Flea Wars

Client knowledge and continued advancement in flea and tick products are key to controlling the pests.

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Persistence is needed to prevent these prolifc intruders.

How do manufacturers re-evaluate their flea control products? By analyzing the latest data from parasitology researchers, collecting feedback from veterinarians and owners, and listening to how clients want to medicate their pets.

Veterinarians who report client frustration with flea infestations and question whether the product is to blame are off base, said parasitology researcher Michael Dryden DVM, MS, Ph.D.

Dr. Dryden, a professor of veterinary parasitology at Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, investigates the industry’s most popular flea and tick products, including Advantage, Capstar, Comfortis, Frontline Plus, K9 Advantix, Program, Promeris and Revolution. His research projects focus on flea and tick biology and control, endeavors that stretch from laboratory evaluations of prospective flea and tick products to field studies.

“Tampa, Fla., is the flea capital,” says Dryden, who is also known as Dr. Flea. “It’s one of the areas where vets and owners think nothing is working. We used Frontline in homes where pet owners claimed they had been compliant with the various products they had used to rid pets of fleas, and we had success getting rid of fleas100 percent of the time.”

Dryden says certain regions of the United States have a higher flea burden compared to others, but preferential climate isn’t the only explanation.

“An increased number of feral cat populations, raccoons and opossums mean outdoor animals are never totally flea-free because of the constant emergence of new fleas,” Dryden says. “Feral cats were said to be present in 85 percent of the neighborhoods of pet owners we surveyed. Veterinarians everywhere are saying feral cats are a problem, and it’s getting worse.”

Tough Fleas

Research has revealed that some flea strains are more resilient to insecticides and may take longer to succumb to treatment. Dryden, however, says that even these fleas will die when exposed to the products he has investigated.

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“We have found that it can take two to three months to gain control of an existing flea infestation,” he says. “Prevention is always the better plan, but too often pet owners don’t invest in products until they see fleas in their homes or on their pets.”

Dryden says pet owners and veterinarians are typically surprised to find that his team, affectionately nicknamed “Flea CSI,” has achieved flea control after being assigned to an infestation.

“Owners of multiple pets with flea infestations are usually the clients saying they can’t get rid of fleas,” Dryden says. “After we step in, we find that some owners admit that finances prevented them from using the products as directed. Applying the product incorrectly, bathing the pet or letting it swim frequently without re-application of the product also played a role in the inability to control infestations.

“Clients with an elevated deck or porch that allows access to flea-infested animals means flea eggs will constantly be redeposited in the environment, which is another factor affecting control.”

Dryden’s research also shows that once fleas are gone from the environment and the pet, they don’t stay away. Stopping flea control efforts once fleas are no longer present  is another problem, Dryden says. Continual use of prevention is the best hope of a flea-free pet, he says.

“Someone has to explain to pet owners the flea reproduction process and their biology,” Dryden says. “Educating on the process is essential so owners understand why following directions and constant prevention is necessary. Otherwise, we’ve seen what happens in homes when only one pet in a multiple-pet household is treated or owners think it’s OK to stop using the treatment once fleas are gone.”

Education Needed

Experts say lack of education might be an issue because while the products’ directions are explained in detail on the packaging, the veterinarian-client relationship still plays an essential role in any success.

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“We firmly believe that the veterinary-client-patient relationship is essential for proper client education and product stewardship,” says Jason Drake, DVM, director of professional services  at Novartis Animal Health US Inc. in Greensboro, N.C.

“Client education regarding safety, efficacy and compliance is key for ongoing flea control success.”

Some flea control products previously available only through veterinary outlets were sold in stores in 2010. Other companies chose to stick to veterinary sales only. Regardless of where the flea control is purchased, manufacturers agree that they rely on veterinarians to convey the importance of compliance to owners.

“The full impact of the shifting sales channels has yet to be seen,” Dr. Drake says. “We continue to market our products strictly through veterinarians, and we strongly believe this is the best way to ensure flea control.”

Rick Goulart, director of public relations at Pfizer Animal Health in New York City, says the company still sells Revolution for dogs and cats strictly through veterinarians. The product requires a prescription because heartworm prevention is one of the product’s attributes.

“We put our confidence with veterinarians to educate the owners,” Goulart says. “We feel this is the best route, and our compliance and success reports have confirmed that.”

Boost Compliance

Experts say that when any of the top flea and tick products are used correctly, the issue of topical treatments versus oral is simply a preference.

“Some consumers prefer one dosage form or another, so it’s good that both options are available,” Drake says. “What is key, however, is that owners use an appropriate and comprehensive approach to insect control. We believe this is the context of an integrated flea control program that includes the use of an insect growth regulator and adulticide treatments as needed.”

Most manufacturers supply primary care practitioners with product information to hand out to clients when recommending a flea or flea and tick product. Despite the hard copy, first-hand veterinary recommendations and calendar reminders, pet owners still forget to dose every month. Merial Ltd. of Duluth, Ga., offers consumers a free reminder service, consisting of a monthly e-mail sent when subscribers’ pets are due their  next dose of product.

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Merial invests in research and development to meet the needs of veterinarians and pet owners, spokeswoman Natasha J. Mahanes says.

“In 2009, Merial funded a field study conducted by Dr. Dryden, and it was recently published. The report helps illustrate the complexities of flea control and how perceptions of effectiveness do not always match reality. It further underscored the need for an in-depth diagnosis of each flea infestation case in order to appropriately prescribe the best solution in eliminating the problem.”

Mahanes says that veterinarians have an important role as counselors to their clients on flea control.

“It’s clear from Dryden’s study that diagnosing issues associated with flea control can be challenging for veterinarians and clinic staff,” Mahanes says. “Dryden provides some prerequisites to better diagnose flea cases, such as understanding flea biology, knowing the most common sources of the fleas, where infestations develop and how products work.

“While products are very effective in treating and preventing flea infestations, understanding these other factors is important to the success of eliminating an infestation and preventing new ones from occurring.”


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