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Fleas, fleas, and more fleas!

Today I will be covering a topic that has plagued so many of our clients (and staff) this fall. FLEAS! Those pesky little bugs that suck your pet's blood, cause intense itching, skin lesions, and worst of all, invade your home. 

The flea most often seen on your dogs and cats is actually the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis. These fleas lay eggs on the fur of their host (your pet), and the eggs then fall onto bedding or carpet for hatching. Hatching leads to larvae which leads to cocooning pupa which, after several weeks, finally produces an adult flea. Adult fleas feed on their host almost immediately. They consume blood and excrete it in a blackish red pellets onto their host to create "flea dirt." Flea dirt looks a lot like pepper flakes on your pet's skin. These fleas cannot survive for more than a few days in temperatures less than 37 degrees F. To survive the winter, these fleas find a host to keep warm. These hosts can be your pet, if you are not treating topically. 

In some pets, flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) may develop secondary to flea infestations. FAD is a hypersensitivity to flea salvia that may cause dermatitis in dogs and cats. In cats, this typically presents as miliary dermatitis with small crusted spots on the neck, back and face. In dogs, there is intense itching, usually at the tail base but can occur all over the body. Dogs can lose hair and develop lesions in the skin from the intense itching. Occasionally, secondary bacterial or fungal infections may occur on the skin from the self-trauma. 

Fleas can cause more problems than just itchy skin. In young animals, too many fleas can lead to iron deficiency anemia from so much blood loss. Also, fleas are carriers of several different intestinal worms. The most common is the tapeworm. When grooming, your pet may ingest a flea which may then lead to a tapeworm infection as well. 

The goal of flea treatment is three-fold: 1. eliminate fleas on your pet(s), 2. eliminate fleas in your pet's environment and 3. prevent subsequent re-infestation. 

Eliminating fleas on your pet. There are so many products out on the market right now for flea control. Here is what we typically recommend for clients. Remember, please make sure you are purchasing the right product for your pet. Check the weight and species approved on all products before using them. 

  1. Topical monthly flea and tick prevention - products such as Parastar Plus, Frontline Plus, K9 Advantix for dogs or EasySpot and Frontline for cats - these products may take up to 24 hours to start killing fleas
  2. Oral monthly flea prevention - Comfortis or Trifexis (heartworm prevention as well). Our current heartworm medication of choice, Sentinel, also prevents flea infestations by neutralizing flea eggs. 
  3. Oral immedatiate treatment - CapStar, which kills fleas on the pet for 24 hours

To treat the environment, there are a few different things to do, depending on the degree of infestation. You may start by washing all the bedding your pet contacts and vacuuming the carpets (tip: put a flea collar in the vacuum bag). There are sprays out there to kill fleas in their various stages you can use as well. Usually, however, you will have to get a flea bomb to fully treat your home. There are also treatments that can be used on the yard. Concentrate these on places your pet goes, such as the doghouse, garage or special areas your pet likes to lounge. 

Preventing re-infestation is usually done by using a monthly prevention we mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, fleas can develop resistance to some of these products. If you notice a product stops working for your pet, wait a few weeks after application and try a different one. These products are ideally used year round. If you want to stop using topical products during the winter, just remember to use them a month after the first freeze and then re-start a month before the last freeze.

Hopefully this will help pet owners to deal with the terrible flea season we have seen in Tennessee this year. Remember, you are not alone if you are experiencing a flea infestation. If you have more questions, please let us know or call the office at 615.377.4959. Thanks!

- H