Kitten and Puppy Flea Control
Via iStock.com/Christian Buch

Caitlin UltimoFlea & Tick / Health

Flea and Tick Prevention for Kittens and Puppies

Warm weather means it’s time to enjoy the great outdoors with your pets. It also means it’s time to think about flea and tick prevention for puppies and kittens, because those little parasites are out in full force when the sun comes out.

If you have pets, you probably already take precautions against fleas and ticks. But what if you’re treating a young kitten or puppy?

When it comes to tick and flea prevention, puppies and kittens require special care. Most of the products available are not recommended for use on animals younger than 8 weeks old, and that can leave new pet parents in a pickle.

Thankfully, there are safe and effective options for young puppies and kittens. Read on to learn more about flea and tick prevention for kittens and puppies.

Understanding Fleas and Ticks

Before we get into ways to battle fleas and ticks on your pets and in your household, let’s get to know the enemies and their life cycles.

Fleas

The most common type of flea to affect dogs and cats is the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis, according to the Companion Animal Parasite Counsel. C. felis goes through a four-stage life cycle: egg, larva, pupa and adult. Adult fleas deposit white, oval, 0.5 mm-long eggs on the pet, which then fall into the environment—like the pet’s bed, the carpet or the couch.

Shortly thereafter, larvae come out of their shells and feed on blood contained in adult flea feces and organic debris like flakes of skin. Then they cocoon themselves in 0.5 mm-long pupae as they develop into adult fleas. It usually takes 8-28 days for the pests to emerge, depending on the climate, though they can remain dormant in their cocoons for up to 50 weeks depending on temperature and other stimuli.

Once out of their cocoons, the adult fleas immediately find an animal and begin feeding on blood. Within 20-24 hours, female fleas start producing 40-50 eggs per day! And the cycle begins again.

Ticks

Ticks are another type of critter altogether. Several species affect dogs and cats, but the most common are the hard ticks, including Rhipicephalus sanguineus, aka the brown dog tick, which can be found everywhere in the United States, even in colder regions. Like fleas, they go through developmental stages—egg, larva, nymph and adult—but the details of their lifecycles are different for various species of ticks.

Many hard ticks follow a three-host lifecycle that can take two or three years to complete. For example, adult females would lay eggs in the environment in the fall, which hatch into six-legged larvae.

Then, next spring, the larvae attach to an animal, then feed and leave this host to molt into nymphs in the fall.

The following spring after, the nymphs attach to another host, feed and drop off later in the summer or fall to molt into adults. These adults then attach to a third host during the third spring where they feed and mate, with females eventually dropping off to lay eggs in the fall thereby completing the lifecycle.

Tick and Flea Prevention: Puppies and Kittens

Though they’re quite different biologically, both fleas and ticks can be managed—but the best way to do so is to prevent them from becoming a problem in the first place, says Michael “Dr. Flea” Dryden, DVM, Ph.D., a veterinary parasitologist with Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas.

Luckily, there are several options to turn to when controlling flea and ticks.

“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,” Dr. Dryden says. “Prevention is technically the easiest but practically the most difficult because many pet owners won’t do it. But there are a number of highly effective treatments that your dog can be placed on and left on for the rest of her life so she doesn’t have to suffer.”

Pet parents have more choices than ever to treat parasites that are harassing their four-legged pals. Kitten and puppy flea treatments range from flea combs and collars to pills and spot-ons, according to Dr. Dryden, but they all have one primary purpose: To repel, kill or remove adult fleas before they lay eggs on your pet or in your home.

A flea comb, like the Safari flea comb, might be your best bet if you have a dog or cat in your house who is too young (less than 6-8 weeks old or so) for other options. It enables you to manually check your pet’s coat for fleas and ticks and makes it easier for you to remove the pests from her skin, Dr. Dryden says.

Flea and tick collars, spot-ons and other insecticide-based treatments generally fall into two categories: topical and systemic, says Dwight Bowman, Ph.D., professor of parasitology at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York.

“Topical treatments, like [some] spot-ons and collars, stay on the surface and distribute over the body, and then work when fleas or ticks contact or feed upon the surface,” Dr. Bowman says. “Systemic treatments, which can be applied topically or taken orally, are absorbed into the dog’s blood stream. When a flea or tick feeds, it takes in the chemical.”

