Tips for having flea free pets
By: Janet Beagley, DVM
Fleas are a common problem for our furry friends. You may have an itchy, miserable pet that has scratched all the hair of its rear end, little rice grain segments found in your pet’s poop (these may be tapeworms, which often result from your pet ingesting fleas), or simply little brown specs noted in your pet’s fur. Fleas are treatable and preventable, but they still present many challenges. These challenges vary depending on your pet’s environment, how many animals live in your house, and whether wildlife or stay animals have access to your yard. I have often heard some of the old-time vets talk about the rough days before good, effective flea control (Back then they also had to walk to work in waist-deep snow, uphill both ways). It’s true that there are many goods products out there that not only kill fleas, but also sterilize eggs and prevent them from hatching or developing, thus effectively eliminating viable eggs and larvae in the environment. These products also have residual activity, so they will continue killing fleas and sterilizing eggs for up to a month. The other amazing thing is these products tend to be relatively safe for your pet, since they act on insect-specific tissues and enzymes and have little or no effect on mammal tissues. So why then, with all these great products, are we still seeing so many pets with fleas? One problem is that many times we wait too long to start flea prevention, and then we don’t treat long enough. If you see fleas on your dog, it is unlikely that they hopped on from another dog at the park. The fleas you see on your dog today came from pupae, which came from larvae, which emerged from eggs laid by female fleas 3 to 8 weeks ago. If there are fleas on your dog, there are eggs, larvae, and pupae in the environment, which will continue to develop to adults that hop onto your pets. Thus, a single dose of flea prevention is not going to solve the problem. Even if there is no possible source of new fleas entering the environment (unlikely, since clearly they got there in the first place!), all pets should be treated for minimum of 3 months.
Remember, female fleas begin laying eggs within 24 hours of hopping onto your pet. Each female flea produces 40 to 50 eggs a day. So, just missing a single dose of flea preventative can quickly result in thousands of eggs developing in the environment. It is also very important to treat all dogs and cats in the household. Otherwise, fleas will still be able to supply the environment with fertile eggs. If wildlife or stray animals share your yard with your dog or cat, then you may never be able to completely eliminate the reservoir of fleas. In this case, consistent year-round monthly flea prevention for all your pets will be especially crucial.
Proper administration is also very important.. Topical flea preventatives need to be placed on the skin, not on the hair, and in an area that the dog cannot reach (between the should blades in generally recommended). While products vary in their recommendations, it is generally best to avoid bathing 2 days before and after application. Also, make sure you are using the correct, entire dose of the product. If you are using an oral flea preventative, make sure that your pet is not spitting out the pill after you give it. Choosing which flea product to use can be overwhelming, and it is important to pick the right product for your pet. Certain products are species and dose-dependent, and can cause harm if used incorrectly. Others may simply be ineffective in a given situation. Please let us know if you would like help in formulating a plan to get rid of these pesky parasites. With patience and persistence, you and your pets can spend less time itching and scratching and more time enjoying this beautiful summer weather!