The Facts About Spot-On Parasite Treatments

Parasite treatment being applied to dog
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The information in this article has been reviewed and updated.

Here are the answers to several common questions about spot-on flea and tick products. Be sure to speak with your veterinarian about which parasite-control products are right for your cat or dog.

Q. What’s a spot-on product?

Parasite-prevention products referred to as spot-on are applied by putting a “spot” of the liquid directly on the cat or dog’s skin. These products distribute throughout the pet’s skin, protecting them from fleas and ticks. Some spot-on products absorb into the bloodstream to have their effect, whereas others essentially remain on the skin surface.  Some products also protect pets against additional parasites, like heartworms and intestinal parasites.

Q. Should I worry about the safety of my pet’s parasite preventive?

The short answer: no. “It’s safe to use products recommended by your veterinary professional if you follow the label directions,” says Julie Sontag, AAT, RVT, a veterinary technician at Clairmont Animal Hospital in Decatur, Ga. Why does the label matter so much? “Each product is designed for different species and different weight classes,” Sontag says. A product meant for dogs weighing between 11 and 20 pounds offers safe protection to dogs in that weight range. However, that same product could be dangerous for a smaller dog. And any product meant for dogs can be extremely dangerous to cats. Furthermore, some products aren’t appropriate for young kittens and puppies. The labels on spot-on products also explain the frequency with which the products should be applied. Using them too often—or not often enough—could endanger your pet’s health.

To ensure your pet stays well and protected, there are two main points to remember: 1) Most companies have thoroughly researched and tested their products for safety before making them available to you. 2) Your veterinarian will recommend the product that’s appropriate—and safe—for your cat or dog.

Q. How effective are spot-on products?

Effectiveness depends on proper application, frequency of application, and your pet’s environment. Using these products improperly or irregularly can make them ineffective. For example, some products are waterproof. But these same products are distributed by oils on the body, and bathing can deplete these oils.

To ensure maximum distribution and effectiveness, Sontag says it’s important to apply the product several days before or after bathing. These products also need to be used at regular intervals year-round, even in fall and winter. Your veterinary team will thoroughly explain all the relevant details to you. Sometimes, they’ll even offer to remind you when to apply the products.

Q. Why should I buy my pet’s parasite preventive from a veterinarian?

First, some parasite prevention products are prescription-only and are available only at your veterinary clinic. Second, when you get your product from a veterinarian, you also get reassurance: “We decide which products will be the most beneficial for our clients’ pets, and we like clients to know that we use those same products on our own pets,” Sontag says. “Veterinary professionals pick the product that’s the most convenient for the client and the best fit for the pet. Veterinarians consider the pet’s lifestyle and medical history.”

When you purchase your product with your veterinarian’s direction, you can be sure you’re getting the right product, applying it correctly, and receiving expert answers to all your questions. Anytime you’re considering a pet product, whether it be parasite prevention or a treat, it’s smart to turn to your veterinary team, Sontag says.

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