It’s flea and tick time! Here are some helpful hints on how to treat and control these pests.
Fleas are not only annoying but they can also cause severe skin disease and anemia in our patients. Fleas also carry tapeworms. If not controlled, fleas can even bite people in severe cases.
How can I tell my pet has fleas?
We may suspect that your pet has fleas if your pet has itching or hair loss especially if it is over the rump area.
The most common way to tell if your pet has fleas is actually seeing them crawling on your pet. However, especially in the case of cats, sometimes all we are able to see is flea dirt because fleas are very adept at hiding in thick haircoats.
Flea dirt is distinguishable from regular dirt by taking a damp cotton ball or white paper towel and rubbing a speck of the dirt on it. If it is flea dirt, it will leave an orangey-red trail because flea dirt is dried blood. If it does not leave an orangey-red trail, it may just be regular dirt.
How did my pet get fleas?
Our pets get fleas from other animals. They could be directly from other dogs and cats but more commonly the fleas have been left in the yard by wildlife.
Raccoons and opossums are very commonly the culprits. We often don’t know they’ve even been through the yard because these animals are nocturnal but they’re extremely prevalent even if suburban areas. These animals carry fleas and drop flea eggs, larvae, pupae, and adult fleas as they move through our yards. Then, our animals go outside and pick up these “gifts” and bring them into the house.
The adult fleas continue to reproduce and drop eggs in the environment. These eggs hatch into new fleas which also reproduce causing an explosive growth rate and a full infestation.
But my cat is indoor-only, how did he get fleas?
Our pets aren’t the only ones who can bring fleas into the house. We can pick up eggs on our shoes and bring them inside or fleas can hitchhike on us to come in. Even indoor-only cats can have a flea infestation.
How do I treat my pets for fleas?
There are many prescription and over the counter flea control products on the market. The majority of these products kill adult fleas and contain insect growth regulators which will cause new eggs to be non-viable. These means that they not only kill the present adult fleas but any new fleas will have eggs that cannot hatch.
We recommend Revolution, Frontline, Vectra, Trifexis, Advantage/Advantage Multi or Comfortis as monthly flea preventatives. Some of these products (Trifexis, Advantage Multi and Revolution) also prevent heartworms and some intestinal parasites. Which product is right for your pet is determined by your veterinarian. Not all products are ideal for all pets. Your veterinarian can also demonstrate how to properly administer these medications to ensure they are safe and effective.
We do not recommend treating with other over the counter flea preventatives or flea collars. Flea collars are generally ineffective as they are only treating a small area on your pet: where the collar sits. The fleas are free to roam elsewhere on the pet which is what makes the collars ineffective. Over the counter flea preventatives (other than those mentioned above) can be potentially dangerous and have a higher prevalence of adverse reactions.
Some clients have success with natural flea preventatives that contain different essential oils. These may be useful in PREVENTING fleas, but are not likely to work if you are dealing with an active flea infestation. Even “natural” products can cause side effects so it is still important to ask your vet before applying any preventative or treatment.
When dealing with a flea infestation, it is mandatory that every animal in the house be treated or treatment WILL fail.
How long do I have to treat for?
Because of the flea life cycle pets need to be treated for a MINIMUM of 3 months.
Three months is the amount of time it can take for flea eggs to develop into adult fleas. If there are adult fleas on your pet, there are eggs somewhere in the environment. Over the course of a couple of months, these eggs will hatch and develop into adult fleas. If you stopped treating your pet for fleas prior to 3 months, these new adult fleas will continue to live and reproduce.
In some rare cases, even with proper flea treatment the number of adult fleas will get worse before they get better. This is because at the time you begin treatment, there are already viable flea eggs in the environment that will hatch or juvenile fleas that will grow to be adults. This does not mean the flea preventative has failed. These new adults will have been exposed to the flea treatment and their eggs will not hatch into new fleas because of the insect growth regulator in the product. Continue using the product as directed and you will see a decline in the number of fleas.
If after 3 months you are still seeing a small number of adult fleas, it is likely that your pet is being re-exposed to them in the outdoor environment. In these cases, it is necessary to keep all of your pets on preventative for longer and perhaps year-round. Rarely, it may mean that an environmental treatment is also needed. Your veterinarian will have suggestions for safe and effective means of treating the house and yard.
Dr. Mike Dryden, a renowned veterinary parasitologist, has put together a wonderful video on flea treatment and the flea life cycle. You can see the video by visiting http://www.comfortis4dogs.com/about-fleas/#dirtonfleas.
Ticks are another concern especially during this time of year. Ticks are worrisome both because they can cause anemia in severely affected patients but also because they spread several diseases (Lyme, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Ehrliciosis).
How did my pet get ticks?
Deer are perhaps the most common sources of ticks in our area. Other animals that harbor and spread ticks include: rodents, squirrels, and turkeys.
Ticks are endemic in areas where they can hide in leaf litter and long grasses. They climb to the ends of grass blades and branches and wait patiently for innocent passers-by. When someone, us or our pets, brush by, the tick grasps on and hitches a ride. Once on you or your pet, they will attach and begin feeding.
How do I treat my pets for ticks?
There are several tick products on the market: tick collars (such as Preventic) and spot-on topicals such as Advantix, Frontline Plus, and Vectra 3D.
Some tick preventative products are fatally toxic to cats so do not start a tick treatment without speaking to your veterinarian.
There are also products available for treating the yard if that is where your pet is picking up the majority of ticks. Your veterinarian can tell you which products she recommends.
I’ve applied a tick product, why does my pet still have ticks???
While tick products are considered very good, there is NO tick product that will eliminate 100% of ticks 100% of the time.
For this reason, it may be necessary to treat more frequently or with a couple of different products in order to control severe tick infestations.
If you are struggling with a flea or tick infestation, consult with your veterinarian. They will help guide you to the appropriate products and dosing that may be needed to eliminate the pests.