The active ingredients in the topical and systemic treatments eradicate the insects in various ways, Dr. Dryden says. Some kill adult fleas and ticks. Others kill the larvae or sterilize the eggs. And still others prevent the insects from developing or growing, while some products contain multiple active ingredients to hit the parasites at several points in their lifecycles.

“The idea is either we’re going to kill the fleas before they lay eggs, or we’re going to kill their eggs,” he says. “The products we’re using today have been designed to have pronounced residual activity, so when a flea or tick jumps on two to three weeks after you’ve treated the animal, the vast majority of them are going to die before they even lay an egg.”

Choosing a Safe Flea and Tick Medicine for Dogs and Cats

When considering flea and tick prevention for kittens and puppies, your first step should be a visit to your veterinarian to discuss options that are right for your situation.

Because many insecticide-based treatments are unsafe for animals 8 weeks and younger, Dr. Dryden recommends, asking about non-chemical alternatives, including flea combs, gentle shampoos and other grooming tools that are safe for your young pet.

Once your puppy or kitten is past the age threshold, choose a parasite prevention program that’s best for her and stick with it throughout adulthood, Dr. Dryden says. Check the product’s label to make sure it’s formulated for use on your particular pet—including her species, age and weight. Also take a look at the active ingredients to be sure you’re targeting the right parasite.

To make your job easier, we’ve done part of the work for you! Below, you’ll find a list of the most common active ingredients in topical and systemic treatments that are available over the counter or through your veterinarian. Note that permethrin-based chemicals are only safe for dogs; they are toxic to cats of all ages. This is NOT to be confused with pyrethrins.

Pyrethrins are natural compounds found in certain types of flowers, like chrysanthemums, that can kill and repel fleas, ticks, and other parasites. Pyrethrins can be quite safe, including for cats, but are not very effective, according to Jennifer Coates, DVM, a veterinarian in Fort Collins, Colorado. Permethrin is a pyrethroid, a synthetic form of pyrethrin, that Dr. Coates says is more effective but is very toxic to cats and should never be used in this species.

Always follow the label instructions on the product you are using—formulations and instructions can change without notice.

Dog and Cat Flea and Tick Collars

Tetrachlorvinphos and (S)-Methoprene
For: Dogs and cats
Found in: Hartz UltraGuard Plus for cats, Hartz UltraGuard Plus flea and tick collar for puppies
Targets: Fleas and ticks
Application method: Collar
Treatment frequency: 7 months
Age limit: 12 weeks or older (kittens), 12 weeks or older (puppies)
How it works: Repels and kills adult fleas and ticks, and prevents flea eggs from hatching.

Flumethrin and Imidacloprid
For: Dogs and cats
Found in: Seresto 8 month flea and tick collar for small dogs, Seresto 8 month flea and tick collar for cats and kittens
Targets: Fleas and ticks
Application method: Collar
Treatment frequency: 8 months
Age limit: 7 weeks or older (puppies), 10 weeks or older (kittens)
How it works: A repellent that also kills adult fleas, ticks, nymphs and pupae and aids in the control of flea larvae in the environment.

Topical Spot-Ons

Fipronil and Cyphenothrin
For: Dogs
Found in: Parastar Plus
Targets: Fleas and ticks
Application method: Topical spot-on
Treatment frequency: 30 days
Age limit: 12 weeks or older
How it works: A dog and puppy flea treatment that repels and kills fleas and ticks.

Dinotefuran, Fipronil, and Pyriproxyfen
For: Cats
Found in: Catego flea and tick treatment for cats
Targets: Fleas and ticks
Application method: Topical spot-on
Treatment frequency: 30 days
Age limit: 8 weeks or older
How it works: Attacks the nervous systems of parasites, resulting in adult death and disrupts the growth of immature stages.

Fipronil and (S)-Methoprene
For: Dogs and cats
Found in: Frontline Plus for small dogs, Frontline Plus flea and tick treatment for cats and kittens, Onguard for cats, Onguard for dogs
Targets: Fleas and ticks
Application method: Topical spot-on
Treatment frequency: 30 days
Age limit: 8 weeks or older
How it works: Kills adult fleas and ticks by overstimulating their nervous systems and breaks the flea lifecycle.

