Read Flea-and-Tick Control Product Labels Carefully for Best Results
Our pets depend on us for many things every day — appropriate shelter, nutritious food, clean water and protection from parasites such as fleas and ticks. They also rely on us to keep them safe from the misuse of products intended to protect their health. To help safeguard your BFF (best furry friend) when choosing and using flea-and-tick control products, you’ll want to keep in mind these safety tips.
Carefully read the label before using a product
Reading the label is a task that we all know we should do but one we sometimes skip, especially when we’re comfortable using a particular product. When applying a parasite control product or administering a medication to our furry friends, it’s worth our time to read — and reread — the label. It is possible that the product’s directions or warnings have changed, and that’s something we should know before we use a product, not after. We should look for key pieces of information on the product package before we buy and apply.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) all recommend matching a flea-and-tick control product to the species of pet (for example, dog or cat) to be treated. Dog products should be used for dogs only and cat products for cats only. There are several reasons why this is important, especially with products that are applied to pets’ skin.
- The skin of cats and dogs is slightly different in terms of thickness and pH (a measure of acidity), which can influence the speed at which products are absorbed or spread across the body.
- The amount of an active ingredient that produces the desired effect (dead fleas and ticks) — or causes side effects — can vary between dogs and cats.
- Some active ingredients used in dog products — such as high levels of permethrin and cyphenothrin — can be harmful, even deadly, to cats.
The labels of all flea-and-tick control products must identify whether the product is intended for use on dogs, puppies, cats or kittens, and this information is always on the front of the package, making it easy to reference as we shop.
Weight and age
The recommended dose for most flea-and-tick control products, whether topical solution or oral medication, is determined by our dogs’ or cats’ weight and is typically listed as a weight range on the front of the package. Before buying a product, you can determine your pet’s weight by weighing yourself alone, then a second time while holding your pet (assuming you don’t have a large or giant breed dog). The difference between the two weights will be your pet’s weight. If you have a dog that’s too heavy for you to lift, swing by your veterinary clinic for a quick weigh-in.
Not all flea-and-tick control products are approved for use on puppies or kittens, so be sure the label specifically states the product can be used on these pets. The label should tell you the minimum age, and sometimes a minimum weight (for example, “7 weeks of age and older and weighing 21-55 lbs”). Young animals may react differently to a product than adults during product testing, which leads to limits on product use.
Precautionary or warning statements
Depending on the product, you’ll see various caution, warning or side effect statements on the back of the product package. Sometimes these statements are found within the directions for use. Be sure to follow any label directions about using — or not using — the product on pets that are sick, weak, pregnant, nursing or medicated or that have previously experienced side effects (aka sensitivity) to flea-and-tick control products. If you have any questions about using a product on your pet, be sure to talk with your veterinarian.
Five additional tips to help keep pets safe
- Follow the directions for use exactly. If the label states to use the product every 30 days, don’t apply or give it weekly. If the product is for treating your home or yard, don’t apply it directly on your pet.
- Monitor your pets for side effects or signs of sensitivity after applying a product. This is especially important when using a product for the first time.
- If you’re treating multiple pets with a topical product, keep them separated after application. This reduces accidental product ingestion and product transfer during physical contact, grooming and play. The package may tell you how long to keep pets apart. If it doesn’t, a good rule of thumb is 24 hours, which should be enough time for the applied product to dry.
- Do not “self-dose” or split doses between pets. If you don’t correctly divide the solution, tablet or chew, you run the risk of under- or overdosing your pets. Overdosing puts the dog or cat at greater risk for side effects, while the underdosed pet may not be protected from fleas or ticks as well as it could be. And in the case of flea-and-tick control products registered and regulated by the EPA, such self-dosing is against the law. It’s best — and safest for your BFF — to buy the correct dose size.
- Keep the product package with the individual doses in case adverse side effects occur after treatment. Many flea-and-tick control products provide instructions for initially managing sensitivity reactions as well as the manufacturer’s contact information.
Flea-and-tick control products play a beneficial role in protecting our pets’ health from other parasites and diseases, such as tapeworms and Lyme disease, which may be transmitted by fleas and ticks, respectively. They are effective, fast-acting, easy to use and safe — when used according to label directions. But these products also have the potential to harm pets if they aren’t used properly. Always talk to your veterinarian before using flea-and-tick control products, even if you intend to purchase the product somewhere else. Your veterinarian can help you compare and choose the most appropriate product for your pet.
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