I remember my dad applying flea powder to our dogs when I was a kid. It was a rather messy operation that involved him dousing, for example, our German Shepherd in white, rubbing it into his coat, down to the skin. A big white patch on the lawn where the excess remained let us know Prince had been treated. Afterward, my dad would scrub his hands – twice, very thoroughly. And Prince wasn’t allowed in the house until the next day so that residue wouldn’t end up in our carpeting or on the furniture.

I’m pretty sure this was only a summer ritual, and I was too young to know whether it was effective. By the time I was in high school, we had five dogs and a lot of other animals. We kids were in charge of feeding, watering and grooming. I assume my dad continued that powder ritual all through the 1970s and ‘80s.

When I first left home, I took the flea-collar route with my own Irish Setter. Then my husband and I lived in the California desert for many years. Fleas and ticks were few and far between there. If you had a swimming pool, you might have ticks. Perhaps people who lived in areas where the desert looks like suburban America had flea problems. But in the “real” desert – that of sand and creosote and cactus – our dogs required no flea or tick preventives at all. For 18 heavenly years.

Then we moved to Orange County, suburbia rivaled by none. It has a flea population like pretty much everywhere else, except maybe Florida. As the editor of a dog magazine, I edited numerous articles about flea prevention, flea conditions, tick diseases and the amazing invention of the 1990s – topical spot-ons.
I realize I’m risking comments about the dangers of the pesticides that make theseproducts work. Trust me, I’m well aware of the side effects some dogs have experienced and that some dog owners refuse to use spot-ons. And that’s fine, of course.

But I, for one, am happy that this method of parasite prevention exists. It’s easy to apply, does the job as advertised and has kept my dogs flea-free since 2000. (We did have an infestation when we got our current dog, but that happened because we didn’t use a spot-on with Max as soon as we got him home.)

I can’t imagine going back to any other method.

Flea powders and collars and shampoos certainly have their place. As I wrote in the referenced previous “My Favorite Things,” that trio overpowered our infestation in just one week. And I know there are many, many pet dog owners who can’t afford the cost of the big-name spot-ons or just don’t think they’re worth the cost.

But my money’s on Frontline and Advantage.

My husband and I have a monthly ritual that keeps Max – and our two big cats – protected.

He snatches one of the cats (they don’t like to be held) and perches on the couch. I sit on the floor, clip the cat’s nails, remove its collar, then open a tube of cat flea preventive – dog flea medication can be fatal to cats – and empty it on the skin on the back of the neck, right where the collar would be. Lather, rinse and repeat, so to speak, on the other cat.

Max is much easier. He requires no catching as he’s more than happy to be held, petted and administered anything at any time of day or night. We slip off his collar, empty the tube, and he’s set for another 30 days. I make a note of the date on the calendar, and we’re done.

We don’t have to worry that Max’s scratching is due to a flea, so flea dermatitis is off the menu. No tick is going to attach itself; that takes care of Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and babesiosis. That’s a lot of stress reduction in a single tube.

And that’s why spot-ons are on my list of favorite things.