The pet owner nowadays is faced with a bewildering number of products on the shelves of the supermarket or pet supply shop. Washes, powder, sprays, flea collars and tablets from various manufacturers all claim to be the ideal method of ridding either your dog or cat of fleas or ticks.
Modern insecticides are certainly effective against fleas and should be quite safe if used strictly according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The difficulty is choosing the most suitable form of insecticide to use on your particular pet.
In general flea washes in which the pet is completely saturated are more effective than powders or sprays. In thick-coated dogs or cats, it is difficult to apply the spray or powder so that it evenly covers the animal from head to foot at skin level, where the fleas live.
Of course, when traveling or in cold or wet weather it is difficult to bathe an animal. For these occasions, sprays and powders are useful interim measures.
Most animals resent sprays more than powders and it is always a concern of mine that the person using the spray must inhale a significant amount of the product.
Cats, by virtue of their cleaning habits, must swallow a portion of anything applied to their coat. For this reason, the choice of insecticides for cats must be a careful one. The powder containing, Carbaryl or Malathion is safe for cats, but any broad-spectrum insecticide is not recommended for very young kittens or cats nursing a litter. For these, powders containing pyrethrum are safe but must be used quite frequently as they have a little residual effect.
Insecticidal washes are safe and effective provided they are applied at the recommended strength and according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Some owners believe that by reducing the strength of the wash and by rinsing it off as soon as they have applied it they are safeguarding their animal. This practice is quite pointless as there is a risk that by exposing the flea to only small concentrations of the insecticide it may quickly develop an immunity to that particular insecticide. Also, because the exercise will only at best be partially effective, further washes at an increased frequency will be used, thus exposing the animal to a higher total dose of insecticide than if the chemical had been used at the correct concentration initially.
For those who do not wish to use potent insecticides on their animals, a synthetic pyrethrum which seems to be very effective is available. However, it must be used at more frequent intervals than the complex modern insecticidal washes.
Flea collars are an effective means of continually protecting the dog and cat from flea infestation. They can not be fully relied upon to protect the animal from ticks.
The older form of collar was an impregnated band containing Dichlorvos. The chemical vapourised when heated by proximity to the animal’s skin and this vapor is toxic to fleas. The disadvantage of this type of collar is that if the chemical comes into contact with the skin of some dogs and cats, it causes a severe dermatitis. In large dogs fleas residing near the tail end do not get sufficient levels of the vapor to affect them.
A newer collar is impregnated with Propoxur. A fine powder is continually given off from the collar and is soon dispersed over the animal. These collars have proved very effective even in very large thick-coated dogs, provided they are not allowed to get wet. A few animals seem to be sensitive to the effects of the chemical and tend to breathe rapidly and remain quite distressed until the collar is removed.
The control of ticks is not as easy as the control of fleas. Although a wash such as Asuntol is effective for up to a week, it is completely useless if removed from the dog’s skin by regular swimming — and many dogs tend to swim regularly if, for example, their owners are holidaying at the coast.
Unfortunately, for those animals fond of swimming, the only form of insecticidal protection that is effective against fleas and ticks, is a chemical, Cythioate, or Proban, given orally in tablet form.
The dose is calculated according to the animal’s weight and must be given daily. It is not recommended that the tablets be given continuously for more than two weeks. If the period of stay is longer than this, the dog should be free of the chemical for four to five days before the next dosage period of two weeks is begun.
Any insecticidal treatment will result in the dog or cat absorbing some of the chemicals. It is important to choose one form of insecticidal treatment at one time, regardless of whether it be powders, washes, flea collars or tablets.
Do not subject your animal to the risks that one of my recent patients had to endure.
It had been washed the previous weekend in a flea wash, was then dusted with a flea powder, had a new flea collar attached, and was about to be dosed with Proban tablets against ticks.