Safe Use of Flea and Tick Products in Pets

Fleabites may be more than an itchy annoyance to some dogs and cats. They can cause flea allergy dermatitis—an allergic reaction to proteins in flea saliva. And a pet's constant scratching can cause permanent hair loss or other skin problems. Fleas feasting on your pet's blood can lead to anemia and, in rare cases, death.

Ticks can also harm your pet, transmitting infections such as Lyme disease. And pets can bring ticks into the home, exposing you and your family to illness from a tick bite.

Hundreds of pesticides, repellents, and growth inhibitors are available to protect your pet from flea and tick bites. Some of these products are available only from a veterinarian; others can be bought over the counter.

Flea and tick products range from pills given by mouth to collars, sprays, dips, shampoos, powders, and “spot-ons,” liquid products squeezed onto the dog's or cat's skin usually between the shoulder blades or down the back. A few spot-on products are available for flea control in ferrets, and fly and tick control in horses.

Pet owners need to be cautious about using flea and tick products safely, says Ann Stohlman, V.M.D., a veterinarian in the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Center for Veterinary Medicine. “You need to take the time to carefully read the label, the package insert, and any accompanying literature to make sure you're using the product correctly.”