|Mercy Animal Hospital
Dr. Thomas B. McMillen
1395 New London Avenue
Cranston, Rhode Island 02920
On Fleas and Ticks - The 2016 Update
With the (over) abundance of flea and tick products available these days, and new ones seemingly coming out every month, it can be challenging to provide guidance for our clients as to the best choices for their individual situations.
One current chart we use to explain the choices compares:
Advantage II, Advantage Multi (good product), K9 Advantix II, Resultix (never heard of it), Seresto collars (probably a good choice), Vectra (good product for certain cases), Vectra 3D, Vectra Pro Flea, Comfortis (good product), Trifexis, Activyl, Activyl tick, Scalibor, Certifect, Frontline Plus, (good old reliable), Frontline Tritak , (beats me), Nexgard (very promising product), Bravecto, Capstar (very good for specific situations), Sentinel, Sentinel Spectrum, Preventic collars, Ovitrol, Powerband (no idea), and Revolution.
So rather than a comprehensive review we shall discuss flea control and the situations we encounter, talk about the product choices which we generally recommend, and why.
First, some overall observations about fleas and flea control:
1) Fleas do not infest animals. Fleas infest environments. If your dog goes walking in the park in August and a flea jumps on her and bites her that is not a problem. If the flea is carried home, feeds on your dog, then starts to lay eggs in your house, then that is a problem. So products, which kill the fleas after they bite, but before they lay eggs, are quite satisfactory. Similarly, if your dog is in a back yard with fleas, and you bring the dog in and give him a wonderful bath and 50 fleas fall off dead, then you rinse off the shampoo and put the dog back in the infested yard, you have accomplished very little. In an hour he will have fleas again. The infested environment can be outside, or your house, or parts thereof (cellar, garage, laundry room).
2) Fleas cause two different problems: Flea bite dermatitis, and Flea allergy dermatitis. Flea bite dermatitis is obvious - your dog has fleas, they are biting her, she is itching and scratching, you see fleas running around on her. Pretty simple. However many dogs have an allergy to flea saliva, so that when a single flea bites them they break out in a large, nasty, hive like rash. These dogs can have four or five flea bites a week, and be tearing themselves up as if they had a major infestation. In these cases the owners often refuse to believe that fleas are a problem, because they have not seen any fleas on the animal. Remember our dog walking in the park in August, and we said that one flea- bite is not a big problem? If the dog is severely allergic, then actually that IS a big problem.
In areas like Rhode Island, flea infestations are not, as generally believed, a ‘heat of the summer’ problem. They are an early Fall problem. Flea cases start to dominate our caseload on August 10, and peak in September and October. The reason for this is that fleas have a life cycle that is about two months long. So if your dog picks up a couple of fleas in June, and your house gets infested, the big problem will start when those fleas’ eggs hatch.
4) Flea control products can be defined by several parameters:
A) Residual action:
Some products, like Capstar and shampoos, are very effective at killing all the fleas on your pet at the moment, but give no residual. Very good for an infested dog coming into a clean environment, such as a rescue dog or a dog who spent the weekend at the animal shelter, not so good, for reasons described above, if your back yard is the source of infection. However if you have a heavy infestation it is often a good idea to use these to 'start with a clean slate' before using a residual product.
Some products, such as sprays, have mostly a surface acting affect, while others, such as Frontline, have a ‘systemic’ effect - that is they are absorbed into the body as a whole and then secreted on the skin, generally from the hair oil glands. A third category are the popular ‘lipid layer’, such as Advantage and Seresto, products which spread throughout an inner layer of the skin, so are not on the surface where they will wash off, but still more concentrated where you apply them than at distant areas.
C) Killing fleas vs. sterilizing them:
Insect growth regulators (IGRs) do not kill the fleas, they prevent them from reproducing. As discussed above, this is generally satisfactory for preventing infestation of your house or the dog's area. They will not, however, kill the fleas currently on your dog.
So armed with his information, we shall now look specifically at the products we most commonly recommend.
1) Frontline. A spot topical application. The standard for a long time. Does not wash off, excellent flea control, ‘of some value’ against ticks. There have apparently been some resistance problems in Florida, but there is no evidence of that around here.
