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However, keeping your furry friends free of fleas is a matter of both comfort and safety, since fleabites are itchy, uncomfortable and have the potential to spread infections and disease.
We spoke to a vet to get the lowdown on which flea treatments are best for cats and dogs during the busy outdoor season.
The winner: once-a-month spot-on treatments
It wasn't even a close race: The obvious choice for both cats and dogs -- based on effectiveness, safety and ease of use -- is a once-a-month spot-on treatment such as Advantage Multi (which contains the active ingredients imidacloprid and moxidectin) or Revolution (which contains selamectin), says Ottawa-based veterinarian Bernhard Pukay, cofounder of the Canadian Academy of Veterinary Dermatology.
"Products like Advantage Multi or Revolution are liquid medications that are applied on the skin between the pet's shoulder blades [so they can't lick them off], and are very, very effective," says Pukay.
How effective? "They're effective enough to negate the need for environmental treatments like powdering the environment or using flea shampoo, which is an important advantage," says Pukay.
And that clinched it: After all, who wants to spread flea powder all over the same carpet your kids play on?
Benefits of spot-on treatments
• Spot-on treatments kill fleas and flea eggs, plus other parasites. "Advantage kills adult fleas before they can lay eggs, and it prevents eggs from being shed," says Pukay. "Revolution kills the adult fleas and prevents eggs from hatching." This approach should keep most Canadian cats and dogs blissfully itch free all year round.
Both products are also considered effective at controlling intestinal worms and other parasites like heartworm and ear mites.
• Spot-on treatments are safe for young cats and dogs. "Spot-on once-a-month treatments are very safe. You can use them as early as eight weeks, but talk with your vet, because we do prefer to wait until the pet has had all its vaccines," says Pukay.
Page 1 of 3 -- Learn how to use spot-on flea treatments on page 2
• Spot-on treatments are safe for humans. These treatments are fine to use in family homes. "They are very safe and will not rub off onto your child because they are absorbed into the pet's skin," says Pukay.
However, he suggests preventing child-pet contact until two hours after applying the treatment as an added precaution to ensure the product is fully absorbed.
• Spot-on treatments are convenient. It bears repeating: No flea powder! No shampoo! No aerosols! Because spot-on treatments negate the need for environmental flea-control tactics, you'll never have to bathe an unwilling cat or introduce additional chemicals into your home.
Of course, many people bathe their dogs (and oddball cats!) anyway. If you do too, should you use an all-natural pet shampoo? If you like how it makes your pet's fur feel and smell, then go for it.
"The problem with natural products is that there are no real controlled studies done to tell us whether they work [for flea control]," says Pukay, so consider baths part of your grooming routine, not a flea-control tactic.
And remember to schedule baths just before your pet is due for his or her spot-on treatment, rather than afterward, to avoid undermining the efficacy of the product.
Caveats of spot-on treatments
Spot-on flea treatments are not cheap. For instance, if you buy in bulk, a six-pack of monthly feline Advantage Multi averages $85 plus HST -- or about $16 per treatment.
The price may sound high compared to a $10 bottle of supermarket flea-control shampoo, but it's actually a bargain when you consider the spot-on treatment's superior effectiveness and convenience.
Don't try to cut costs by buying discount Advantage or Revolution online, says Pukay. "They could be knockoffs or have mixed up [mismatched] labels. Buy from your vet because your vet will stand behind the product.
If anything happens, you know you have the vet to support you and to respond to any adverse reactions in terms of medical care, should anything go wrong," he explains, adding that such adverse reactions are rare, but possible.
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Although spot-on treatments are reliable for general use, if your pet follows you to the cottage or cabin you may have to bring out the big guns to deter persistent pests such as ticks and mites.
"Revolution has a wider range of claims for skin mites, so if you're at a cottage and skin mites are a problem, you might want to tend toward Revolution. [For dogs], a stronger product like K-9 Advantix repels fleas and also works on ticks, but it must be used with caution since it's highly toxic to cats," says Pukay.
Pukay suggests consulting your vet about what product is best for your pets, lifestyle and environment.
Finally, even if you've got Fido or Fluffy's flea issues under control, cottage-country pests like mosquitoes and black flies can crash any long weekend getaway.
Never apply mosquito or black fly repellants to your pet without getting clearance from your vet first, and that goes for "natural" and "non-toxic" products, too.
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