I have to say, I love how the news always comes up with catchy terms to indicate how terrible something is going to be. Remember the Carmageddon 2014 referring to the traffic problems expected with the recent I-90 shut down, that never happened? How about snowpocalypse 2008? Let’s talk about Fleamageddon 2014!
Well, I’m not saying this year is going to be worse than any other year. But the worst part of the flea season is fast approaching. Don’t’ get me wrong, I’ve seen pets with fleas already this summer, but August, September, and October is when the flea season really ramps up. In fact, as I write this, I have already seen some pets come in with significant flea infestations.
When it comes to fleas, it is important to understand the flea’s lifecycle. The flea we see on our pets, the adult flea, makes up only 5% of the flea population. The other 95% of the fleas, the eggs, larvae (maggots) and nymphs, live in the environment. This is an important point to remember because if you are seeing fleas on your pet, and you only treat for adult fleas, you are only treating 5% of the problem. I like to use the “flea pyramid” schematic, courtesy of Novartis, as a visual to get the point across.
Next, let’s talk about treatment options available. I am a fan of prevention. If you are lucky enough not to have a flea problem yet, then you can start your pet on a preventative medication that breaks the flea life cycle. It is in a monthly pill and is very safe. Best of all, there isn’t any topical residue that will get on you or your family.
If you are seeing fleas on your pet, you missed the boat on prevention, now we need to talk about treatment. There are multiple medications that kill the adult flea. Again, I prefer the oral medication, like the preventative, it is given once monthly, but it kills adult fleas within 30 minutes of jumping on the pet. The downsides are it is a little more expensive than other medications on the market, and some pets may get nauseous after the first few treatments.
Topical medications have been around a long time, and many are available over the counter at pet, grocery and drug stores. If buying over the counter, I recommend you use the name brand medications that have been proven to be safe and effective. There are some important hints to remember when using topical flea products. Most importantly, DO NOT use a product on a cat that is labeled NOT to use on cats, not even diluted. The medication in these products make cats very sick and can cause death. The topical flea products are stored in the oily layer in the skin. It is important to apply the product to a dry coat- so if you bathe the pet prior to application, wait until your pet is completely dry to apply the product. After application of the product, avoid water on the coat for 48 hours. Even though the topical products say that you can shampoo your pet when using the product, I recommend using a soap-free shampoo to avoid stripping the coat of the oil layer if you have to shampoo your pet between applications of the flea product.
So, let’s look at a scenario I deal with all the time. A client calls, they bought a good name brand topical flea product at the local pet store, and they are still seeing fleas on their pet, in fact, they think they are seeing more fleas. Think back to the flea pyramid. We have treated five percent of the problem. The reason there are still fleas is two-fold. First, the immature fleas in the environment are becoming adults and still jumping on the pet. Secondly, contrary to some advertisements, topical flea products do not create a force-field around the pet, the medicine slowly kills the fleas making them easier to see on the pet because they can’t run away while they are dying. So what do I tell them? Area treatment is going to be the most effective way to rapidly knock down the population of fleas. I’m not a big fan of flea bombs, because the medication lands on top of things, not really where fleas live. We carry a very effective hand-held spray so you can direct the spray where the fleas live. It has an immediate knockdown of the fleas, and a seven-month residual effect to use as the eggs hatch in the environment. Helpful hints when using an area treatment: vacuum first- it causes the eggs to hatch out, empty your vacuum after each use- this keeps your vacuum from being a flea hatchery, and finally- shampoo your carpet prior to applying the treatment, for obvious reasons.
Two last things about fleas. It can take just one flea to cause a pet to itch like crazy. Pets are allergic to the flea saliva, not the number of fleas crawling on them. Also, just because you don’t see fleas, doesn’t mean your pet doesn’t have them. A healthy pet, especially the fastidious cat, will quickly groom fleas off of themselves, but usually after the flea has had a blood meal and laid eggs.
I hope you are all now better prepared for the upcoming flea season. As usual, feel free to contact me with any questions, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.wildernessvet.com, or on our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/Wildernessvet. I have one more date at the Farmers’ Market this year, August 16. Stop by and say “Hi!”