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What Do I Do If My Pet Has Fleas?
Flea Preventative Care For Dogs & Cats
Fleas still remain the primary cause of skin problems, itching, and hair loss in dogs and cats. Fleas are caught from the outdoor environment, jumping on you or your pet, to be carried home. The presence of fleas does not mean that your home or your pets are dirty or uncared for, we know you provide a clean environment for your family. Long Island has very temperate weather, and fleas do not experience a “die off” over the winter months, so it is possible to bring home fleas all year round in any type of weather. Fleas already established inside a home remain active all year round. Treating your pet and your home for fleas requires a three-stage approach.
The first stage of getting rid of fleas, and preventing their return, starts with your pet. Recognizing your pet has fleas starts with the symptoms of your pet persistently scratching or biting themselves. Pets might also get hot spots, localized areas of infections, have their hair fall out, or develop very scabby, tough skin. Fleas may not be seen on the itchy pet, but that is because the flea can quickly jump away. Using a specially designed flea comb with narrow bristles may trap a flea if you comb your pet’s fur, but more than likely, you will see what is called “flea dirt” in your pet’s hair or trapped in the flea comb. “Flea dirt” is actually flea poop, and if you rub it on a white, moist piece of paper towel, it will turn red because it is made of blood. Once you suspect that your pet has a flea infestation, next you need to schedule your pet a visit with the Veterinarian, who can provide examination and diagnostic testing to see what is causing your pet to itch so much. Not all itchiness in pets is caused by fleas, and many allergies in pets, such as allergies to plants, grass, mold, or foods, can mimic flea itchiness. Only an examination by a Veterinarian can determine if your pet’s itchiness is allergy or flea related.
After careful examination of your pet, we begin treatment for flea infestations by first treating any skin infections caused from all the scratching to help relieve the itching from the flea saliva on the skin, and assist the healing of any hot spots. Next, we may recommend your pet receive blood work that can test for allergies, especially if we did not see any fleas or flea dirt on your pet during examination. Some pets have the “double whammy” of not only having fleas on them, but being allergic to the flea’s bite and saliva, and therefore they require extra treatments to help give them relief from this allergy. Food and environmental allergies have very similar symptoms to flea infestations, and if the itching is not relieved by treatment for fleas, then further diagnostics are necessary. Furthermore, fleas carry tapeworms. If your pet eats a flea while grooming themselves, they can get a tapeworm infection. A fecal analysis will be necessary to diagnose your pet with a tapeworm infection, and a de-wormer may be necessary to get rid of any tapeworms. Tapeworms can infect people as well, practicing proper hygiene is important, so wash your hands after handling any of your pet’s wastes.
Then it is necessary to continue treatment by killing the fleas on your pet by using a flea, tick, and mosquito preventative medication. These medications are extremely effective, and quick at killing fleas when used as directed. Your pet will require this medication all year round, for the rest of their lives, to prevent re-infestation of fleas. There are very many of these different medications for you to choose from, and your Veterinarian can recommend the most effective one for your pet. Some people feel that these medications are costly, but when you factor in the expense of treating your pet for flea bite infections, the time it takes to get rid of fleas in your home, and what it would cost to get an exterminator for your home and yard, the small expense of purchasing an effective flea preventative medication for the life of your pet is much cheaper.
The fleas which jump onto your pet from the house or yard still need to bite your pet’s skin to take in the preventative medication, and that biting of the skin is what causes the itchy reaction. Your pet may require frequent bathing, perhaps 1 to 2 times weekly, but in severe cases once or twice a day, to wash off the saliva that makes them itch. When bathing, it helps to bear in mind that you are not only washing the fleas and flea dirt from the fur, but also the flea saliva from the skin. Lather your pet’s skin and leave the lather on for at least 10 minutes before rinsing off. Remember not to bathe your pet for one week after applying a topical flea, tick, and mosquito preventative medication, to give the medication a chance to absorb into the skin. If you use an oral flea preventative, you can bath your pet the same day they take the oral medication. With these measures, a flea shampoo, or “dip,” may not be necessary. Mild oatmeal based shampoos formulated for dogs and cats are recommended.
Flea shampoo or flea dips may not be recommended if your pet has sensitive skin or open sores on their skin. Also, while a flea shampoo or dip might kill the fleas immediately on your pet, it will not prevent fleas from jumping on your pet again, therefore providing your pet with a flea preventative medication after a bath with regular shampoo is better than doing a flea shampoo or dip.
The second stage of treating and preventing fleas involves treatment for your pet’s inside environment. The remaining flea population in the house must be wiped out before the flea problem is completely eradicated. We recommend consulting an exterminator to find out what extermination procedures will fit your household needs. Frequent vacuuming of household floors and furniture will also help, as the vacuum removes all stages of the flea life cycle that live in carpets and upholstery. Hardwood, tile, and laminate floors will also harbor fleas in their cracks and crevasse, so make sure to vacuum these types of surfaces as well. Upholstery and furniture will need complete vacuuming, too. Vacuuming will need to be repeated at least twice a week, possibly twice daily for severe infestations, for as long as you notice flea bites on your pets or yourself. Vacuuming is the most effective non-chemical way to remove fleas, as the process of being sucked through the machine itself damages the adult flea’s protective cuticle, which is the armor it has to prevent dehydration. Vacuuming also damages the shells of flea eggs and larvae. Washing all bedding, human and pet, in Hot water bi-weekly will also help in reducing flea populations in your house. Once you have reduced the population of fleas in your pet’s inside environment, using a flea preventative medication year round, for the lifetime of your pet should ensure that another infestation does not happen.
We have had individual families try to "bomb" their house themselves with over-the-counter extermination products with very unsuccessful results. Fleas can be determined, and hide in the most unlikely of places. Those families who have said they consulted with professional exterminators have had much more successful results in eliminating fleas from their households.
If you have more than one pet in your household, all pets need to be given a flea and tick preventative appropriate for their weight and species. Just because you may see fleas on only one pet, or that only one pet is very itchy, does not mean that the other pets are not infested. If you treat just one pet, that one pet does have the risk of becoming re-infested from contact with untreated pets, or from an inside environment that still has an active flea population in it. Treatment of all household pets with a flea preventative ensures that the entire inside environment is prevented from having the flea infestation happen again.
The third stage of treating and preventing fleas involves your pet’s outside environment. As we mentioned, Long Island has very temperate winters that do not “freeze out” fleas. Therefore, if there is a warm spell during the winter months, fleas will reemerge to jump on you or your pet, and be carried indoors. A landscaper or exterminator may have the best advice regarding how to ensure your pet’s outdoor environment is unattractive to fleas.
We recommend year-round treatment of each pet in the household using a flea, tick, and mosquito preventative medication to ensure that no new flea infestations develop in your house, keeping you and your pets safe. These medications may seem expensive at first, but when you consider the cost, time, and effort of removing an already established flea infestation, as well as the discomfort they cause you and your pet, using these medications save you a lot of frustration in the long run. These medications can commonly be purchased over-the-counter at pet supply stores, or you may visit our Vets First Choice Online Pharmacy to have them shipped directly to your home.
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I want to thank Dr. Winkler and his staff. They are the most compassionate animal care center ever. And when we recently had to put our kitty down, no where else will you receive the compassion they show. God bless them for their kindness and caring hearts.