NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Gone are the days when pet owners had only two choices to protect their four-legged family from fleas, ticks and other parasites.

There are literally hundreds of flea and tick preventatives on the market today, but which ones are more cost effective and what really works?

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The first thing that pet parents should know is that flea and tick prevention should not be something that is optional.

Illnesses caused by parasites are a growing problem for pets and human beings, according to veterinarians.

"Tick disease, especially, is a huge problem right now and is evolving," says Danel Grimmitt, a vet and owner of Sunset Veterinary Clinic in Edmond, Okla.

Some of the diseases that ticks can give your pet and also human beings is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichia, Lyme Disease and a new concerning disease called the Heartland Virus. Heartworm, a disease spread to dogs by mosquitoes, is also a major concern to animal owners.

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Fleas don't carry as many diseases, but anyone who has had an infestation in his home from a dog or cat knows they are a nuisance and can also be deadly to kittens and puppies.

"Animals can become anemic from fleas," says Linda Randall, a vet and owner of Clover Leaf Animal Hospital in Westfield Center, Ohio. "If you see a flea, there are typically thousands."

What Works And What Doesn't?

Although shampoos, sprays, dips and old-fashioned flea collars might be a tempting purchase since they are typically the least expensive, they really don't do a lot to protect your pet or human family.

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"As a veterinarian, there are very few flea and tick shampoos I would recommend," says Noel Lucas, owner of Blue Oasis Pet Hospital in Mt. Jewellett, Tenn.

The problem with these products, Lucas says, is that they only kill what is on the pet at the time and will not provide residual protection. Although inexpensive collars you can purchase in Big Box stores will, they only provide protection if the tick or flea moves from the head to the body or visa versa. These products are also only safe for animals over 12 weeks of age.

Lucas also warns pet owners to be wary of the less expensive over the counter topical treatments sold in discount stores as well, which contain permethrin that filters through the pet's organs.

"The topical products sold at your vet generally are researched and regulated through the FDA," Lucas says. "The products that contain permethrin are regulated through the EPA."

Lucas also warns that topical products meant for dogs can be highly toxic to cats and warns never to use a product marked for one species only on another.

Here are some of the products you can get from your vet or online discount retailer that have been proven to largely prevent parasites:

Topical Treatments: Frontline Advantage and Advantix are two of the most popular products in preventing fleas and ticks on your pets. These products are applied to the skin once every 30 days, and unlike the old topical treatments, they do not filter through a pet's organs. You can find prices ranging from $19 and up for a one-month supply to $30 for a three-month supply, depending on the size of your pet.

Oral Treatments: There have long been heartworm preventative to help prevent heartworms from forming in dogs bitten by infected mosquitoes. While it might be tempting to overlook these preventatives, animal experts advise against it. According to PetMD, the average cost of heartworm preventative can run from $35 to $80, while treatment for heartworms (not including the damage done to the animal's heart) can run between $300 and$1,000. There are also new oral products on the market for flea prevention, such as Comfortis. The oral products, including the new combined flea and tick oral pill to be released this year, does filter through your pet's organs, so special care should be given for older animals and animals with kidney problems. These products can range from $15 a dose to $73 for a six-month supply, depending on the size of your pet.

Seresto Flea Collar: Unlike the inexpensive flea collars you may have put on Fido as a kid, these are not sticky, powdery or stinky and according to our veterinary experts, are more effective. This can be a good alternative for pet owners who have problems with topical treatments and who don't want to give pills to their pets. One word of caution with these is that collars shouldn't be used in households where small children may get ahold of them and chew on them. The Seresto collars run over $40 and last for eight months.

There are always things you can do to help prevent flea and tick infestations, says Randall, who offers these tips on keeping them away from your house:

  • Keep kids and pets away from tall grass, pastures, woodlands and bushy areas where ticks like to hide waiting for a host. If you're going camping, talk to your doctor or pediatrician about safe repellants.
  • Keep kids and pets from abandoned buildings in your area where fleas may be.
  • Vacuum your carpet frequently and empty the canister or bag outside.

Of course, before starting your pet on any parasite preventative, speak with your individual veterinarian first.

--Written by Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell for MainStreet