Beat The Battle of the Fleas


May, 2005

“You can win the battle of against the fleas, and you can even win the war,” according to Dr. Michael Dryden

“You can win the battle of against the fleas, and you can even win the war,” according to Dr. Michael Dryden, professor of veterinary parisitology at the college of veterinary medicine at Kansas State University – Manhattan, KS.

Dryden says when fleas successfully invade it means you’ve chosen an undependable over-the-counter product instead of a product recommended by a veterinarian. Or you’re not using the veterinary product appropriately. Many of the flea deterrents are monthly spot on’s (which are applied from a tube between the shoulder blades of the pet). However, if life gets busy and people forget to administer the product – the fleas are free to hop on board your pet.

Dryden explains there are two major problems with the over the counter products. First, they simply may not work efficiently. Even if only a few fleas survive, it doesn’t take them long to reproduce, and then their off-spring to reproduce; soon there’s an infestation. The second concern is safety, particularly with flea dips, which Dryden says have been supplanted by safer products.

Dryden says he’s even hears flea horror stories from people who live in high rises with cats who have never ventured outdoors in their lives. The fleas may get indoors after falling off a passing neighbor’s dog, and then hop under the door. Also, as sprawling suburbia meets rural America, fleas might be drop off opossum, raccoons, coyotes, foxes or stray cats and then hop on your clothing and hitch a ride into your house.

Tolerating fleas isn’t a smart plan for good health. Fleas are parasites who suck blood, and potentially spread disease (to people and pets). They cause allergy flea dermatitis, which can induce serious skin issues in pets, including infections. And a serious vet bill to deal with those issues. Making a choice to live with fleas until the problem just gets so bad, and only then to call the exterminator is “unwise,” according to Dryden.

Some people deal with fleas by contracting an exterminator to make frequent visits. Dryden is concerned about chemicals that may be used by exterminator, or the long-term effectiveness of their visits, and as well as the pocket books of pet owners’ spending more money than they need to.

“The current arsenal of flea products are safe to use, and they work,” Dryden says, While they are mostly more expensive than over-the-counter products, because they’re dependable, in the long-run you’ll save never needing to pay a vet bill to deal with flea ravaged pets or hiring an exterminator.

Here’s a round-up of the primary fleas products available through veterinarians.

Advantage: This is what the flea pro’s call a flea adulticide, stopping the biting in three to five minutes and zapping the adult insects within 12 hours (but without protection against ticks). Also has kills larvae. This monthly spot on is for both dogs and cats.

K-9 Advantix: A monthly spot on for dogs only. Repels and kills ticks, lessening transmission of tick diseases. Stops fleas from biting in less than five minutes and starts killing within an hour. Has some mosquito repellent properties (mosquitoes bite pets too).

Capstar: Often used in conjunction with PROGRAM if live fleas are found. Capstar, given to pets in tablet form, is often used for major infestations, killing nearly all adult fleas on dogs or cats in four to six hours.

Frontline Plus: Monthly spot on protects dogs and cats against fleas and ticks. Kills 98 to 100 per cent of adult fleas on the dog within 24 hours; it also contains a special ingredient that kills flea eggs and larvae which deals with the entire flea life cycle. It’s what the flea gurus call integrative flea control. In addition, Frontline Plus sucks the life out of 100 per cent of ticks within 48 hours, including the ones that may transmit Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

PROGRAM: If you’re starting from scratch, and you don’t currently have a flea problem, and want to prevent one, PROGRAM is a good choice – a kind of birth control product for fleas. PROGRAM doesn’t kill live fleas, but if a pair get on to your pet they can’t reproduce. Given in flavored tablets for dogs or cats, a six-month injectable for cats or liquid suspension for cats.

Revolution: This monthly spot on does it all, killing fleas and ear mites and preventing heartworm in dogs and cats. A serious consideration for cats as veterinarians are increasingly recommending a heartworm preventative. Also has some tick deterrence activity in dogs, as well as preventing sarcoptic mange. In cats, also prevents lice and hookworm and roundworm.

Fleas on TV

In their TV advertising, Frontline (manufactured my Merial) points to the number two products on the market (Advantage and K-9 Advantix) as not being as consistently effective over the course of a month (after application).

The advertising statement is clearly provoking.

Dr. Zack Mills, executive director of veterinary services and affairs at the Duluth, GA-based company Merial says after 14 days, 21 days and most notably after 28 days the effectiveness of Advantage and K-9 Advantix wanes, according to published research (in the Journal of Applied Research in Veterinary Medicine).

What’s more, because people sometimes don’t administer the flea preventative exactly 30 days later, perhaps because they’ve forgotten to, there’s potentially a window of opportunity for the fleas to jump through. Mills says Frontline Plus offers an extra bumper of time (going past the 30 days) as opposed to the other two products, which both begin to lose effectiveness sooner.

Bob Walker, director of communications at Bayer Animal Health in Shawnee, KS, the manufacturer of Advantage and K-9 Adantix is, of course, familiar with that one study. He argues, “Many other studies verify the speed and efficacy of our products. It’s a matter of balancing one outcome of one study against so many others.”

Veterinary parisitologist Dr. Michael Dryden says, “It’s best to discuss which product is right for your pets based on a discussion with your veterinarian.” Both Walker and Mills agree.