Fleas and Ticks. These hardy little pests have been causing problems and carrying diseases almost since the beginning of time. Fleas are tough…in fact; fossilized remains of fleas that existed millions of years ago have been found. Trying to control and eliminate fleas and ticks has always been a real challenge for groomers.

“Twenty years ago, most flea and tick shampoos were far from ‘natural’ and included many ingredients that most manufacturers would not consider using today,” says Mr. Joe Zuccarello, Director of Innovation and Promotions at Tropiclean. “Many of the ingredients used to kill these pests were poisons/pesticides.  Back then, we didn’t realize the potential negative impact these poisons could have on humans, who were largely using the products without the protection of gloves, face shields, or waterproof aprons.”

But times have changed, and today’s pet care professionals have many new and safer products available. A staple in every grooming shop is flea and tick shampoo, and it is available in three main categories– natural, organic, and chemical. Mr. Tim Ryan, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Groomers Choice, explains them…

“In the natural shampoo category, the most well-known ingredient is d-limonene.  It is a citrus peel extract that attacks the insect’s nervous system.

“Organic shampoos are usually oil based, with some of the most popular ones being neem, cedar oil, melaluca, peppermint oil, and clove oil.  These shampoos may not be quite as effective at killing; they are generally more of a preventative or repellent,” says Mr. Ryan, and continues, “On the plus side, these organic oils have positive skin benefits for the pets.

“The third category is the pyrethrins (a chrysanthemum flower extract that can also be considered a natural product), and pyrethroids – which are made in a laboratory.”

Just how do these shampoos kill the fleas and ticks?  Because of the physical makeup of these creatures, many of the shampoos are designed to suffocate them by blocking their ability to breathe through their exoskeleton.  Others attack the insect’s central nervous system and other body functions, shutting down their ability to live.

As professionals, groomers should do their own research and familiarize themselves with the different types of flea and tick shampoos available.  It is also vital that you determine if the product is approved for use on the animal you are grooming– be it a cat, ferret, bunny, etc.  And, if you are doing puppies or kittens, make sure the shampoo can be used on young pets.  Always ask your clients if they are using a monthly topical or any other treatment for fleas or ticks, and be certain that anything you use is compatible.

“Groomers should study the ingredients in their selected products and how these ingredients will affect the pests, the pets, and the humans who are using the products,” shares Mr. Zuccarello.  “Making decisions based on a balance of safety and effectiveness is the most prudent approach.”

“It’s crucially important to look at pets on an individual basis,” says Mr. Ryan.  “Every pet has a difference in their skin sensitivity.  If you have any concern about a sensitivity, use the least harsh solution – such as an organic shampoo.”

Making shampoos that are powerful enough to kill fleas and ticks, yet do not harm skin can be a challenge.

“I have an Afghan that I show,” says Mr. Richard Biegun, owner of Quadruped Pet Care.  “I know what it’s like to groom a dog with lots and lots of hair.  That’s one reason that we formulated our natural flea and tick shampoo with Yucca.  Not only does it kill the fleas and ticks on contact, it rinses out easily.  And Yucca is a precursor to cortisone, it helps soothe and heal inflamed skin.”

“A pet’s skin is usually tolerant of infrequent use of flea and tick shampoos.  However, some may experience a drying or mild irritation after use,” says Mr. Zuccarello.  “Most manufacturers design their products with this in mind, and place additional ingredients in the product to counteract this.”

The drying effect of some flea and tick shampoos is often experienced by those who bathe many dogs in a day and don’t wear proper attire.  No matter how safe or mild a shampoo is, bathers should still wear protective clothing, eye and face shields, and gloves at all times.

When pets come into your salon or mobile unit, it is imperative that you check them for fleas and ticks, and for skin irritations – and if you find anything, show it to the pet parent or document it by taking a picture of it.  Flea bite dermatitis is a common occurrence in pets and can escalate rapidly if it is not addressed.  Pets who have pests may self mutilate their skin by chewing, biting, and scratching themselves.

If you have a pet that comes in and you feel uncomfortable with its condition, don’t do it. It’s perfectly alright to refuse the groom and to refer that pet to a veterinarian for treatment.

In addition to causing any number of skin problems, flea and tick bites can greatly impact the health of affected pets – and you!  These nasty little critters can transmit all kinds of diseases; Plague, Typhus, Cat Scratch Disease, Ehrlichiosis, and more… and they can also infect pets with tapeworms.

Flea and tick shampoos are an important weapon in the fight against these tenacious pests.  Every groomer should explore all the wonderful brands that are available today.  Go to Trade Shows, speak to the manufacturers, and become knowledgeable about the products that you use. You can also visit their websites to learn more about their products and ingredients.

Additionally, you should stock retail sizes of flea and tick shampoo (and other flea and tick control products) to meet the needs and wants of your clientele. You can be a very important part of educating pet parents about how to keep their pets, home, and outdoor areas free from these dangerous pests.  Give them brochures about flea and tick control, take the time to answer their questions, and explain the correct way to use any products you sell them.

Fleas and ticks will probably never become extinct, but if you work with and educate your clients, they may become a rarity in your salon.