Skip to main content

PawTracks may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

5 important health factors to know before putting your pet on flea and tick meds

Fleas and ticks can lead to itching, discomfort, and skin infections for the entire family. But as frustrating as bites can be, these minuscule pests can also cause serious illnesses, or worse. Both Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can be spread via the bite of an infected tick. If left untreated, Lyme Disease can cause symptoms that run the gamut from a bullseye-shaped rash to facial paralysis, nerve pain, and arthritis. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, on the other hand, is even more dangerous. If the infection progresses without proper treatment, it may cause severe headaches, a high fever, and potentially death. It goes without saying that flea and tick meds are essential, but medications aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Here’s what you need to know about flea and tick safety.

Two women, mostly off-screen, hold a chihuahua and a Siamese cat in frame.

How to prevent fleas and ticks the safe way

Did you know there are over 800 tick species worldwide? Fortunately, you’ll only find four different species in the US. (And we happen to think that’s four too many.) While fleas and ticks are most active throughout summer and early fall (and their patterns can vary from state to state), flea and tick prevention is a year-round battle. Prevention should start with your lawn, but that doesn’t mean you should leave your fur babies unprotected. However, not all flea and tick medications are safe for every pet. These are the five most important questions you should ask your veterinarian before you start your pet on a flea and tick prevention regimen. 

1. Is my pet healthy enough for flea and tick medication?

Some pets, particularly those with a history of seizures and neurological symptoms, and those who are pregnant or nursing may not be the best candidate for flea and tick medication. Your vet knows your pet’s medical history, so you should always request a consultation before medicating your dog. 

2. Is my pet too young or too old for flea and tick medication?

“As soon as they’re old enough, place them on a veterinarian-recommended topical or oral flea and tick product, and never take them off,” says Kansas State University veterinary parasitologist Michael “Dr. Flea” Dryden, DVM, Ph.D. How old is old enough? According to the experts, your puppy (or kitten) should be at least eight weeks old before you start them off on a flea and tick preventative. Will you need to discontinue use when your pet is a senior? Maybe. Your pet’s immune system gradually weakens with age, and harsh medications can make matters worse. Always speak to your vet before discontinuing any medication. 

A kitten with a pink nose sprawls on her back with her paws over her head.

3. Can I use the same medication on my dog and cat?

Dogs are much larger than cats, so the dosage for your dog’s flea and tick medication will be much too potent for your tiny cat. Most importantly, medications that are well-tolerated by dogs can be fatal to your feline fur baby. If you have cats and dogs, make sure to keep them separated after applying a topical flea and tick preventative. Your cat will become seriously – or even fatally – ill if she ingests or otherwise comes into contact with your dog’s flea and tick medication while it’s still wet

4. Is it safer to use an over-the-counter or a prescription formula?

While over-the-counter (OTC) flea and tick preventatives are available online and in supermarkets, many veterinarians recommend opting for prescription-only flea and tick medications. OTC products are typically regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPC), while prescription medications are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Unlike EPA-regulated flea and tick preventatives (which are considered pesticides, not medications), FDA-regulated prescription drugs have to be approved by licensed medical professionals. Ultimately, we recommend consulting your vet before you make any decisions regarding your pet’s health. After all, the most effective flea and tick medication is the one you’ll actually use. 

5. Can flea and tick medications cause adverse reactions?

Like all medications, flea and tick preventatives have the potential to cause side effects. In many cases, adverse reactions are mild, often limited to mild skin irritation. However, some dogs and cats have more severe reactions. Please contact your vet immediately if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • skin reactions, such as itching, swelling, or redness
  • gastrointestinal issues like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • neurological symptoms like seizures, spasms, or trembling

You should take your dog or cat to the vet right away if your pet suffers from seizures, extreme vomiting or diarrhea, or difficulty breathing. Although it’s uncommon, some pets may develop an allergy to their flea and tick medication. In very severe cases, this can lead to a dangerous reaction called anaphylactic shock. 

A shallow focus shot of a smiling black and white Border Collie.

For the most part, cats and dogs tolerate flea and tick medication without having any issues, but no two pets respond to any treatment exactly the same way. Keep your home and yard treated to keep out fleas and ticks, and always consult your veterinarian before you use any pesticides around your pets. When it comes to your fur baby’s health, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. 

Editors' Recommendations

Mary Johnson
Mary Johnson is a writer and photographer from New Orleans, Louisiana. Her work has been published in PawTracks and…
Spring cleaning? Never use these dangerous products with pets in your home
Nontoxic spring cleaning tips for pet parents
A Jack Russell terrier sits beside a mop bucket with a toilet brush in his mouth

It's that time of year again! The days are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer, and we're all gearing up for spring cleaning. Whether you hate cleaning with a flaming passion or enjoy the feeling of renewal it brings, cleaning is essential for your mental and physical health. But if you have pets in the home, your annual deep clean could potentially do more harm than good.

So, how do you give your home the thorough cleaning it needs without exposing your fur babies to dangerous chemicals? You've come to the right place. We've got the scoop on the best pet-safe cleaning products that will get the job done without making your furry family ill. Best of all? You probably have most of the items you need lying around the house.

Read more
Does your cat say ‘meow,’ ‘miau,’ or ‘mjau?’ Here’s how we translate cat and dog language into human around the world
Wondering what your dog or cat would say if you spoke a different tongue? Here's how we interpret our pets
A cat and dog hang out together outside on cobblestones

Your pet might only speak one language, but they can learn any human tongue. They probably know their name at a bare minimum and some dogs can learn up to 1,000 words (even cats can learn a few basic commands, whether they choose to do so is a different story).
But how do we decide what they're saying to us? Countries around the world have different ways of writing barks and meows based on how they hear the sounds. We take a look at the art of translating pet language into human.

What do you call 'bark' and 'meow' in other languages?
If you were in Italy, your dog would say "bau, bau," in France, it's "oaf oaf," and in Portugal, they go "au au." Despite all being in one small area of the globe, each of these languages hears our pets differently. In fact, Word Tips, which researched the subject extensively, figured out what terms people use in the 147 most-spoken languages in the world. It found that there are at least 40 different ways that we write out a dog’s bark. On the flip side, while the exact combination of vowels varies a lot, most cats speak words that begin with the sound in the letter "M."
How do we interpret our pets?
When you actually look at the map that Word Tips put together, you might find some pretty big differences. That's because nearly all these expressions are onomatopoeias, meaning we're trying to put letters to the sounds we're actually hearing. When you add in that languages have different rules, you get vastly different spellings and verbalized words to describe our animals, according to Anthea Fraser Gupta, who has researched the topic. But we're all hearing (at least close to) the same sound, so you'll spot a few similarities, too.

Read more
Have your heart set on a breed? Here’s why it’s important to consider different types of dogs
Think you need a small dog? Here's why you should research different types of dogs first
A woman kissing a dog

Perhaps you love your friend’s Yorkie. Maybe you grew up with a beagle and always dreamt of having one of your own. Getting fixated on a specific breed is normal and natural, and there’s no shame in it. Just like gender disappointment is a "thing" in parenting, so is dreaming about welcoming a specific dog with a distinct look and characteristics into your family.

Still, you want to consider different types of dogs while searching for a new furry family member. It may be difficult to wrap your head around, but researching other breeds and considering all of your options is an essential step in the process of choosing a dog breed. That doesn’t mean you must consider all dog breeds — that’s overwhelming — but you want to look into several. Here’s why and how to jumpstart your search for your next four-legged best friend.

Read more