Controlling Fleas, Ticks, and Heartworm

Success lies in understanding the life cycle of parasites, and how active ingredients work.

By | Posted: Tue Feb 1 00:00:00 PST 2005

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Dealing with fleas and ticks is a must for every dog owner, and is particularly important for those with performance dogs. Active dogs are the ones most likely to come into contact with fleas and ticks because of their proximity to other canines and the great outdoors, where fleas and ticks lie in wait. Shows, trials and other competitions also draw dogs from many different areas, thus expanding your dog's range of exposure. 

Topical Monthlies
Among the most innovative methods of flea control is the topical monthly product. These products, which are applied to the dog's skin at monthly intervals, revolutionized the flea and tick control industries when they hit the market in the mid-1980s.

In general, topical monthlies work by tampering with the flea and tick nervous system while not adversely affecting the dog. The products come in liquid form and are placed on the dog's back, where they are distributed throughout the dog's skin by the sebaceous glands.

One of these active ingredients is a chemical called fipronil, which attacks the flea's nervous system. "Fipronil works by affecting the GABA receptor in the flea and tick, causing hyperactivity and death," says Zach Mills, DVM, executive director of Veterinarian Services for Merial in Duluth, Ga. "When used in conjunction with S-methoprene, an insect growth regulator, fipronil kills the larvae stage of the flea and the eggs, as well as the adult flea. Such integrated pest control prevents resistance from developing."

Another ingredient that has a similar effect only on fleas is imidacloprid. "Imidacloprid works on the nervous system of the flea, at a specific receptor site," says Lynn Allen, DVM, director of Bayer Veterinary Services at Bayer Animal Health in Shawnee Mission, Kan. "The flea doesn't have to bite the pet to get the compound in between the intersegmental membranes on its body. Once the chemical gets to these membranes, the flea's nervous system is affected."

Also affecting the normal function of both the flea and the tick is phenothrin. "Phenothrin is a synthetic pyrethroid and interferes with the nervous system," says Jill Richardson, DVM, associate director of consumer relations and technical service for The Hartz Mountain Corp., in Secaucus, N.J. "The ingredient is insect-specific."

While most topical products applied monthly are distributed throughout the skin without entering the bloodstream, the active ingredient selamectin is absorbed systemically to control ticks and fleas.

"Selamectin is absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream and recycled out through the skin from the sebaceous glands," says Malcolm Kram, DVM, companion animal veterinarian for Pfizer Animal Health in New York, N.Y. "In this way, it takes care of fleas while also providing heartworm protection. The chemical impacts the flea's nervous system by affecting the glutamate-gated chloride channels, which are unique to insects but are not present in mammals. By impacting the chloride channels, you disrupt the nervous system, causing the fleas to convulse and die. It also gets into the eggs and kills them as well."

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