What To Do If Your Pet Has Been Infested By Fleas

What To Do If Your Pet Has Been Infested By Fleas
By Emily Hoppmann, DVM

If you notice that your pet has fleas, don’t panic – we can help advise you on how to handle a dreaded flea infestation. Once you start to notice adult fleas, it will take at least three months of all animals being treated with a veterinary flea product before you will stop seeing adult fleas. Also, it is also a good idea (especially if you just started using flea medications after you discovered a flea infestation), to treat your house and the pet’s environment with a veterinary approved product that can be safely used inside. This is because fleas can live for several months in your house and yard, and flea eggs can survive in your carpet, cushions, and drapes for years. You also want to be sure to treat the environment because people can get irritating flea bites too. Keep in mind that you do have to be patient though because ridding your home of these pests takes time and a concerted approach.

In order to get rid of housebound fleas, use veterinary approved flea products in each room and be sure to spray even in those hard-to-reach spots (which may mean moving some furniture around). You can also help clean the flea eggs out of your house by vacuuming daily, taping the vacuum bag shut, and throwing the bag away each time. If you have a vacuum with a bag system it can also help to add a flea collar to the bag (that is the only good use for a flea collar; they can be very dangerous to put on your pets). Also be sure to wash any blankets or beds in very hot water several times a week.
If your dog spends time outdoors in a kennel, be sure to wash the bedding or discard old hay or cedar chips if you use anything like that in the kennel area. You will also want to spray dog houses and kennels with a veterinary approved outdoor flea spray, and let all treated areas dry before you let your pet outside. It is also best to treat your yard as well using a veterinary approved professional concentrated yard sprays for the outdoor fight. We carry all of these types of sprays and the outdoor spray we carry attaches easily to the end of a garden hose for application. It’s especially important to spray moist and shaded areas of your yard and areas that have wood piles or pine straw since fleas (and ticks) love areas like this. Just be sure not to use any environmental treatments directly on your pet and to allow them to dry completely before allowing your pet back outside. Ridding your pet and his or her environment of these hardy pests is a tough job, but you will rest easier knowing that your dog does not have to endure the maddening itching and scratching or the secondary skin infections or diseases these parasites can cause.

Getting rid of fleas is difficult and so having a flea problem is every pet owner’s worst nightmare; especially since these blood-sucking bugs can wreak havoc on your beloved pet and home. When getting rid of fleas it is all about understanding the life cycle of a flea. One adult female flea lays up to 50 eggs a day, which hatch and reproduce exponentially in a short time. Within the next two weeks, the eggs hatch into larvae, very small caterpillar-like creatures. The immature flea can remain in this stage for several days to weeks. The larvae then spin a cocoon and enter the pupae stage. Adults usually emerge from the pupae stage, within their cozy covering, within 14 days but can survive in the cocoon for several months to years until vibration, pressure, heat, noise, or carbon dioxide jolts them from their deep sleep. Once they emerge from the cocoon, adult fleas must find warm-blooded host within a few days or they will die. Once a flea finds your pet, it will live out its life happily feeding off your four-legged friend and, in no time, these hungry parasites can become a persistent, itchy and dangerous problem.

Fleas usually are more annoying than lethal, but they can spread tapeworms to your pet and other family members. You may notice small, white worms in the environment or small dried up worms (that resemble sesame seeds) in the fur around the rectum. Pets will need to be treated with a special medication to get rid of these tapeworms. Very small or young pets can develop anemia (loss of red blood cells), a potentially life- threatening condition, because of blood loss from flea infestation. That is why it is so important to call your veterinarian immediately if you find fleas on a puppy or kitten less than 12 weeks old or if your adult pet suddenly acts lethargic.

Intermittent flea exposure increases your pet’s risk for developing an allergic reaction to the flea exposure called flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). Studies show that about 80 percent of dogs that have other allergies also will have or develop flea allergy dermatitis. The best thing to avoid this and to avoid having to deal with fleas altogether is to keep all animals on a veterinary approved flea prevention every month!

All pets are at risk for a flea infestation, but pets that spend time outdoors are particularly susceptible. This is due to the face that many adult fleas live outside and on wildlife hosts until they find a happy home on your pet. Many people do not think that indoor dogs are at risk, but this is not the case at all. This is because pets can pick up fleas when they go outside to exercise or relieve themselves and fleas can come inside as hitchhikers on pets or on people. If you suspect your pet has fleas, it’s important to act right away.

Signs of flea infestation include:
• Flea feces, or pepper-like flecks, in your pet’s coat or on his bedding (you can check if the dark colored flecks are flea feces by placing them on a white paper towel and applying water – you will notice the dark color becoming a shade or red or rust since the feces are mostly made up of blood from feeding on your pet)

• Flea eggs, or light colored specks, in your pet’s coat or on his or her bedding

• Itchy skin (scratching or biting– especially on the back, rear legs or tail area of dogs; cats can have itchy skin everywhere from fleas) or patchy hair loss, especially near the tail base or along the tail, the inside of the back legs, or neck (cats may have more issues around the neck, including hair loss and scabs)

• Lethargy (especially in severe cases due to blood loss or secondary infection or disease)

• Tiny, dark brown insects scurrying around on your pet (which can be hard to see – sometimes you will catch them on the more thinly haired belly or you can use a flea comb)