6 min read

5 Ways to Prep Your Pets for Tick and Flea Season


By Emily Bayne

Published: 03/01/2023, edited: 05/25/2024

Reviewed by a licensed veterinary professional: Kim Rain

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Spring heralds the beginning of flea and tick season in many parts of the US. And while fleas and ticks are an inherent risk with any animal, this year may be especially bad, according to the Companion Animal Parasite Council’s annual Pet Parasite Forecast. The most recent forecast predicts vector-borne illnesses will be more prevalent this year than in previous years due to climate change and surges in parasite populations.  

Thankfully, there are some ways pet parents can protect their fur-babies from fleas, ticks, and the germs they carry. Read on to learn why flea and tick season should concern you and how to prepare your pets for it.

A small Jack Russell puppy biting their back leg

Why should you be concerned about flea and tick season?

A lot of pet parents see fleas and ticks as an itchy nuisance and little else, not realizing that these creepy crawlies can put their health and their pets at risk. Lyme disease is just one parasite-transmitted disease that affects dogs and humans ‚ÄĒ it can cause painful, debilitating side effects and can even be deadly to dogs.

Ticks contract the bacteria that causes Lyme disease by drinking the blood of rodents, fowl, or deer. These ticks (usually the deer ticks) transmit the disease to unsuspecting dogs and people by attaching to them to feed. However, it usually takes 24 to 48 hours before the tick transmits the bacteria to the host. The longer the tick remains on the host, the higher the likelihood of infection.

Lyme disease can cause a wide variety of problems in canines, including organ damage, lameness, and kidney failure. Humans with Lyme disease may experience pain, numbness, stiff joints, irregular heartbeat, and vision loss.

Sadly, Lyme disease is just one of many conditions that fleas and ticks can cause. Flea and tick bites can also put your pet (and you) at risk for:

Using preventative measures like flea and tick preventatives and insect repellents is essential to keep these buggers at bay.

person applying topical flea and tick preventative medications via a green squeeze tube to their standard poodle dog

Start parasite prevention treatment ASAP

The best way to prepare your pets for flea and tick season is to put them on parasite preventatives, and there are plenty of options to choose from. Here are some of the most common types of flea and tick products on the market:  

  • Medicated shampoos
  • Topical gels/drops¬†¬†(like¬†Frontline Plus¬†and¬†K9 Advantix)
  • Chewable tablets
  • Medicated dips
  • Infused collars
  • Flea powders
  • Sprays¬†¬†¬†

It's best to start treatment before parasite season kicks off ‚ÄĒ or better yet, use preventatives year-round. Don't forget to stay on schedule, either. Some pet parents find it helpful to write down the dosage date on their calendars and set reminders so they don't miss a dose.

Unsure which parasite preventative is right for your fur-baby? Your vet can recommend a safe and effective product that suits your pet's individual needs. Remember, many store-bought products are not as effective as those prescribed by your vet.

Treat your home and yard regularly

Often, treating your pet isn't enough to keep parasites at bay. You'll need to take preventative measures to keep your home and yard free of them too.

Cut your grass regularly, and use a weed eater or weed killer in areas that you can't reach with your mower. Weed killers are one of the¬†biggest yard dangers¬†for pets, but it doesn't mean you can't use them at all ‚ÄĒ you just have to be strategic. If you use chemical herbicides or pesticides, keep your pets away from the treated area for a few days to prevent accidental ingestion or skin contact with the product. You should also use products which claim to be safe for pets.

Fleas and ticks aren't just outdoor pests; they can infest your home too. These parasites often hide in carpet fibers and bedding and can survive a whole winter indoors.  

It's a good idea to wash your linens and your pet's bedding in hot soapy water every week or two to kill any fleas or flea eggs on them.

You should also vacuum a few times a week during flea and tick season ‚ÄĒ but don't dump the canister into the trash when you finish. Bag up the contents and place them in an outdoor receptacle so the fleas you suck up won't reinfest your home.

person parting the golden fur on a dog's back to reveal a tick embedded in the dog's skin

Groom your pet daily

Besides helping to keep your fur-baby's coat healthy, regular grooming can alert you to fleas and ticks. But grooming doesn't have to entail a full bath and blowout. Take 5 minutes every day to brush or finger-comb your pet and check for signs of parasites.

Pet parents rarely see fleas on their pets until there's a full-blown infestation, especially if they have dark fur. A better way to tell if a dog or cat has fleas is to look for "flea dirt," which is crumbly and resembles black or brown dirt. 

