Flea Management and Prevention
Emily Hoppmann, DVM
Parasites, both internal and external, are a given when living in the South and the temperature never gets cold enough here to prevent these parasites from posing a risk to our pets. Along with all of the other allergies pets may have living in warmer climates, flea allergies are one of the top issues we see in our patients. Flea allergies often present as itching and scratching at the back half of the body in dogs (especially over the base of the tail) and small scabs around the neck in cats. It only takes one flea bite to set off this allergy, so protecting our pets from fleas and preventing them from living in our pet’s environment. When it comes to fleas, your pet is most likely to become a target if he or she comes into contact with an infested area or environment so keeping your home and yard flea-free is incredibly important. Battling the flea life cycle can be both difficult and frustrating, but it is possible. We’ll agree that managing a flea infestation is hard, and takes work, but the fight isn’t as impossible as it seems. By taking a few extra measures around your home and keeping your pet on year-round flea control, you can end your flea problem once and for all. It is important to remember that once there are fleas present in the environment, it will take a minimum of three months of all the animals in the household being on monthly flea prevention from the veterinarian to stop seeing live fleas due to the flea life-cycle, so try not to get discouraged!
You may ask why fleas like to live on our pets and how your pet can have fleas, but you don’t notice any on yourself. Fleas prefer higher body temperatures and your pet has a higher body temperature than a human, so fleas will always bite your pet before you. Your pet is the perfect food source according to the flea – all the small bites they take, where they are actually ingesting your pet’s blood, are like fuel for the flea. That is why protecting your pet is so important; if we take away the fuel, without it the fleas can’t survive very long.
All of your pets, even the indoor only pet, need to be on monthly flea prevention all year long since fleas can survive a wide range of temperatures, so even during the winter months there is no guarantee you have seen the last of fleas. Without ideal temperatures, early flea stages lay dormant, delaying the emergence of adult fleas. The dormancy period can last up to six months or longer and the fleas will quickly come out of the dormant stage if they detect a food source nearby, such as your pet, or if the temperature in the environment increases (even for a short period – less than a day). The best flea protection available on the market comes in the form of a veterinarian recommended and industry regulated flea product. We have products in stock at our clinic and on our on-line pharmacy (which you can find the link to on our website at http://www.elginvethospital.com) year-round that are easy to administer and affordable. The worry about over the counter flea products is that they are not regulated and so, not only do they not work very well, but the amount of poison present in the product to kill the fleas may be high enough to cause serious, sometimes even fatal, consequences in our pets. If you have ever given over the counter flea medication and your pet starts to have any issues, you want to immediately wash your pet with a mild shampoo (such as an Aloe and Oatmeal Shampoo specifically designed for pets) and seek immediate veterinary attention.
Many people do not realize that our homes actually make an ideal environment for fleas to flourish, which is one of the reasons it is so important to make sure all pets (even the indoor only pet) are on year-round prevention. For successful reproduction, fleas prefer protected, shady, undisturbed areas – both inside and outside of your home. Many common outdoor areas make the perfect environment for fleas to thrive—under porches and decks, underneath stairs, around dog houses, and even near bushes and heavily shaded trees (especially if pine straw is present). Once fleas hitch a ride inside your home, either on a pet or person, they are even more likely to do well, allowing them to continue to be a nuisance for your pets. Fleas will hatch from eggs to adults in many different microenvironments including: pet beds, under furniture and buried deep in carpets. This can also be an issue if you are moving into a new home that previously had pets and the house has been empty until you and your pet move in. All the dormant fleas will be able to sense the new activity and will emerge in large numbers to start to bite and feed on your pet (and sometimes the humans in the house as well).
When treating your home for fleas things can get a little tricky. There are many products out on the market that can be extremely dangerous around your family and pets. We offer several veterinary-approved, safe products to target both the inside and outside of your house, including yard sprays, carpet sprays, and premise spray for problem areas. While treating your home be sure to treat the entire house – don’t leave out rooms that your pets don’t enter because fleas are capable of going anywhere. That includes your basement (though that isn’t something most of us living in the South have to worry about), laundry room, bathrooms and even closets. Remember, the different stages of fleas could even be in your clothing or other fabric, so washing all clothing/bedding/other fabrics should be part of the treatment process. After you have applied the treatment and the spray is completely dry, the whole household should be vacuumed and swept. The contents of the vacuum should be disposed of immediately and the filter changed. Fleas are very good at hiding in the vacuum cleaner and will hatch inside of the vacuum cleaner, causing the life cycle to start all over again. If you have a vacuum that has a bag, it can be helpful to place a flea collar inside the bag. You do not want to use flea collars on your pet since, not only are they not effective, they can cause serious (even fatal) consequences. You should repeat the treatment process again three weeks after the initial treatment and be sure that all of your pets are on monthly flea prevention. Again, once you have an infestation of fleas it can take up to three months to stop seeing live fleas and keeping up with treatments and having all of your pets protected is the only way to rid yourself of this issue.
No one likes to have to deal with a flea outbreak and once you have dealt with the issue at hand, you want to be sure to prevent future outbreaks. Being proactive around the home is the only way to help reduce those microenvironments that fleas love and thrive in. These are a few easy things to adjust around the house that help keep the fleas at bay:
1. Eliminate weeds, pine straw, and brush piles—these microenvironments are prime real-estate for flea infestation.
2. Keep rodents away from your home. (However, always use extreme caution when using rodent killer because many rodent killers and traps are very toxic and harmful to pets. Read labels closely and/or consult with professional services to eliminate pests.)
3. Routinely treat your yard with the yard spray and the particular problem areas with the premise spray (such as under your deck, your dog house or pen, or any other dark/shaded areas where your pet likes to hang out).
4. Routinely cut your grass.
5. Vacuum and sweep regularly.
6. Wash bedding, both yours and your pets, routinely to ensure that fleas don’t have a fighting chance to lay dormant.
7. Keep baseboards and other hidden areas swept clean or clear of debris. Fleas love hiding in dust bunnies.