover any fleas that may be living on your dog. However, you will still need to use agents to repel, kill, or affect the reproductive cycle of the fleas. With an older dog, it is wise to use the gentlest and least invasive methods.  Given current warnings about the side effects of these drugs, however, you will want to consider the benefits vs. the risks.  Oral flea medications contain a drug that circulates in the dog’s blood. The disadvantage to these products is that adult fleas are still free to bite for the remainder of their lives (usually 2 to 3 months).  Another disadvantage is the possibility of side effects, such as vomiting and diarrhea.

Topical products are applied to a pet’s skin — a few drops between the pet’s shoulder blades — once a month. Insects that get onto the pet die within a few hours of being exposed to these substances.

Don’t use flea collars with insecticide content!!! They are not effective and can be harmful to your dog. A better use for a flea collar is inside your vacuum cleaner bag. There it will kill any fleas you vacuum up around the house. When it comes to ultrasonic flea collars, we’ve heard they don’t work.

Don’t “dip” or “flea shampoo” your dog; the ingredients in such preparations are too harsh, especially for an older dog.

Remember — these substances all have the potential for side-effects.  If you’re lucky enough to live in an area that is not hospitable to fleas or ticks, use your judgment regarding the frequency with which you use flea- and tick-control products.

Part Two: Getting Rid of Fleas in Your Home

Most fleas spend most of their time OFF your dog, jumping on just long enough for a meal. The rest of the time they live somewhere in the environment. That is why you need to vacuum furniture and carpets often. Use washable bedding for your dog and wash it in hot water with detergent at least as often as you wash your own. Dry the bedding on high heat (anything above 95 degrees will kill flea pupae). Treat your home with your choice of a flea control agent (food grade diatomaceous earth is a good choice) or use a professional exterminator three to four times a year if you live in a temperate climate, or at least twice during spring and summer.

Select the least toxic chemicals available. Some pest-control companies offer a non-toxic powder that is very effective. Known as “Insect Growth Regulators,” this class of chemical is considered fairly non-toxic. Pyrethrins and pyrethroids, though somewhat toxic, are common and considered safe when properly applied. Organophosphates are also safe as long as you don’t have exposure to them while they are still wet.

The flea-control professionals usually can do a better job than you can do yourself. If you have been doing it yourself and your dog is still scratching, try a professional. Get a recommendation from your veterinarian or from friends. Safe and effective application depends a great deal on the “professional” doing the job. Be sure the person or company is experienced and has a good track record.

Part Three: Getting Rid of Fleas in the Yard, Garden, and Car

There are many choices for do-it-yourselfers to apply to the yard and garden. A class of substances called “wettable powders” can be used effectively.  One problem with some of these pesticides, however, is that they don’t discriminate among insects, and will be as lethal to ladybugs as they are to fleas.

There are some non-toxic alternatives to use in the garden. Food grade diatomaceous earth is a drying agent that creates an inhospitable environment for fleas. Another is a biological substance known as a “nematode” that kills flea eggs and pupae. Nematodes are not effective on adult fleas, so, in a cold climate, you need to apply them in the spring, before the eggs have begun to hatch. In a temperate climate, you will need to apply them three to four times a year.

You can spray or “bomb” your car yourself; however, if you don’t ventilate the car adequately afterwards, exposure to the poisons in these preparations will be dangerous. Try vacuuming thoroughly first. Then use food grade diatomaceous earth on the carpets and upholstery inside the car. Leave it on overnight, and vacuum again before using the car.  Here, again, is the excellent information on products and how to apply them here.

Consider a professional to do your yard, garden, and car at the same time as the interior of your home is being treated .


Tick, tick, tick – time is short when these arachnids attack - University of Mississippi Medical CenterMedication to repel or kill fleas also will do the same for ticks, but it will also have the same potential side effects. Unlike fleas, ticks aren’t likely to establish themselves in your home.  They like to live in grasses.  If your home is in an area where there is lots of vegetation, you’ll want to review the information on The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) site describing how to create a tick-free zone in the landscaping of your home.  A tick bite can cause illnesses like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Erlichia.  Ticks particularly like to attach themselves to your dog’s face, ears, legs, paws, chest, abdomen, and moist areas.   Check these areas carefully by running your hands deep into the fur, along the surface of the skin.  You will want to remove any tick you find as soon as possible.

Capturing a tick in a “tick spoon”

How to use a tick spoon:  You will need to use care in removing a tick from your dog so that you do not leave behind a large part of the tick’s body. A tiny particle of the body will not be problematic, but any large piece may cause illness or infection. If the tick is not deeply embedded, you can use a pair of tweezers or a tick “spoon”, grasping the tick as close to its head as possible, to pull it off:

Pull straight out. Then clean the site on your dog’s body with soap and water or alcohol, and apply an antibiotic ointment.

If you are unsure about whether you have successfully removed the tick, see a vet. Tick-borne illnesses can be extremely serious.

Consult Your Veterinarian and Personalize Your Flea & Tick Control Program

Consult your vet to decide on the best products to use with your dog. The cost of a visit and the purchase of products from your vet is a good investment. Your vet will have the latest information on flea control products, and will also know if your dog is on medication or has a condition that would be compromised by using a particular flea control method. What works for another dog — who may be younger and in a different state of health — may not be right for your senior dog.

If you have a personal leaning toward more “natural,” environmentally-safe methods, be sure your vet has the same point of view; or you can choose to consult a holistic veterinarian.

Your own lifestyle should also affect your choices. Flea and tick control requires time and energy, so try to plan a program that is convenient for yourself while at the same time protecting your dog from unnecessary exposure to toxic chemicals.

A personalized and convenient program is one you are likely to follow. It will make a big difference in your senior dog’s overall state of health and, in the end, is likely to save you time and money you would otherwise spend on extra trips to the vet.

Here’s the link for you to print out a chart that summarizes the Senior Dogs Project’s  Ten Tips to Keep Your Senior Dog Healthy.