Kathleen and I often joke when one of our pets start scratching that it must be fleas. Although we are mostly joking, it is always in the back of my mind. We have luckily been able to keep fleas from setting up in our home. Maybe it is just that, luck. Probably not. We have taken steps to minimize our risks. There are some things that can be done to help reduce the chance of a flea infestation on your pet or in your home and a few of the more common things are discussed below.
The first thing you must do to thwart a flea infestation is to put your pet on an appropriate flea product. I stress ‘appropriate’ because different products have different mechanisms of action and efficacy. Also, cats are very sensitive to certain flea medications, in particular pyrethroid based products. Always consult with your veterinarian ensure the flea product is safe for your dog or cat and to familiarize yourself with the proper application.
What about that outdoor cat that comes inside occasionally to say hi? You bet they need flea medications. Outdoor cats are a prime host for fleas and it only takes one to hitch a ride into your home to become problematic, especially if you other pets in your home. It is also important that every pet is on flea prevention monthly, especially in the spring, summer, and early fall, to control a flea infestation issue.
I often hear the question, “Are fleas becoming resistant to certain medications?” My short answer is unlikely. There are many thoughts about why certain products do not clear infestations. The usual culprit is incorrect administration, not using the product every 30 days, or the product not being active due to inappropriate handling. The other thing that happens is flea egg emergence. If you find a flea on your pet, trust me, you have thousands of flea eggs in your home environment. These eggs will emerge as adults in a few days to 3 weeks. This is why you may still see fleas after the first or even second dose. Do not fret. With consistent monthly application of an appropriate flea medication and help with at home control, most flea problems should resolve within 3 to 4 months.
So how about in the home environment? The most important thing that you can do is remove the flea egg burden. This can be done with regular vacuuming, at least once every week, and regular washing of bedding where you’re pet regularly resides. I recommend emptying the contents from your vacuum into a plastic bag and taking it outside as there are reports that flea eggs can hatch within a vacuum or indoor garbage. I am not a huge proponent of powders or sprays to control your home environment, but I will occasionally recommend products (I.e., Flea Buster) for those tough to control cases.
The other question of often get is about natural products to control fleas. Unfortunately at this time there are no natural products (that I am aware of) that consistently control or prevent flea infestations. The one product with some proven efficacy is diatomaceous earth. This can be used in both the home and outdoor environment.
Next time you see your dog or cat scratching, remember that fleas are a problem in many places in the US and can be present year around as they are here in Washington. The easiest way to prevent a flea problem is not allow them into your home through use of an appropriate flea preventative. Just say no to fleas!
Until next time, Dr. Nick.