How To Make Topical Medicines Last

Let’s face it. There is nothing worse than spending a bunch of money on flea and tick prevention medicines, being on a strict schedule of when you apply them, and then still finding the little critters on your pets or in your house. It just makes you want to give up and skip the prevention medicines all together. Don’t quit yet! We have some tips for you to help make those topical prevention medicines work their best!

Find out our tips for topical medicine - learn how to put flea prevention medicines on the right way, the right time, and make sure they last the full month.

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How Do Topical Medicines Work?

It is important to understand the basics of how a topical medicine works. All the medicines work a little differently. But the one way they are all the same is that the fleas and ticks actually have to get on your pet for the medicines to work. Yes, that sounds a little counter-intuitive. But here’s the trick… once the fleas or ticks are on your pet, the medicine either kills them, or makes them not want to stay on your pet. Most medicines also make the fleas unable to reproduce, so they won’t be laying eggs all over your house. So just because you see a flea or tick on your pet a few days after you put on the topical medicine, that doesn’t mean that the medicine is not working!

Apply the Medicine Correctly

Now that we know how the medicines work, it’s time to talk about how and when to put the medicine on. We have a great video showing you step-by-step directions how to apply a topical medicine to your pet.

Now that you’ve got the how down, it’s time to talk about the when. Every pack of prevention medicine comes with stickers to put on your calendar to remind you when to give the next dose. If you don’t use a paper calendar anymore, program these reminders into your electronic calendar instead. Then make sure that you actually give the medicine!

Most people give their pets prevention medicines on the first day of the month. In general, this is a perfect way to go. It’s a set date, every month, and it’s easy to remember. But that means that some months you’ll be giving the next dose after 30 days, and some months you’ll be giving the next dose after 31 days. (One time, you’ll even be giving the next dose after only 28 days!) If you don’t have a flea infestation, this usually isn’t a very big deal.

If you have a flea infestation in your house, or if your dog or cat has a flea allergy, you may need to be a little more vigilant about keeping to a schedule. We typically recommend giving the flea and tick prevention medicine every 30 days, which means you’re not giving it on the first day of the month. (This is where those stickers or reminders come in handy!)

No matter what your schedule, it is important to stick to it. All the prevention medicines work better if they are given regularly. If you are supposed to give the medicine on the 1st, but you don’t actually give it until the 7th, your pet has been unprotected for a week. This is plenty of time to set up a flea infestation, get a tick-borne disease, or get infected with heartworms.

In a severe flea infestation, some flea prevention medicines can be given more frequently than every 30 days. But be sure to consult your veterinarian before changing your dosing schedule. Some of these medicines can have side effects if they are given too frequently.

Medicine Maintenance

There are a few things you can do to help ensure that the topical prevention medicine lasts for the full 30 days.

  • Do not give your dog or cat a bath for at least 3 days after applying the topical medicine. (We rarely recommend baths for cats in general.) A bath too soon after applying the topical medicine will wash the medicine away.
  • When you do give your dog a bath, do not use a detergent (like any brand of dish soap) or a soap-based shampoo. Stick with soapless shampoos. We like Comfort Shampoo from Animal Pharmaceuticals. (We always have some in stock at the hospital.) The detergent and the soaps in regular shampoo can strip the medicine out of your pet’s skin. If the medicine is gone, it can’t keep the fleas and ticks away!
  • Do not let your dog go swimming for at least 3 days after applying the topical medicine. Even if there is no soap involved, too much water can wash away the medicine. Too much swimming even after 3 days have passed can change how well the medicine works. If your dog spends a lot of time in the water, consider choosing a different type of flea and tick prevention medicine.
  • Treat every pet with a flea prevention medicine. Even if the cat only goes outside to go to the bathroom, and even if the dog only comes inside when it’s really really hot outside. Any pet who is inside your house at all needs to be treated with flea prevention medicine for it to work. Remember how the medicines work? The fleas need to get on your pet for the medicine to work. If one pet is treated, but one pet is not, the untreated pet can still provide a home for the fleas! You’ll continue to have problems in your house, and it will seem like the prevention medicine you are using isn’t working. This is the most common reason for “treatment failure” that we see.

Do you use topical flea and tick prevention medicines or topical heartworm prevention medicines for your dog or cat? How often do you use them? What helps you remember to use them? Call us or come in to talk with our veterinary technicians or our veterinarians about the best medicine choice for your pet, and the right way to use it.

Check out our Fleas Resource Page and our Heartworms Resource Page for even more information about fleas and heartworms!

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