How to Address Pet Owners' Flea and Tick Control Needs

Fleas and ticks. Just the thought of them can make people start itching, so it’s no wonder that pet owners take quick action when they see their dog and/or cat incessantly scratching as these vectors suck their blood.

While the mere nuisance of fleas and ticks is enough for pet owners to want to drive them out of their household, there’s a bigger issue at hand: disease. Some of these diseases are zoonotic, meaning that the disease can transmit from animals to humans, according to officials from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Examples include Lyme disease, plague, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and bartonellosis.

And the dangers posed by these pests appear to be increasing.

"The demand for flea and tick products has exploded," said Julie Creed, vice president of sales and marketing at Pure and Natural Pet in Norwalk, Conn. "This is due to a variety of factors: global warming causing the period of infestation to be longer, urban sprawl, the rise of the deer population and invasive plants. They all contribute to this growing problem."

The problem is year-round, according to officials from the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC), an independent council of veterinarians and other animal health care professionals.

"Parasites can infect your pet any time of year," said CAPC officials in their "Pets, Parasites and People" online brochure. "External parasites, such as fleas and ticks, may be less prevalent outside during certain times of the year; however, they often survive in the house during the winter months, creating an uninterrupted life cycle. … That’s why it’s important to consult with your veterinarian to implement a year-round parasite control program."

CAPC recommends that pet owners administer year-round broad-spectrum parasite control with efficacy against fleas, ticks, heartworm and intestinal parasites.

It’s important for pet owners to remember that parasite protection is not one-size-fits-all, according to officials from the AVMA, as outlined in its "Safe Use of Flea and Tick Preventive Products."

"Certain factors affect the type and dose of the product that can be used, including the age, species, breed, lifestyle and health status of your pet, as well as any medications your pet is receiving," AVMA officials said.

Creed pointed out the importance of distinguishing between products formulated for dogs and products formulated for cats.

"While the culprit is the same, there are many flea and tick treatments specifically designed for cats or dogs," Creed said. "Because their physical makeup is completely different and they react to ingredients differently, these products can affect them differently. Products that are safe for dogs can be harmful to cats."

This goes for natural products as well.

"Always read the labels," Creed said. "The flea and tick products we manufacturer are natural and developed for canines, and listed on the product name and labeling. We recommend our products for dogs 12 weeks and older."

While flea and tick control products have long been purchased through veterinary clinics, pet retailers are amping up their own selections to appeal to pet owners and stocking everything from spot-ons, chews and collars to shampoos, powders, sprays and products designed to treat the home and yard. The advantages of buying these items from pet stores are that retailers generally have more options, have longer hours and don’t require an appointment, Creed said.

Some pet owners utilize both their local veterinary clinic and pet stores for flea and tick control, said Mark Vitt, co-owner of Mutts & Co., which has stores in Ohio.

"We see many consumers looking for multiple options," Vitt said. "Some use a 30-day treatment from their vet but will layer on a daily treatment like an essential oil spray for extra protection."

And pet owners are increasingly seeking natural pest control options, Vitt noted. As such, manufacturers are creating products that fit this need.

"Our customers were asking for a natural flea and tick shampoo," Creed said. "We created it, and it is now a top selling SKU for our brand."

And Pure and Natural Pet recently came out with flushable Flea & Tick Canine Wipes, designed for wiping down the hot zones—around the tail, between the toes, under the legs, in and around the ears, and under the collar.

"[The wipes] are DEET free and have no harsh chemicals," Creed said. "They serve as an added layer of protection and are made with skin-soothing oils so they won’t dry your dog’s skin. This product is a perfect complement to our top-selling Flea & Tick Natural Canine Shampoo."

The company’s flea and tick products are all natural, USA made and cruelty free, Creed said. The shampoo, spray and wipes all have peppermint oil, rosemary oil and cinnamon oil as natural repellents that kill fleas and ticks, she added.

Jana McDaniel, founder of First Saturday Lime in Okarche, Okla., created a natural pest control product because she wanted a pesticide that was safe enough to use around her kids and pets. The result was First Saturday Lime.

"What we ended up with was so much more," McDaniel said. "Our patented hydrated lime formula has resulted in a noncaustic version of lime, which repels pests like fleas, ticks and mites but also ants, lice, aphids, small hive beetles and anything with an exoskeleton. It does this by working as a desiccant, which means it kills unwanted pests, but destroys their eggs and larvae, so you, your family and your animals can enjoy your home and yard with peace of mind."


Determining Product Placement

While industry insiders agree that pet retailers should choose the placement of their flea and tick control products wisely, they have varying suggestions on where exactly that might be.

"Flea and tick [control products] fit well with other skin treatments, such as fish oils, when pet parents are trying to address several skin and coat conditions at once," said Mark Vitt, co-owner of Mutts & Co., which has stores in Ohio.

Julie Creed, vice president of sales and marketing of Norwalk, Conn.-based Pure and Natural Pet, suggested endcaps, point-of-purchase displays and outposts in high-traffic areas. Signage is important too, she said.

"Further, promote on your website banners, social media, newsletter or blog and checkstand fliers," Creed said. "Lastly, make sure your sales associates are consistently asking customers, ‘Are you ready for flea and tick season? Can I show you options for your pet’s wellness?’"