Controlling fleas on pets

Fleas just seem to be everywhere these days and these pesky pests are more than just a nuisance. The common flea that we are used to seeing, Ctenocephalides felis, is known to feed on the blood of dogs, cats, rodents, birds and, yes, even humans.

It is responsible for a variety of health problems in animals, including transmission of the tapeworm Dipylidium caninum, and feline panleukopenia, a potentially fatal gastrointestinal disease.

Some animals can become allergic to the flea’s saliva, causing a very itchy and very common skin condition known simply as Flea Allergy Dermatitis. In these animals, just one or two bites per week can be enough to keep them itching.

Other animals who are allowed to become heavily infested can become severely anemic and weak just from feeding so may fleas. Even death can result in severely infested cats and dogs.

So what can you do to keep your pets healthy, happy and flea-free?

The first step is to control the fleas living on your pet. There are several products available on the market made for this purpose. The one most commonly used is known as Frontline and is available in two preparations. One is a monthly spot-on treatment applied directly to the skin, which usually is quite effective at managing fleas.

If you bathe your dog more than bi-weekly, or use a medicated shampoo, you may notice a loss of efficacy with this product.

Frontline is also available as a spray on product, which needs to be used liberally in order to be effective. Frontline is available in formulations for both dogs and cats and will also help to prevent ticks from feeding on your animal.

Revolution is another good product, available as a monthly spot-on treatment, but is not always as effective as Frontline at killing adult fleas.

For heavy flea infestations, Capstar, a tablet that rapidly kills off fleas (but is short acting and will not prevent re-infestation) is very useful and is usually used in combination with other methods of flea control. Several flea shampoos are available on the market, which can also help lower the number of adult fleas on your pet.

Over-the-counter flea collars, such as those available from the supermarket or pet store, should be used with caution. They tend to be far less effective than products available from your veterinarian and some products have been implicated in toxicity. Consulting your veterinarian is a good way to choose the most effective products for your animals.

The second step to a good flea management program is to control the fleas in your pet’s environment. It does not matter how religiously you ‘de-flea’ your pet, if you don’t practice good environmental flea control there will always be lots more fleas ready to jump on for a meal.

For every adult flea that you see on your animal, there are many more eggs, larvae, pupae and newly emerged adults waiting in your home, usually found in the areas where your pet spends most of its time.

Pet beds, couches, carpeting and even your bed are common places to find these little pests. Unfed adults can survive for weeks in cool, humid conditions just waiting for a host to get that next meal from.

Surprisingly, the most useful tool for environmental flea control may be your vacuum cleaner. Vacuuming tremendously reduces the number of eggs, larvae, pupae and unfed adults from the environment. Just make sure to remove, close and dispose of the bag when done to prevent fleas from escaping back out into your newly cleaned home.

Bedding material should be washed in hot water, as temperatures over 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) are lethal to larvae and pupae.

In extreme circumstances where these simple measures are not enough, a pest control company may need to be contacted in order to chemically treat the environment.

If you are attacking the flea’s life cycle both on your pet and in the environment, and are still having flea infestations, then call your veterinarian.

It is important for vets to be aware of potential insecticidal resistance development and advise you further.

Armed with all of this knowledge, hopefully flea pestilence will be a thing of the past for you and your pets.