Imidacloprid, Permethrin, Pyriproxyfen
For: Dogs only
Found in: K9 Advantix II for dogs
Targets: Fleas and Ticks
Application method: Topical spot-on
Treatment frequency: 30 days
Age limit: 7 weeks or older
How it works: Repels and kills ticks and all life stages of fleas.

Indoxacarb
For: Dogs and cats
Found in: Activyl flea treatment for dogs, Activyl flea treatment for cats and kittens
Targets: Fleas
Application method: Topical spot-on
Treatment frequency: 30 days
Age limit: 8 weeks or older
How it works: Uses the flea’s own enzymes to activate indoxacarb’s ability to kill adult fleas by paralyzing them and stopping eggs and larvae from developing.

Imidacloprid and Pyriproxyfen
For: Dogs and cats
Found in: Advantage II flea treatment for small dogs, Advantage II flea treatment for small cats
Targets: Fleas
Application method: Topical spot-on
Treatment frequency: 30 days
Age limit: 7 weeks or older (puppies); 8 weeks or older (kittens)
How it works: Prevents fleas from developing into adulthood and leaves them unable to reproduce. Kills all flea life stages.

Prescription Flea and Tick Medicine

Afoxolaner
For: Dogs
Found in: NexGard chewable tablets for dogs
Target: Fleas and ticks
Application method: Chewable tablet
Treatment frequency: 30 days
Age limit: 8 weeks or older
How it works: Kills fleas and ticks by overstimulating their immune systems. Oral systemic; sold by prescription only.

Lufenuron and Milbemycin
For: Dogs
Found in: Sentinel flavor tablets for dogs
Target: Fleas
Application method: Chewable tablet
Treatment frequency: 30 days
Age Limit: 4 weeks or older
How It Works: Lufenuron is an insect growth regulator or insect development inhibitor that works by inhibiting the biosynthesis of chitin (which makes up their exoskeletons) in flea larvae but has no effect on adult fleas. Milbemycin kills heartworm larvae and some intestinal parasites. Oral systemic; sold by prescription only.

Nitenpyram
For: Dogs and cats
Found in: Capstar flea tablets for dogs and cats
Target: Fleas
Application method: Tablet
Treatment frequency: As prescribed by veterinarian
Age limit: 4 weeks or older
How it works: Blocks ability for neural messages to transmit through central nervous system, causing almost immediate death. Used for short-term relief of flea infestation. Oral systemic; sold by prescription only.

Selamectin
For: Dogs and cats
Found in: Revolution for puppies and kittens
Targets: Fleas, controls ticks in dogs
Application method: Systemic spot-on
Treatment frequency: 30 days
Age limit: 6 weeks or older (puppies), 8 weeks or older (kittens)
How it works: Kills adult fleas by disrupting their nervous systems; stops reproduction by preventing eggs from hatching. Also kills heartworm larvae and some other parasites. Sold by prescription only.

Spinosad
For: Dogs and cats
Found in: Comfortis for dogs and cats (dogs and cats), Trifexis for dogs (dogs only in combination with milbemycin)
Targets: Fleas
Application method: Chewable tablet
Treatment frequency: 30 days
Age limit: Comfortis dogs and cats – 14 weeks or older; Trifexis for dogs – 8 weeks or older
How it works: Attacks the adult flea’s nervous system, causing rapid death. Oral systemic; sold by prescription only. Milbemycin in Trifexis also kills heartworm larvae and some intestinal parasites.

Lifetime Flea and Tick Prevention for Puppies and Kittens

Kitten and puppy flea and tick prevention is important for your pet’s health and happiness—and your own health and happiness, too. Those little bloodsuckers can cause distress and anemia in young animals, not to mention skin irritation or worse, Dr. Dryden says.

“Fleas are the most common cause of flea allergy dermatitis in dogs and cats in North American,” he says. “The most common skin disease dogs and cats get is associated with the allergic conditions as a result of the fleas biting and feeding. So obviously, they’re bad. And they can transmit pathogens, too, to other dogs and cats, as well as to people.”

Protect your pets and yourself with a flea and tick prevention program—and do it before it becomes a problem.

“By the time you notice fleas on your pet, it’s too late,” Dr. Dryden says. “They’re just the tip of the iceberg.”


By: Wendy Wilson

Featured Image: Via iStock.com/Christian Buch

Share: