Another September. Twenty-five years of treating fleas!!! Despite huge advances in safe flea prevention and treatment, this is what my appointment schedule looks like:
- 9:45 Bootsie. CHECK SKIN
- 10:15 Jetson. RASH IN GROIN
- 11:05 Camille. ITCHING RUMP
- 11:20 Maggie. HOT SPOT
- 1:00 Speck. TEARING FUR OUT
- Diagnosis: FLEAS
Pets Adviser has covered this topic beautifully in the past. I sympathize with writer Gayle Hickman, who lives in a BAD flea area (the Southeast). And when did she write about fleas out of control? Last September!
In many parts of the country, fleas have been ramping up, possibly under your radar, since the warm weather began. Now you may have a flea problem that doesn’t have an easy fix.
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Prevention/Early Detection Beats the Fleas
What excuses do I hear?
- “Where would he get fleas?” (Outside.)
- “He only started scratching this week.” (That you noticed.)
- “But I used Frontline.” (Maybe once, three months ago).
- “But I hate chemicals.” (So do I.)
- “He must have got them at my sister’s.” (The fleas like her better?)
- “But I fed him garlic.” (That explains it.)
- “But this is the first flea I’ve seen.” (Well, it won’t be the last if we don’t get on it!)
Anyone can get a flea problem. No matter how advanced and safe flea products become, people can be lax about treating their animals, and their pets and households become infested. If your pet is living in a flea endemic area and you don’t use prevention, your pet will probably get some fleas. If you let the infestation get out of hand, you will most likely have to use more flea products on your pets, and probably have to treat the environment. You may also have to treat itching and skin infections caused by the fleas.
I don’t like to see people forced to use products they don’t like, or spray their home with insecticides. If you begin to check your pet early in the season, or in warm climates, all year round, you may be able to stave off a big problem.
Natural Flea Prevention
There is no highly effective natural flea prevention if nature deals us a bad flea year.
Dr. Susan G. Wynn, my hero when it comes to natural and alternative veterinary medicine, agrees. Dr. Wynn recommends flea combing your pet twice a day, every day for months, and using a product like Fleabusters in your house if necessary. She suggests bathing your pet weekly.
“Natural” flea sprays need to be reapplied continuously, in her opinion, making them fairly useless.
Remember, “natural” does not equal “safe.” Essential oils can be toxic to your pet. Some create skin eruptions, or can be toxic when ingested with normal grooming. I find the odors from many of the “natural” products so offensive, they may upset your pet as well. All this, and they don’t work well.
If you roll with the alternative and natural folks, be vigilant early about fleas and you may be able to avoid more conventional flea treatments.
NEWS FLASH: Garlic does not prevent fleas. Garlic can make your pet sick, but the fleas living on him will be just fine. I think of it as flea paella!
Healthy pets are NOT immune to fleas. Although it is true that pets in poor health are more prone to parasites, I’ve seen thousands of healthy dogs and cats, fed a superb diet, crawling with fleas. Fleas are not choosy. They bite the healthy, the young, the old and you.
Check out the video of Dr. Rosenkrantz in Gayle’s article. Here it is again:
Dr. Rosenkrantz is a great dermatologist who does not want to use more chemicals than necessary. He is a big fan of the oral flea treatments, like Comfortis (available from your vet). There’s a lot of evidence based research on the safety of the new oral and topical flea medications. As he states, these products are much safer than the sprays and dips we had to use in the past.
I don’t use the oral medications much in my practice because they do not prevent ticks. Dr. R. practices in California, where ticks are not as endemic as in the Northeast. Check with your veterinarian about the best options for your dog and cat. Finding the best product that addresses fleas, ticks, heartworm and intestinal parasites is the key.
I realize these medications are expensive. That’s why your veterinarian should be able to steer you in the direction that’s best suited to your pet and controlling the parasites in your geographical area.
People come in to me with a shopping bag full of stuff to treat fleas from the local Pets-R-Mega-Rip-Off-Store, sold to them by the pimply faced clerk. I tell them at least a portion of the money they threw away goes to charity (one of the only good thing about some of the big chains is that they give to animal welfare).
Cats Are Flea Magnets
Why don’t people think they have to treat their cats for fleas? If they’re indoor/outdoor cats, they are highly likely to get fleas, more so than dogs. If they’re indoor cats living with dogs, they’re still likely to get fleas.
Cat like to eat fleas, so you may not find them as readily on your cat as your dog. That doesn’t mean they’re not there. If you’re treating your dogs for fleas and not your cats, the cats may be an in-house reservoir of live fleas.
My Love Affair With the Flea Comb
As Dr. Wynn recommends, flea combing your animals frequently during flea season will keep you aware of the severity of the problem. Look for those little black specks on your cat or dog’s abdomen or trapped in the flea comb. That’s probably not dirt from the driveway. That’s flea dirt (nice expression for flea poop).
TRICK: Drop those black specks on a white paper towel with a drop of water. If there’s a rust-red spot left on the paper towel, it’s flea poop. (That’s the digested blood of your dog or cat on the paper towel.) I LOVE FLEA COMBS. Get one with the nice wooden, brown handle (affiliate link). Or get a plastic one that costs fifty cents. AND USE IT! Many pets like it. They’re great for grooming short-hair cats.
Fleas Really Cause Suffering!
You are entitled to your own ideas on flea control: natural products vs. conventional, or OTC flea products vs. veterinary products. But if you’re finding fleas at this time of year, or if you’ve been seeing fleas for several months, your prevention program has failed. Your animal is suffering.
Letting your pet get so infested with fleas that they’re running across her face or your white socks is cruel. You don’t know about the white socks test? Clients like to brag to me that when they wear their white socks and they can see the fleas on the socks, it’s time to treat. No. It might be time to move!
This is an out-of-control flea infestation. (Believe me, landlords know about fleas. The students move out. They leave their garbage, old furniture and 100,000 fleas.)
Many people still don’t seem to understand that having fleas biting your body constantly is horrible. How about if I go outside, pick up some poison ivy, and rub it all over your arms and legs? Or just set you on a porch at dusk with 200 mosquitoes!
When people get an insect bite or a rash, they can immediately help themselves. Reach for the antihistamine lotion, a steroid cream, tee tree oil — in other words, relief. And people know that scratching themselves wildly will only make it worse. But your pet can’t get help without you!
Our attitudes toward our pets have changed since I started practicing, and it’s all for the good. Many pets in America have a charmed life. We celebrate their birthdays. If we don’t know their birthdays, we make them up: the day you adopted them from the shelter, or the day they stepped off the van from Tennessee. Go Dixie dogs!
They are members of the family. You wouldn’t let your child pick the head lice out of her head for months, would you? Or sleep with bed bugs? So letting fleas use your pet as a wall to wall carpet is, to say the least, not cool.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian.