Yes, My Pets Have Fleas — And I’m a Veterinarian

After treating fleas at the office and now finding them on my own animals, I’m sick of the little pests.

It's hard to get rid fleas, and you may need to treat your home. By: Chaton N1
It’s hard to get rid fleas, and you may need to treat your home. By: Chaton N°1

My pets have fleas. Fleas! What do I do now? Blame the vet.

Wait a minute, I am the vet. Now what?

Given that I’ve been talking about fleas for almost 30 years, you can imagine I’m a bit tired of the topic (I wrote about fleas in 2012, too). But like cockroaches, bedbugs and other unfortunate buggy bugs, fleas are here to stay. So if this is your year to find a flea, let’s get rid of those nasty jerks.

Jumping Ctenocephalides felis! That’s not a Spanish Christmas song, by the way. That’s the name of the cat flea. This flea infects cats, dogs — everything. Fleas have no big affiliations for hosts. Dogs, cats, ferrets, bunnies and pigs — they like anything they can live on.

Fleas can happen to the best of us, the worst of us, the smartest of us, the most informed and uninformed of us. If you are finding fleas, you need a plan.

The Flea Facts

  1. There is no such thing as a small flea problem.
  2. Early intervention will ensure your big flea problem does not get bigger.
  3. Fleas can come from your yard, feral and wild animals, or the dog park. People can bring in “hitchhiker” fleas to indoor pets.

The Myths

  • “Only the dog goes out so I’m not treating my indoor cats.” Bad idea. Cats are fabulous reservoirs for fleas. If there is a flea problem in the house or on the dog, all pets should be treated, even if you don’t see concrete evidence of fleas on all the pets.
  • “I never had a flea problem before this year, so this must not be so bad.” Wrong. For whatever reason, a flea problem can just happen. Treat quickly and aggressively, even if you believe you have not had fleas before.
  • “That stuff you sold me doesn’t work.” A flea product recommended by your veterinarian is probably an effective product, whether you bought it online, at your vet’s office or over the counter.

No flea product is 100% effective, particularly if you have used it only for 1 month or so. You will need to treat everyone for a longer time. You may also have to treat the environment.

My Vet Found Fleas, but I Didn’t

It’s not all that easy to find fleas. In the past week, I’ve found fleas on 10 animals. None of these very good, and attentive caregivers knew they had a flea problem.

Here are my suggestions:

  • Buy a flea comb. They are worth their weight in flea gold. Get a plastic one for 99 cents or invest in a flea comb with a wooden handle for a few bucks. And use it!
  • Comb through your dog or cat, and see if you find a flea or flea dirt.
  • What the heck is flea dirt? It’s flea feces. Yup — flea poop. If you comb your little varmint and find some black specks, collect them and dot them onto a wet paper towel. If the little peppery specks leave a reddish to orange/brown color on the paper towel, this is flea excrement. The red spot is digested blood in the flea poop. If the black speck leaves nothing but a little gray or black spot, it’s just driveway dirt.

Flea dirt can be a conversation stopper at a dinner party. People ask vets the strangest questions over dinner…

Veterinary dermatologists believe that at least 50% of scratching dogs and cats are flea-allergic. This means that if your animal has atopic (allergic) disease, flea control should be in place for most or all of the year. Flea allergy adds to or causes the greatest degree of scratching, biting, hot spots, and fur pulling in dogs and cats.

How to Treat Fleas

Devise a treatment plan that you feel comfortable with, but don’t waste your money on flea garbage products with false claims. Talk with your veterinarian. Buy products wherever you like, but get intelligent advice.

If your flea problem is truly out of control and you have an infestation, you may need to treat your home.

This video shows a quick method of catching and killing fleas by someone who lives near a flea-infested area:

True confession: I haven’t found a flea for several years, but I have an allergic cat who began pulling his fur out 2 weeks ago. I can’t find a live flea, but know I have an under-the-radar problem.

I’m down to only 5 little critters right now, but they will all be treated, flea combed and monitored. Yes, fleas can even happen to the vet!

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This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed July 29, 2015.

Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD

View posts by Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD
Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, is a small animal and exotics veterinarian who has split her time between a veterinary practice in Pelham, Massachusetts, and her studio in New York City. Dr. Lichtenberg is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine with 30 years of experience. Her special interests are soft tissue surgery and oncology.

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