Fleas are more than a pesky annoyance that bring itching and pain to cats, dog,
and people; they can also affect your pet’s health. Flea bites can cause allergic
reactions, anemia, skin problems, blood disorders which may lead to death, and
they may also carry parasitic worms. Their saliva can cause a severe allergic
reaction called flea bite dermatitis. A single flea may bite 400 times a day,
and you may see your pet scratching when you don’t see a flea on him! Flea-infested
pets are truly miserable. Flea prevention and control are a necessary part of
responsible pet ownership.
Fleas don’t usually live on your pet. They jump on to get a meal by biting them
and drawing blood out of the skin, eliminating digested blood (flea dirt), and
then may jump or fall off into the environment. They will live in your yard, floor,
carpet, upholstery, or the pet’s bedding, and jump back on when another warm body
comes by to get their next meal. Fleas will lay eggs on your pet which may fall
off into the environment. One flea will lay about 600 eggs in its lifetime and
it only takes about two weeks for fleas to become mature enough to reproduce.
Without proper preventive control, a few fleas can quickly create a major problem.
Begin your flea-control program in the early spring, before you have a full-blown
The easiest way to deal with fleas is to be certain that your pet never gets them
in the first place. Pets will only get fleas from grass or other cats and dogs.
Keeping your pet in the house and never allowing other pets to visit will avoid
infestations, but it’s not always a practical solution. Bigger dogs, especially,
need to go outdoors to eliminate and to get enough exercise, and keeping your
dog at home all the time will limit his socialization skills.
There are many types of flea control available including collars, shampoos, dips,
powders, and foams, but they all use chemicals or pesticides which may cause toxic
reactions in some pets and pose a hazard to children who may touch the pet. There
are natural methods of flea control but once you have an infestation it is usually
necessary to get the flea population under control with chemical products, and
use the natural methods as back-up.
Flea medicines are gaining favor over shampoos, sprays, powders and other such
products as the most effective and reliable way to control fleas on your pet.
Flea medicines can be purchased at your veterinarians office or online.
There are several popular brands with different levels of effectiveness. They
are generally safe for dogs and cats but may cause allergic reactions or stomach
illness in your pet so watch for signs such as nausea or the pet just acting
funny and consult your veterinarian if necessary. Always follow the veterinarians
instructions precisely when using these products.
Frontline is the brand most often prescribed by veterinarians. It is a topical
application that will last one month on cats and three months on dogs. It works
by killing the adult fleas and their eggs, and kills ticks also. You must wait
at least two days after your pet’s last bath before using this product.
Advantage works almost instantly to stop flea bites, so it’s ideal for a pet who
has a flea allergy, but it does not kill ticks. It is applied to the pet once
monthly, and has no bathing restrictions. Don’t let the kids pet the dog or cat
for two hours after the application.
Program is better for a pet who may come into contact with children. It is given
as a monthly pill or twice-yearly injection that destroys the fleas ability to
reproduce, but it won’t kill fleas that are already on your pet. If your yard
is flea-infested you must also treat the yard to keep adult fleas from jumping
back on your pet. The fleas life cycle is three to four weeks, so you will gradually
see a reduction in the number of fleas.
Revolution is a topical application that works for about a month to kill adult
fleas and prevents eggs from hatching. This product also prevents heart worm.
Apply the medicine to the fur and wait two hours, then bathe the pet.
Fleas will live in your yard in areas that stay warm and moist. They may fall
off your own pet or other animals that roam through. Chemical lawn treatments
are available put can pose a hazard to children. A safe, environmentally friendly
alternative to using chemicals is to spread food-grade diatomaceous earth over
the areas that the pet uses that do not dry out during the day. Diatomaceous earth
is dust made of the crushed fossilized shells of tiny sea creatures. The dust
contains microscopic jagged edges that cut the exterior skeletons of insects that
crawl over it, causing them to dehydrate and die. It won’t harm animals or people
who walk on it, but avoid breathing the dust as you spread it on the lawn. The
dust can also irritate the eyes, so you should wear a filter mask and goggles
when handling the product. You may need to repeat the dusting for a month or two
after a rain, because some will wash away, but the fleas won’t come back unless
there is a new source from roaming animals or the neighbor’s yard.
Beneficial nematodes are microscopic worms that kill bugs by burrowing into them
as part of their life cycle. They won’t harm people or animals because
our body temperatures are too warm for them, and they won’t damage plants
or grass. They occur naturally but you can add a higher concentration to your
yard by ordering them online.
Some plants are known to have flea-repellant qualities, including eucalyptus,
lavender, and mint. Planting these in your yard will deter fleas. Lavender and
mint won’t harm your pets if they chew them but eucalyptus can be hazardous. Garlic
is often touted as a flea repellant when fed to dogs or cats, but it is harmful
to pets and may cause anemia or insulin problems.
Pre-adult fleas can live up to a year inside your house so it is necessary to
rid your home of adult fleas and their eggs to keep the infestation under control.
It may take a month or so, the life span of the flea, to successfully rid your
home of them. Putting the flea-bitten pet outside won’t help because then the
fleas inside will make you their meal (and are probably already doing so).
Vacuuming, mopping, and dusting regularly will help reduce the flea population.
Fleas that are vacuumed up may just jump out of the bag again, so you may have
to use a new bag each time. Dusting the carpet with diatomaceous earth and vacuuming
the fleas up with it will damage the fleas and save vacuum bags.
Wash your pet’s bedding several times in hot water and dry at a high temperature.
Flea sprays and foggers (flea bombs) may be used in the home. Check the container
for the amount of square footage it will cover and use an adequate amount. Each
room will need a separate fogger so it may be better to buy several small ones
instead of a large one. Follow the label instructions carefully to avoid toxicity
issues. Treat your pets at the same time and contain them outside the home for
several hours. Remove any pet birds from the home, and cover aquariums and turn
off the pump.
Groom your pet regularly to spot early signs of infestation. Fleas will appear
as small black moving specks and the eggs are difficult to see. Flea dirt appears
black but will turn red when wiped with a wet tissue. Trimming the coat of long-haired
animals will make the fleas easier to spot. Flea control chemicals should not
be used on animals less than six or eight weeks old, depending on the product,
so bathing with a baby shampoo and combing out any fleas is the safest method
for ridding a young kitten or puppy of the pests. Flea shampoos will kill adult
fleas on your pet, but don’t bathe your cat or dog more than once a week to avoid
drying out his skin. (Yes, you can bathe a cat! If you begin bathing them as kittens
they will accept an occasional bath, although with an adult cat it will probably
require two people). Flea shampoos, powders, and sprays will kill any fleas on
the pet at the time they are used. Cats are often alarmed by the hissing sound
a spray makes. Flea creme rinses and foams have some lingering effects, and dips
have a longer effect but are more likely to cause toxic reactions. Flea collars
will kill any eggs on your pet but aren’t usually strong enough to kill adult
fleas. They are a good preventive measure if your pet doesn’t have fleas yet.
Flea control can be expensive but the comfort and health of your pet and family
depend upon it. Preventive measures and acting quickly when you spot that first
flea can save you a lot of time, money, and aggravation in the long run.