Do Those Flea and Tick Meds Really Work? The Pros and Cons

Millions of dogs and cats are on prescription flea and tick medication to keep them safe from the diseases ticks carry as well from being infested with fleas. But do those flea and tick medications actually work? Like any other medication, there are pros and cons.

Before we discuss the pros and cons of these medications, let’s first talk about how they work.

How Do Flea and Tick Meds Work?

Conventional flea and tick medications work by basically giving the dog an insecticide that poisons the fleas and ticks. They act as neurotoxins for the pest, basically disabling their nervous systems and then they die.

The eggs and larvae are killed a different group of chemicals that basically inhibit their growth, meaning they don’t grow properly and aren’t able to reproduce. The active ingredients are listed on the label. These might include such chemicals as Imidacloprid, Permethrin, and Pyriproxyfen. The inactive ingredients aren’t listed on the label, because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says they don’t have to.

So now that you know a little more about how flea and tick meds work, let’s talk about if they work or not.

Pro: They Work—to an Extent

There’s basically no medicine that’s totally effective against any disease. As a result of this, your dog or cat’s flea or tick medication will work, to an extent. It’s best if you can use the medication as directed, this will enable you to have the best protection against pests on your pet.

Dr. Judy Torchia of Nippers Corner Pet Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee has seen the effectiveness of these flea and tick medications on her patients. She advocates that when used correctly, they are effective and safe.

“These products use long-lasting insecticides, some with insect growth regulators, that are completely safe for pets and family members if used appropriately. Apply or give medications on a regular basis as prescribed by your vet. Even when you don’t see fleas, flea larva can remain dormant in a pupal stage for months waiting for the right conditions (and the right host) to come along.”


Pro: Protect Your Pet

Let’s face it—without flea and tick medications, your dog or cat would be infested with fleas and covered with ticks. You can protect your pet against the many diseases that ticks carry, most notably the very harmful Lyme’s disease, which is often responsible for kidney failure in dogs.

Con: Some Pets Are Sensitive

In sensitive animals, your animal’s nervous system may be affected in addition to the pests you’re trying to get rid of. Animals that may be sensitive to such a reaction include very young dogs, very old dogs, or very sick dogs. Be on the alert for these symptoms that your dog has been essentially poisoned by these meds:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Depression
  • Lack of coordination
  • Muscle tremors
  • Ear twitching
  • Hives
  • Shock

If you notice any of these symptoms, get your pet to a veterinarian immediately!

Con: The Evidence Is Muddled

They’re reputed to be safe, but some studies show that there is toxicity involved in using these products, especially if not used properly. It’s crucial that you only use the medication as directed, and never use the medication on a different animal than the one that it’s intended for. Just remember that these medicines are meant to poison and kill other creatures, so there is always a small risk when using these meds.

Choose with Care

You know your pet better than anyone. Based on their medical history, current health, and age, you can decide if conventional flea or tick medications are right for your pet. Keeping your pet safe from lethal diseases like Lyme’s disease and free from fleas, which can cause severe itching and skin irritation, is important.

Flea and tick medications do work, if you use them properly and take into consideration that no medicine is going to fully prevent your dog from having a tick crawling on it. Talk with your veterinarian about whether or not flea and tick medications are right for your pet.