There's a lot of information out there regarding fleas and ticks and plenty of misinformation, too. Fleas and ticks can lead to a number of health issues for your pet, so using the right protection at the right time is essential. When in doubt, always ask your veterinarian.
"Your veterinarian will take into consideration a variety of factors, including your pet's age, amount of time spent outdoors, presence of multiple household dogs or cats and travel to make an appropriate recommendation," says internal medicine veterinarian Dr. Albert Ahn.
Here are some of the myths surrounding flea and tick prevention and treatment:
1. Flea and tick shampoos offer enough protection
Although flea and/or tick shampoos can kill adult fleas upon contact, they don't prevent them from jumping on your pet in the first place.
"Pet parents need to also think about preventing flea and tick population growth, as fleas can lay between 80 and 100 eggs daily, while one tick can lay hundreds of eggs in a week," says Dr. Victor Oppenheimer, a veterinarian who specializes in emergency intervention and runs the Hospital de Animales Perla del Sur in Puerto Rico. "It is important to think about prevention and population control, so shampoos are not as effective as other products can be."
In addition, a flea and tick shampoo may not be able to provide the same long-term (one month or longer) protection that topical and oral products can provide, says Ahn. So even if you might get some benefits from using special shampoos, they will be short-lived.
2. Healthy pets don't get fleas and ticks
While we all strive to keep our pets in optimal health, healthy pets don't get fewer ticks or fleas than sick pets. In fact, the only way to get rid of these parasites is through the use of very specific insecticides, says Oppenheimer.
"Most of the dogs and cats that I have seen with fleas or ticks are otherwise healthy patients," says Ahn. "This would contradict this idea that healthy pets don't get fleas or ticks."
3. Preventives are only needed in warm months
Regardless of where you reside, year-round flea and tick protection is critical for keeping parasites at bay.
"For most of the country, protection against fleas and ticks is typically a spring through fall (following a killing frost) initiative because ticks can be especially active during the spring and fall seasons," says Ahn. Although they may be most active during those months, fleas and ticks can still be present in winter and can easily live indoors year-round.
To be safe, Oppenheimer recommends using protection for your pet every single month. "Flea and tick eggs and larvae are able to survive in harsh temperatures, so their winter is just a waiting period for warmer weather to come around," he says.
4. Apple Cider Vinegar repels ticks
Here's the bad news: natural pest repellants such as apple cider vinegar usually don't work, and those that are effective only work on adult fleas and ticks, says Oppenheimer.
"You will still have a population of larvae and eggs ready to grow in the background," says Oppenheimer. "Plus, even natural products can cause a series of intestinal, liver, kidney and many other disease processes."
In addition, Ahn says that even if the use of homemade remedies offers some protection against fleas and ticks, they have not been tested for efficacy in the way EPA- and FDA-approved topical or oral products have been.
"Because fleas and ticks may carry diseases, such as Lyme disease, which can be very harmful to pets and/or people, it is preferable to use products that have been tested through a rigorous program," says Ahn.
5. Indoor Pets Don't Need Preventives
There's no such thing as a completely indoor dog, so even if you have a canine friend who prefers lounging on the couch over long hikes, they’re still at risk.
"City dogs are often walked in city parks, which can be a major source of fleas, or may go to the countryside during weekends where they can be exposed to fleas and ticks," says Ahn says.
Fleas and ticks can also be carried in on your clothes or on any other object brought into your home, and Oppenheimer says that you can still find ticks on cats who never step outside.
"While they prefer other animals as their method of transportation, they will still find a way to come into your home," says Oppenheimer. "Unless you go outside inside a bubble or have neighbors without pets, the greatest possibility is that eggs and larvae will find a way into your home."
Now that you know what's true and what's not, it's time to give your veterinarian a call to develop a year-round pest prevention plan for your pet.