March is said to come in like a lion and out like a lamb. Right now, it’s still feeling a little lion-like as the snow is falling, but soon the grass will become greener and the leaves will start budding on the trees. Along with these potentates of spring, come some less-desirable things such as fleas and ticks which can cause troubles for you and your pet.
Fleas are tiny little creatures that like to live on warm-blooded animals. You can see fleas with the naked eye — they are little brown bugs that rapidly move through the hair. If you comb them out, they will jump, but they cannot fly. Adult female fleas suck blood and then will lay their eggs on the pet. The eggs hatch into larvae which then become pupae, then adults (remember the butterfly life-cycle? It’s called metamorphosis). They can actually spend their entire life-cycle on your pet, although all of the life stages can also end up in the environment — your house. Fleas can cause a variety of different diseases. Some dogs and cats are allergic to the flea’s saliva and will become very itchy from the bites. This is called flea allergic dermatitis. Usually it manifests along the back, especially by the tail. For pets with flea allergies, the intense itching can lead to secondary skin infections. Fleas also can carry Bartonella, the bacteria that causes “cat scratch fever”. In addition, fleas can carry tapeworms. The cat or dog licks themselves and ingests the flea. The tapeworms go into the digestive system and eventually grow into long worms that feed off the food your pet eats. You will often see segments excreted in the stool that look like grains of rice when they dry up.
Controlling fleas involves treating both the pet and the environment. With the advent of the topical spot-on flea and tick preventatives, treating pets is much easier than it used to be with sprays and dips. We carry two types of topicals. Frontline, which kills the adults, eggs and larvae of fleas and adult ticks, is safe for dogs and cats. The other product is called Vectra 3D, which is safe for dogs only. It kills the same life stages as well as acting as a repellent. The first time these are applied, it takes about 48 hours to migrate through the skin and become effective. Both products stay in the skin and are not washed off with bathing or rain, however, it is best not to bathe your pet two days before or after application.
We also have a tablet called Capstar that kills fleas very quickly (within a couple of hours). If there is a heavy infestation, you can give the Capstar for two days while the topical is getting distributed to get the problem under control faster.
You can treat the environment in several ways. Sprays and/or bombs will kill the adults and eggs in the house. It is important to follow the directions on the label. Sprays tend to be more cost-effective because you can address specific areas where the fleas are most likely to be — carpets, along baseboards and under furniture and in particular, anywhere your pet spends a lot of time. If you have a dog or cat bed or blanket, wash it in hot water. If your pet sleeps with you, wash your sheets in the hottest water you can and spray the mattress and box spring. Before you spray carpeting, vacuum thoroughly and throw away the bag or empty the canister immediately. Bombs are aerosols that you set off in each room. The problem with them is that since fleas can’t fly, you tend to waste a lot of it in the upper areas and it won’t penetrate deep carpet or go under furniture, so you may need to spray anyway as well. You can also use a professional exterminator — make sure they will guarantee their work so if you have a recurrence, they will come back to re-treat the area.
If you’d like to learn more about fleas, come visit our display in the waiting room. Next month, we will discuss ticks, the problems they cause and ways to prevent them.