“My flea prevention isn’t working! There must be something wrong with it.”

This complaint comes up at least a couple times a week here at Woodland Veterinary Hospital, so we thought it would be a good time to address one of the most common pet parent problems! Before you assume that your flea prevention product is the issue, let’s go through this checklist to ensure you’re taking all of the right steps to help keep your home flea free:

You are applying monthly flea prevention to all of the pets in your home, not just the ones you see scratching. Just like people, some pets are allergic to flea bites and will be much more prone to itching and scratching than others. Just because they don’t have fleas now doesn’t mean they’re not at risk. This also means indoor only pets! Fleas can ride in from outside on other pets, or even on your clothing!

As a subset to this, you are applying flea prevention correctly – not splitting doses between pets, and making sure to follow the instructions and apply at the correct areas. Do not wash your pet within 48 hours before or after applying prevention. Also, please be sure to be use the right prevention for your pet’s species – the single biggest cause of non-medicinal poisoning is using the wrong products on cats. They are not just small dogs, and are much more sensitive to flea medications. This is why there are special products made just for them.

You are applying flea prevention every month – not just during the spring and summer. Fleas are a problem year-round – they do not take winter vacations! A single dose of flea prevention is not going to get rid of the problem, as new eggs and larvae are constantly hatching. Flea prevention works best as prevention – before the fleas become an issue.

You are washing all of your pets’ bedding and other common sleeping areas on a regular basis (at least once a week, if not more). Flea eggs can fall off of your pet and will often end up in the places they frequent the most – their beds! Unfortunately, this makes it very easy for your pet to end up with a new infestation just by following its usual routine.

You are vacuuming your house regularly (at least once a week) and immediately disposing of the vacuum bag/collection cup outside. Fleas are very adept at climbing or jumping back out of these containers, so you should get them out of the house where they can get back to your pets!

You are treating your house and yard with prevention as well – this may involve working with a pest-control company. 90-95% of fleas of the flea population (including eggs and larval stages) lives in your yard and house, and not on your pet!

You are being patient. Unfortunately, there is no “instant cure” for flea problems. This usually takes a continued effort over several months to get under control. The flea life cycle can last anywhere from two weeks to several months, and flea eggs that were originally on your pet may have fallen off into the small corners and cracks in your home, and they can take up to twelve months to become adult fleas and jump back on to your pet! This means that you need to keep using a flea product consistently in order to combat the problem effectively.

Not all flea products were created equal. The patent for fipronil, the chemical used in Frontline and Frontline Plus, expired in 2010. After that, we started seeing generic versions of flea prevention for sale everywhere in big box stores. Some may work well for the first few days, but lose effectiveness earlier than expected.

We also urge caution at purchasing flea prevention from anywhere other than a veterinarian, as other venues are not regulated on how these products are stored or acquired, which can greatly affect their effectiveness as well. Also, be especially careful about investigating the safety of these products – their side effects can range from mild skin irritation to severe nervous system problems, and even death.

Companies like Merial (the makers of Frontline and Nexgard) will guarantee their products when they are the appropriate product for a pet’s size and species, are purchased from a veterinarian, and the owner has applied correctly on a consistent monthly basis for at least three consecutive months.


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