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The Importance of Pet Pest Prevention

Of course you want what’s best for your dog or cat. From ensuring they get enough exercise to feeding them a nutritious diet, you do everything within your power to help them lead their best life.

But, every day, a variety of pests are on the hunt for their newest host, which puts your dog or cat at risk. Fleas, ticks and mosquitos, though tiny in size, pose a significant health risk for pets. Even pets who spend their entire lives inside can come in contact with a stray flea or tick that gets tracked in by other pets or on our shoes, bags and coats.

While pests are talented at infiltrating our homes and infecting our dogs and cats, there are many tactics you can take to increase the chances of avoiding an infestation. Use this helpful guide to understand why it’s essential to use pest prevention, what options are available and how to safely use the right product for your pet.

Why fleas, ticks and mosquitoes are concerning

In addition to being an itchy nuisance for your dog or cat, fleas, ticks and mosquitoes pose a much bigger concern for their health, which is why you can’t neglect prevention. Let’s take a look at the main risks these pests introduce to your pet.

Within the first day of attaching to your pet, ticks can transmit diseases such as Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and anaplasmosis among many others—all of which can lead to complications such as fever, chronic joint pain and bleeding disorders. In some cases, tick-borne diseases can become life-threatening, and pet parents are also at risk of contracting tick-borne diseases.

Fleas can harbor diseases, including Bartonella, transmit tapeworms and cause other health-related issues, including flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), an allergic reaction that leads to severe itchiness and even skin infections. Additionally, puppies, kittens and older pets can suffer from flea bite anemia when too many bites result in significant blood loss. If this occurs, you must take your pet to their veterinarian immediately.

If a mosquito bites your dog or cat, your pet becomes at risk of contracting heartworms, a variety of parasitic roundworm. These thread-like worms mature into adults, mate and produce offspring, all while living inside your dog or cat’s heart. The adult heartworms can live in your pet’s heart for years without treatment, leading to a wide range of health concerns.

Flea and tick prevention

Understanding how pests become a problem

It only takes one bite for a flea, tick or mosquito to affect your dog or cat. While these pests may be more common during the warmer months, they are a year-round risk in many climates of the United States.

Not only can your dog or cat easily pick up a pest when they are spending time outside, but you can inadvertently bring these pests into your home yourself. Ticks and fleas easily hitch rides on clothing.

Because fleas and ticks reproduce at rapid rates and progress through their life cycles quickly, they can be tricky to combat. Once they’ve made it into your home, it’s easy for fleas to start an infestation. Ticks can burrow deep into your pet’s fur, far out of sight, and fleas take up residence on pets and can be very difficult if not impossible to detect before they become a major problem.

How to help prevent an infestation

Unfortunately, flea and tick infestations can happen to any pet parent, no matter how clean your home or how diligent you are with your pet’s grooming routine. Not only that, but even pets who spend their entire lives indoors can still pick up unwanted pests.

The key to avoiding an infestation is to focus on the home environment at the same time that you’re looking at ways to prevent your dog or cat from becoming an unwilling host.

The good news is that while pests can quickly become a problem, there are preventive measures you can take to help ward off an infestation altogether. After all, the best defense is a good offense, and when it comes to flea and tick prevention, that's especially true. These prevention, treatment and repellent products are commonly sold in a few forms:

  • Oral: Your vet can prescribe an oral flea, tick and heartworm medication that you give to your pet at a specific interval — usually once a month. These medications are sold as individual parasite solutions or as a single medication that protects against numerous parasites. Oral medications are highly effective for ongoing, year-round treatment and are a great pick for preventing an infestation from ever occurring.
  • Topical: Topical treatment, prevention and repellent products are available both with a prescription from your vet and over the counter. These treatments are applied to your dog or cat and are absorbed through the skin. Topical treatments are a good option for many pets and can be especially great for pets who refuse to take oral medications or have a protein allergy or other medical condition that makes oral medication not a good fit.
  • Collar: You already have a collar for your pet, so why not have it do double duty and use it for pest prevention too? While collars can be effective for both flea and tick prevention, collars are particularly helpful for tick prevention. Ticks tend to be the biggest problem on the neck and face, exactly were the insecticide in the collar penetrates. Collars are available to be bought over-the-counter and typically last up to eight months. 