2) Nexgard. Probably our favorite at the current time. A tablet, recommended now by a lot of top experts. A relatively new drug, we have not yet formed an opinion about its efficacy on ticks.
3) Comfortis. Another tablet, also a very effective treatment for fleas. Very heavily used in severe flea problem areas such as Florida.
4) Vectra - As discussed above for a flea allergy we would like to kill the flea before it bites. If you have a small shorthaired dog like a beagle or a pug that has severe flea allergy good old flea spray may be your best option. The experts tell us that there are no tablets or spot products, which kill fleas before they, bite, however some products contain a ‘surface acting’ agent designed to do this. For example, Advantage has no surface acting product, but Advantix does.
Our product of choice for these situations is Vectra, which our experience has shown seems to be the most effective of the surface acting products.
5) Seresto. This is the fairly new collar, which has become quite popular. It is basically 8 tubes of Advantage in a polymer matrix, which slowly release over an 8-month period. Clients have been happy with it. We suspect that it will be quite effective for ticks for reasons we shall discuss in the tick lecture.
6)CombinationProducts- There are also combination flea prevention/ heart worm prevention medications. These are available both as spot products, such as Revolution, and as a tablet, such as Trifexis. The one, which we prefer, is Trifexis, which uses Comfortis for the flea component. The downside there, obviously, is that for most dogs heart worm and flea season do not coincide, and the combined products are more expensive than the single ingredient product. However, if you use both flea and heart worm prevention year round, (for example should you winter in Florida), or you are on both seasonally from April until December, these combination products can be a good idea.
It should also be noted that intestinal parasites are not an overwhelming issue in our area, (New England), so we are not dealing here with which flea products deal with which intestinal worms. In much of the country this is an important consideration, and should be discussed with your veterinarian.
Thus - our current recommendations -
If you like tablets, use Nexgard or Comfortis.
If you prefer a spot product, Frontline remains a solid choice.
If your dog (or cat) has a severe flea allergy use Vectra.
If ticks are also a major problem, consider the Seresto collar. (See tick section.)
Unless you are on year round prevention, we recommend starting in June at the latest.
Mercifully, the options for ticks are far more clear cut.
First, a couple of observations.
Nothing is 100% for ticks. If your pet is on a good flea preventative like Frontline or Nexgard, and he has a flea infestation, something odd is going on and we have to figure out what it is. However, calling us to tell us that the tick prevention did not work because you found a tick on your dog, or believing that a dog on good tick prevention cannot get Lyme is, sadly, optimistic. However, good tick prevention can certainly greatly reduce the number of ticks, which will infest your pet.
Also, ticks are not as seasonal as fleas. While they tend to peak in April and May they can be a problem during many months of the year. November has been a terrible month for ticks the last two years. And, oddly, January is often bad if there is no snow cover.
So, to return to our methods of administration -
1) Oral medications - Traditionally these have had little effect on ticks. Comfortis, for example, makes no claim on tick prevention. Nexgard, however, does claim to work against ticks, and seems to be highly regarded by the experts. We shall see, but currently would rate it about equal with Frontline.
2) Spot products - Preventatives like Advantix and Frontline are, in our opinion, very good for fleas, ‘pretty useful’ against ticks. Often this is sufficient, but they are not as effective as collars.
3) Collars - Tick prevention is where collars shine. It is not so much the specific active ingredient as the area of application. Fleas live on the rump and groin, and since there is a dilution gradient the farther from where a surface acting medication is applied, these areas do not get high concentration. By contrast, the great majority of ticks live on the head, shoulders, and neck - right where the medication from a collar is concentrated.
The newer Seresto collar is basically 8 tubes of Advantix in a slow release polymer matrix so that it acts as if you were administering Advantix each month. It supposedly gives good protection for 8 months, or perhaps 6 if your dog swims a lot. It is fairly expensive, but then 6 months of any flea medication and tick prevention would be. Unlike the Preventic , it is also available for cats.
So, if ticks are a minor problem you can use Frontline or Nexgard with reasonable confidence. If ticks are a major issue, we would recommend either a Preventic collar used along with Frontline or Comfortis, or to use the Seresto collar for both.
- Dr. Mac