Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Pets & Pests: Comb through your options for the best critter control

Many of us know the horror of petting our dogs and cats only to come across tiny, blood-sucking critters on their fur or attached to their skin.

Just the other day, my cat was batting around a gray, oblong object that was the size of a dime. My 5-year-old daughter asked my wife and me what it was. Upon inspection, I announced, in dismay, “It’s a bloated tick!” If emojis were appropriate here, I would insert three green little faces.

Our cavalier, Darcy, had been wearing a Seresto collar, which has consistently kept the fleas and ticks away for a few years. We have tried a few chemical-free products on her, but Darcy has a severe reaction to fleabites, so we wanted something stronger. Darcy had no issues with the collars, but, after reading the recent warnings and reports of injury and death to some pets that wore them, we took it off a couple days ago.

This tick seemed to be dead, so I assume the poison that remained on Darcy’s coat after we removed the collar was enough to kill it. However, it ate very well before its demise, and there is still a possibility that it transmitted a bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi) that causes Lyme disease. Now, we headed to her veterinarian for a Lyme disease screening. I have seen the effects of untreated, tick-borne illness, and it is heartbreaking. Lyme disease can cause fever, joint swelling and pain, lameness, loss of appetite, lethargy and damage to the kidneys.

There are a ton of flea and tick preventatives available in many forms today. Oral and topical medications, collars, shampoos, sprays, powders and oils have saturated the market. A century ago, people were dousing their homes with kerosene and rubbing crushed mothballs into animals’ fur. Since then, the effort to prevent and kill pests has become easier for pet owners. It’s a dream come true, in a sense, but sometimes at the expense of our pets’ health and the environment.

The FDA regulates and reports on the chemicals used in flea and tick products. At, you can find, and I encourage you to do so, information on the ingredients used in these products, in addition to the risks they carry for harming pets, humans and the planet. Just because the FDA approves a medication does not mean it is entirely safe for all pets. On the flip side, not all products touted as “natural, organic or plant-based” are safe for all pets either. Be sure to read labeling and reviews of the products, and talk to your veterinarian before choosing the one that is right for your pets.

After reading reviews and labels and talking to the vet, you should choose the best, safest and most effective remedy. The size, breed, health and lifestyle of your pet will help you determine your needs.

Does your pet stay indoors? If so, you may not need much, if anything at all. What type of coat do they have? A long coat provides plenty of places for bugs to hide and breed. A short coat is easier to manage and comb through with a flea comb. (Flea combs are one of my favorite tools, as they can remove fleas and unattached ticks with great efficacy.) Also, consider where you live and travel with your pets, their contact with other animals, and if they interact with young children. I mention the latter because the chemicals used on pets are toxic if ingested, and children should not touch them.

The best piece of advice I can impart is to repel the biting pests before there is a problem. I have been using a few different products with neem, citronella, rosemary, peppermint or lemongrass oils for two decades without any adverse reactions for my pets or my family. They can also be used in conjunction with pharmaceuticals, unless the labels state otherwise.

Pest control is not a one-size-fits-all program. There is a delicate balance between keeping pets safe from too many chemicals and avoiding the deadly diseases spread by fleas, ticks and mosquitoes. Assess the health of your pet before using any product. Even though reactions to drugs can happen to any pet, the ones with health issues are more likely to have an adverse reaction. Never use a drug on your animal that isn’t prescribed for them, and always purchase from a veterinary practice or registered dealer. Finding the right pest control regimen can be difficult to navigate, but acquiring more information from reputable sources will always be to your benefit.

You are your pet’s best advocate.

Kristen Zellner is owner of Abrams & Weakley General Store for Animals, 3963 N. 6th St., Harrisburg. For more information, call 717-232-3963 or visit


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