Flea Season Is Upon Us–Time to Protect your pets!
The sunny, warm weather here in Florida is no doubt something we all enjoy, including fleas! Fleas thrive in warm, humid environments with temperatures around 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Dogs play host to the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis), whose dark brown or black body is usually one to three millimeters in length.
There are many possible complications from fleas other than just itching. Similarly to vampires, they love to suck blood and can consume up to15 times their own body weight in it! The result can lead to significant blood loss, or anemia, in your pet. When an animal has a heightened sensitivity to the saliva of fleas, they can develop an allergic reaction that shows up as red spots on the skin and loss of hair, especially around the base of the tail and on the back. This condition is known as flea allergy dermatitis and if not treated can lead to infection. Fleas can also lead to tapeworms since tapeworm larvae are often present inside fleas and when chewing their flea bites, animals often consume these infected fleas that then allow the tapeworm to develop in the animal’s digestive tract.
If a flea infestation is already in place, then it requires much more than just treating your pet. Attempting to control fleas is a multi-step process. Adult fleas spend most of their time on an animal, but the flea eggs, larvae and pupae are found in abundance in the environment (such as in carpeting, rugs, bedding, or your yard). Your pet only harbors 5% of the flea population; the other 95% is the hundreds to thousands of eggs and larvae in your environment. Therefore, a truly effective flea control program always includes treating the indoor and outdoor environments, the immature and mature flea stages, as well as treating ALL of your pets including the stray animals that you may also feed.
Indoor flea control starts with vacuuming thoroughly, especially below drapes, under furniture edges and cushions, and where your pet sleeps. It is estimated that vacuuming can remove up to 50% of flea eggs. Each time, seal your vacuum bag in a plastic bag and discard it immediately. Then, use a product that contains both an adulticide (to kill adult fleas) and an insect growth regulator (to kill immature flea stages). These products can be found in the form of carpet powders, foggers, or sprays. Also, be sure to wash your pet’s bedding weekly and do not forget to also clean and treat your automobile, pet carrier, garage or any other place your pet spends much time.
Flea control in the outdoor environment generally involves eliminating the habitat where fleas are most likely to occur, which tend be where it is moist, warm, shady, and where pets spend the majority of their time. Therefore, be sure to concentrate on areas such as patios, under porches, dog houses, etc. Rake away any organic debris such as leaves, straw, and grass clippings to disturb the flea habitat. Also, wild animals such as opossums, raccoons, feral cats and other small rodents can carry fleas. Try to discourage these animals from entering your yard especially by not feeding them.
Now that we’ve taken care of the fleas in your home and in your yard, it’s time to eliminate the fleas that are on your pet. There are a number of flea control products for use on pets, including once-a-month topical products, sprays, dips, shampoos, collars, powders, and oral products. Oral medications and spot-on products are manufactured by the most reputable and responsible companies, and I find that these products are most successful in treating for fleas. With any product applied directly to the pet, remember that you may see some live fleas on your pet for a short time and, in order for the fleas to die, they must come into contact with the insecticide and absorb it. It is essential to keep following an effective flea control program for a long enough time to get rid of all of the fleas, in all life stages. This may take up to 6 months or more depending on your particular situation.
Prevention is no doubt the best flea control. Of course every product on the market has potential to harm and some are very toxic, especially to cats. Be sure to always discuss preventative products over with a veterinarian to ensure the right product is chosen for your pet’s health status and your current flea situation.
Cori Murphy Dayton, DVM
Lake Wales Veterinary Hospital