Before starting your pet on any preventive medication or products, ask your veterinarian for their recommendation. This is especially important in helping you ensure you aren’t purchasing counterfeit products.

A vet can also help you determine the best grooming routine for pest prevention if you end up selecting a topical option, since your pet’s bathing frequency between administrations can interfere with the efficacy of the product.

How to safely use pest prevention products

As a pet parent, you want to strike the perfect balance between managing flea, tick and heartworm control and promoting your pet's health, safety and wellbeing. Follow these safety tips to help protect everyone in your household when using pest preventives:

  • Follow instructions—Ensure that the flea and tick product you select provides maximum effectiveness by closely following the manufacturer's application guidelines. Administer the appropriate weight-based dosage at the specified intervals, and always consult your veterinarian before beginning treatment. Weigh your pet regularly to ensure you are always giving the correct dosage as incorrect weight is a very common cause of a reaction. If your pet is pregnant, nursing or taking other medications, seek the advice of a veterinarian to help you establish an appropriate flea and tick treatment method and schedule that reflects your pet's individual needs
  • Consider your pet's age—Many treatments can be started at around 8 weeks of age, but be sure to check the label as some are only suitable for pets over 3 to 6 months old and or above a certain weight. If you're treating a younger pet, always double check the label to ensure that the product is safe for them. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommends exercising caution when using flea and tick treatments on very young or very old pets. They suggest a flea comb for pets who are too young for other treatment options.
  • Protect your pets—Cats and ferrets should never be given flea and tick treatments labeled exclusively for dogs, and dogs should never be given flea and tick treatments labeled exclusively for cats or ferrets. When beginning a treatment regimen for fleas and ticks, plan on treating all your applicable species at the same time. If you have small pets at home, like gerbils or guinea pigs, discuss if and what products would be best suited for the specific species you have at home and how and how often to administer them.
  • Watch for reactions—Watch your pet for adverse reactions following their flea or tick treatment. According to the AVMA, symptoms of an adverse reaction could include scratching, skin redness or swelling, vomiting and other unusual behaviors. If you notice any possible reaction symptoms or you are aware of an inadvertent exposure or overdose, contact your veterinarian or the Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680.  

At the end of the day, remember, the best way to help ensure the safety of your pets and your entire household is to work with your vet to start a flea and tick prevention regimen.

By controlling the outdoor environment your pet spends time in, you can greatly reduce their exposure to fleas and ticks. Treat outdoor areas with yard sprays geared toward pest prevention. Make sure to follow the instructions carefully, keeping pets away from treated areas for the period indicated on the bottle.

Additionally, keep your yard mowed, as ticks and fleas prefer living in high, brushy areas. Finally, keep your pet in a well-tended fenced area if possible to prevent wandering and exploring in brushy areas filled with pests.

While there is much that you can do on your own to help protect your dogs and cats from pests, there are also situations where it can be helpful to seek out the advice of a pro. Professionals can help you tackle particularly difficult infestations and help you enact the right preventive measures based on your dog’s or cat’s needs.

Visit your vet

There are numerous preventive medications on the market that target fleas, ticks and heartworms. While many flea and tick products can be purchased over the counter, products containing heartworm prevention require a prescription.

A visit to your local vet can help you determine which preventive medication is the ideal fit for your pet. Your vet can help you shop for the right solution for your pet’s current health, weight and age. And, as a bonus, trusted brands are easy to locate at Petco. 

Head to the groomers

If your dog has picked up fleas, you might not relish the idea of combing these jumping pests off your pet in your home. At Petco, you can schedule a Flea Cleanse package at our grooming salon. This package is designed to kill fleas instantly and repel them for another seven days after.

Book a professional exterminator

While not usually needed, another option for protecting your pet's environment is to use a professional exterminator. Although this option is more costly, it involves minimal labor on your end and is usually backed by a guarantee. Extermination is both helpful in preventing an infestation and in taking back control when an infestation has occurred. 

An exterminator can also help you unearth underlying causes leading to the presence of fleas and ticks in your home and yard.

If your pet has already been impacted by fleas and ticks, don’t fret, they can get back to playing in no time. Check out our guide to flea and tick removal and learn how to rid your pet of these pests. 

Easy pest prevention

Additional resources on pest prevention: