Skip to the content

Kansas State University

  1. K-State home >
  2. College of Veterinary Medicine >
  3. News and Events >
  4. K-State Veterinarians Advise

Keep Pets Parasite-Free, K-State Veterinarians Advise


Manhattan -- Pet owners get a lot out of the human-animal connection. Sometimes they get more than they bargained for.  When pets become infested with fleas, ticks or worms, owners can get infested, too.

Besides causing dogs to itch, scratch, and irritate their skin, ticks can transmit Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other diseases.   Fleas can transmit tapeworms.

Good news, though. Kansas State University veterinarians say modern pest control products are a great improvement over those available in the past.  When used properly, pet and owner can be pest-free with relative ease.

"The recent development of insecticides and insect growth regulators with convenient dosage forms (spot-on, collar, pill, oral suspension, and injectables) and prolonged residual activity, have improved dramatically pet owner compliance and have helped to eliminate recurrent infestations," said Dr. Michael W. Dryden, professor of parasitology.  "Most insecticides do an excellent job of eliminating existing fleas from the host during the initial application," Dryden said.  He has conducted extensive research on fleas and flea control.

"The problem is that reinfestation is a common occurrence. Historically, flea control was achieved through repeated application of on-animal products and application of insecticides and insect growth regulators into the premises.   These programs were designed to eliminate existing populations on the host and reduce populations of developing and emerging adult fleas in the surrounding environment.

"The difficulty with this approach was getting pet owners to consistently following treatment protocols," Dryden said.  "Because pet owner compliance was problematic, pets repeatedly acquired new fleas from the premises and infestations became a recurring if not a continuous problem."

At K-State's Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, community practice veterinarians recommend Frontline Plus, Advantage or Revolution in combination with daily examinations for fleas.  These products are available for both dogs and cats. Look carefully at your pet's skin and hair coat for tiny black pepper-like specks.   These are flea droppings, often referred to as "flea dirt."

"Regarding ticks, Frontline Plus or Advantage along with regular checks for ticks are an effective control where dogs and cats aren't exposed to a lot of ticks," said Dr. William Fortney, assistant professor of clinical sciences. "For dogs exposed to heavy tick populations we recommend a product such as Kiltix, Preventic collar, Defend-Ex-Spot or BioSpot, added to the Frontline, Advantage, or Revolution, along with daily examinations and tick removal.

"Unfortunately the perfect flea and tick control product has not yet been invented," Fortney said.  "But there are a number of excellent flea and/or tick control options available that allow us to customize the product selection to the specific needs of the owner and their pet."

Dryden said, "Flea infestations can be eliminated using topical and systemic approaches because fleas are either killed prior to initiating reproduction or reproduction is directly inhibited.  I believe that a product or combination of products that provide both adulticidal activity and insect growth regulating activity would greatly benefit flea control efforts and may delay the on-set of resistance."

A good way to reduce flea populations in the home is simply by vacuuming. One pass with a vacuum can remove 50 percent of the flea eggs there.   Sprinkle some flea powder on the carpet before vacuuming and sweep that up.   The flea powder will kill any fleas that hatch from eggs you have vacuumed.

If you spot a tick on yourself or your pet, remove the tick by grasping the mouth parts with tweezers and pulling the tick straight away from the body.   Be sure to check yourself for ticks if you have been in the same habitat as your pet.

Humans can get worms if they are exposed to worm eggs, said Dr. Kathy Gaughan, assistant professor of clinical sciences.  To prevent heartworms and endoparasites -- hookworms and round worms -- the K-State veterinarians suggest Heartguard Plus or Interceptor for dogs, and Revolution for cats.

"With roundworms, people can be infected by accidental ingestion of the eggs.  Prevention includes washing hands before eating and wearing gloves when working in the garden. Covering sandboxes to avoid contamination is also recommended," she said.

"Immature hookworm larvae can penetrate the skin or enter through existing wounds on the skin.  Prevention includes wearing shoes when working or playing outdoors as well as practicing good hygiene," Gaughan added.

"Pet owners should check with their veterinarian to determine what parasite their pet has, because internal parasites are not all treated with the same medication," said Dr. Natalie Isaza, assistant professor of clinical sciences.   "Over the counter dewormers may not be effective for the particular parasite the pet has, so evaluation by a veterinarian of a fecal sample is the best course of action."

Flea control must be pursued vigorously on all pets, and in the interior of the home and in the yard, the veterinarians said.

Prepared by Cheryl May.