BETH THOMPSON, VMD
Fleas are one of the most troublesome problems that can afflict pets and the people who own them. However, they are also one of the easiest to prevent if you just take a few simple precautions.
Anywhere animals come into contact with each other — boarding facilities, doggie daycare, the local park, on a hike, in your backyard — fleas can be found, says Stacy Stacy, DVM, who practices at The Village Vets, an AAHA-accredited clinic in Decatur, Ga. “They hop on dogs and cats and come indoors,” she says, and in the house, they can quickly infest the carpet and furniture.
Scratching; scabs; and dark, pepper-like specs called “flea dirt” on your pet’s skin can all be signs that your pet is playing host.
To determine whether your pet has flea dirt, put some of the dark specs on a white sheet of paper or paper toweling. Then, add a couple of drops of water. Flea dirt is flea fecal matter — dried blood — and will cause the water to turn a dark red color.
Because the life cycle of a flea is three to four weeks, it takes at least that long to eliminate an infestation, and the multifaceted and variable life cycle can make getting rid of these insects tricky. Often, several products — dips, shampoos, powders, sprays, or topical applications — need to be used at the same time to kill fleas in all stages of development.
You will also have to eliminate them from your home and yard. Sunlight kills fleas, and they often hide in shrubbery, so when using an outdoor insecticide, target shady areas with dense foliage.
Are any pets safe from fleas? “It is harder for an indoor [pet] to get [fleas],” Stacy says. And there are fewer fleas in high altitudes and particularly dry climates. Fleas also favor warm weather, so Stacy says preventives are not necessary in places that have cold seasons.
Having more than one cat can significantly increase the risk of fleas.
Almost half of pet owners surveyed did not know their pets had fleas.
Source: The Veterinary Record 160(15):503-6, 2007 April 14. <<<Use a smaller font for source information.
Humans can get fleas too. “If enough fleas pile on a dog, they can jump off on you too,” Stacy says. They have three sets of legs perfect for leaping, and just like pets, “If a person ingests them it is possible to get tapeworms,” she says.
It is an unlikely scenario, but recent studies have prompted experts to remind pet owners to wash their hands after playing with or touching their animals.
Cleanliness is crucial in the battle against parasites, experts say. Washing an animal’s bedding and toys weekly and vacuuming frequently will help win the war against these teeny-weeny, troublesome bugs.
With spring around the corner, now is a good time to talk to your veterinarian about flea control products for your pets. The chemicals used are very powerful and have the potential to be toxic, so even if you purchase a preventive at a pet-supply store, make an appointment with your veterinarian so that you will know exactly how to use it and what the safety concerns are.
Never use a flea product on your cat that isn’t specifically labeled for use on cats. Some products that are safe and effective for dogs are toxic to cats. Just a few drops can cause seizures, permanent neurological damage, and death when used on cats. In fact, if you apply a topical flea control product to your dog, do not let your dog and cat interact until the product has dried completely.
Before using a product on your cat or in your home, read all of the information, and follow label instructions.
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter April 16 - Volume 4 Issue 2, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2009 AAHA. Find out more.