Fleas have been around for a very long time, irritating our pets and invading our homes. They are smart little critters that can survive just about anywhere. They eat sparingly, move quietly and reproduce aggressively. That’s the bad news.
But here’s the good news: We can win the flea battle! There are medications available that interrupt the flea life cycle and are safe, effective, and simple to use.
Pet owners should appreciate how easy it is to control fleas now, especially those who remember how difficult the battle against fleas has been. When I began my career as a veterinarian, pet owners had to spray their dogs with topical chemicals every day, dip them in diluted insecticides every week, apply chemicals to their yards, and use foggers in their homes to keep fleas at bay. What a mess!
Even though we have good flea control products, we can’t let down our guard. Fleas will always be with us, so here are a few extra tips for winning the flea battle:
1. Become an educated dog owner. Take the time to learn the dirty truth about fleas. Consider these uncomfortable facts from SentinelPet.com:
A) Visible adult fleas represent only 5 percent of the flea population. The other 95 percent hide in your home in the form of eggs, maggotlike larvae, and pupae.
B) A female flea can lay up to 50 eggs a day.
C) Larvae are repelled by light and burrow into the cracks and crevasses of your home in flooring and upholstery, where they can remain for months.
2. Learn the symptoms. Flea bites have certain distinct characteristics. The bite may immediately cause a dog to feel extremely itchy. Within 30 minutes of a bite, they may develop a red bump. Secondary infections caused by scratching are also common.
3. Treat the flea bites. Wash the bites with antiseptic soap, as recommended by your veterinarian, to reduce the risk of infection.
4. Eliminate fleas in all stages. The flea life cycle includes adults, eggs, larvae (maggots), and pupae (the cocoon stage). Typical insecticides do not eliminate the pupae. Use an insect growth regulator to break the flea life cycle — my preference here is Sentinel’s (milbemycin oxime/lufenuron) Flavor Tabs, but your vet can offer recommendations as well.
5. Get rid of stray fleas. If your dog picks up a “hitchhiker” flea while outdoors, use an adulticide medication that kills adult fleas. Talk to your veterinarian about the best product for your pet.
6. Regularly check your dog for fleas. Don’t wait until you see your dog scratching. Frequent brushing will help spread natural protective oils over your pet’s coat, reduce shedding, and give you an opportunity to look for fleas.
7. Avoid problem areas. Keep your pet away from areas known to have flea problems. Not sure if the local park is safe? Do your homework to ensure the local dog park has a good flea control program.
8. Groom the yard. Don’t just check your dog for fleas — treat his environment as well. Remove underbrush from trees, and rake leaves where fleas and ticks may lurk. When spraying the yard for fleas, concentrate on the areas where your pet spends most of his time. Eggs and larvae will likely be shed in the spots where he lies down.
9. Exterminate the home. In-home extermination should focus on upholstered furniture, rugs, and carpeting. Vacuum all floors prior to home treatment and check with your professional exterminator to see when it is best to vacuum following treatment. If your pet sleeps in your bed, wash sheets and pillowcases in hot water and regular laundry detergent. Vacuum the mattress and consider buying new pillows.
10. Use year-round preventive care. Waiting too long to use preventative treatments before flea and tick season comes around could be dangerous for your dog. Protect your dog year-round to avoid an infestation. Ask your veterinarian about which product is best for your dog and be sure to read the label carefully before administering the medication.
About the Author: Dr. Lynn Buzhardt practices small-animal medicine along with her husband, Scott, at their veterinary hospital in Zachary, Louisiana. She has more than 30 years of experience working with pharmaceutical companies and the FDA in product discovery, protocol review and new drug development.