You can distinguish regular dirt from flea dirt by mixing it with a drop of water. If you mix it with water and crush it onto white paper, it turns red, chances are it's flea fecal matter.

person using a pink towel to dry off a white terrier dog sitting in a bathtub after a flea bath

What to do if you find fleas or ticks on your dog or cat

What should you do if you see pests on your pet? Here are a few ways to get rid of fleas and ticks fast.

Use medicated shampoo

If you notice a few fleas on your pet, giving them a quick flea bath to kill the adult fleas is never a bad idea ‚ÄĒ especially if you use it in conjunction with flea meds.

Although many pet parents swear by unscented dish soap (like blue Dawn) as a DIY flea treatment, Wag!'s veterinary consultant, Dr. Linda Simon, advises against using dish soap in lieu of dog-safe shampoo:

"It's not something I'd recommend. It could be very harsh, stripping a dog's natural oils and causing skin irritation. I also don't think it would be especially effective for killing parasites; those guys are pretty robust. So I'd stick to prescription-strength treatments."

Dr. Simon also adds, "It can help to use a flea comb to comb out as many fleas as possible, and to use a tick remover to remove any visible ticks."

Cats can be particularly difficult to bathe, especially when they are already uncomfortable from fleas. To prevent scratches ‚ÄĒ and preserve your sanity ‚ÄĒ you may want to buy a bathing bag like¬†this one from Amazon¬†before sudsing up. You may also want to use a calming spray beforehand and give lots of treats and pets for their cooperation.

person removing fleas and ticks from their brown and white beagle dog with a flea comb

Physically remove the fleas and ticks

Flea combs are handy for pets who can't tolerate flea products because they're too small or have sensitive skin. They can also help remove dead fleas after a flea bath. When removing live fleas, drop the fleas in hot soapy water so they can't escape back into your pet's fur or your home. 

Remove any ticks you find on your pet ASAP since the longer they remain on an animal, the more likely they will be to transmit harmful bacteria like Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. You may need to use a pair of tweezers to remove the tick since sometimes, part of the tick becomes embedded in the skin. If the tick is attached, you may want to save it in a childproof pill bottle for a few weeks to ensure your pet isn't showing signs of illness before disposing of it. This way, it can be sent for testing by your vet if worried your pet has a tick-borne disease.

Start your pet on prescription flea and tick meds

Medication is typically the best way to prevent fleas and ticks and get rid of them if they're already on your pet. There are several types of flea and tick medications, and they aren't created equal. 

Options include topical treatments, typically applied between the shoulder blades, and oral medications, which need to be administered regularly (between once a day to every 12 weeks, depending on the medication.) Prescription flea and tick meds generally work better than the over-the-counter stuff. 

Avoid using parasite preventatives made for dogs on cats

Never use flea and tick meds made for dogs on your cats ‚ÄĒ doing so can cause pyrethrin toxicity or permethrin toxicity. Even small amounts of these compounds can make cats seriously ill and potentially kill them.

If you have a multi-pet household and use topical treatments on your dog, keep your cat away from your pup for up to 24 hours until the medication has fully absorbed. If you have any questions about flea and tick medicine poisoning in cats, consult your vet.

person placing a blue towel in a washing machine

Treat the environment

If your pet has a case of the creepy crawlies, wash their bedding in hot, soapy water to kill parasites or parasite eggs hiding in the fibers. You'll also want to launder your sheets, comforters, blankets, and rugs on a hot wash.

Depending on the severity of the pest problem, you may need to use flea sprays containing an Insect Growth Regulator or call an exterminator. If your yard has fleas, you'll need to treat that as well. If you have to use chemicals (either flea bombs or insecticides), don't allow your pets in the area you treated for at least 48 hours.

Preparing your dogs and cats for flea and tick season: recap

  • The most effective way to prevent parasites is to put your pets on a regular preventative medication.
  • A lapse in treatment can cause reinfestation ‚ÄĒ set reminders so you don't miss a dose.
  • Never use flea and tick meds made for dogs on cats.
  • Remove ticks from your pets as soon as you spot them to reduce their chances of contracting Lyme disease.
  • Use a medicated shampoo to kill fleas and ticks fast.
  • To prevent future infestations, treating your yard and home is just as important as treating your pets.

When you invest in a pet wellness plan, you'll be reimbursed for 100% of the cost of your pet's parasite preventative meds within 24 hours. Check out our wellness plans to learn more!

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