Wednesday, March 25, 2009

FLEAS!! And what to do before you burn your house to the ground.

I know it is probably bad formatting to start with a picture, but I want some credit for being able to post an illustration at all. Now I'll explain it.

The adult fleas live on our pets, they take a blood meal (bite the pet) and then mate and the female lays eggs. These eggs may stick to the pet, or fall off into the environment. They hatch and molt and develop into larvae. These in turn make a cocoon and pupate. The pupae then mature into adults, hungry for a blood meal and the whole cycle starts again. How long does this cycle take? It depends on the environmental conditions, but if things are just right they can go from adult to adult in a couple of weeks. Even more ominous, the pupal stage can survive for months in the environment, hatching out when conditions are right.

This life cycle is important to understand because it will help you to prevent flea problems and aggressively treat infestations if you missed the opportunity to prevent the problem.

Prevention is easy. Monthly application of a topical flea product that not only kills adults but prevents the immature stages from developing will keep your pets and your home flea free. We recommend Frontline plus or Canine Advantix for our dog patients. These pets are on monthly parasite control (see previous post) so we don't need to worry about worms or heartworms (see next post). For cats we recommend Advantage Multi or Revolution. You can use a product that is only for fleas and ticks, but if you are going through the trouble to use a product for fleas, why not take care of internal parasites and heartworm disease at the same time. Yes, cats can get heartworm disease but that is for a future discussion.

Now if you were naive enough to think that your pets would never get fleas and your house is now infested with the pesky buggers, you have to deal with the fleas on the pets, and the fleas in the environment. I no longer recommend owners treating the surroundings themselves. Gone are the days of setting foggers off in the home and contaminating the environment with toxic pesticides. If you have a severe infestation, use a professional exterminator.

In moderate to severe infestations, you can still get by without dumping poisons into the living room. Use a quick kill product such as Capstar that you can get from your veterinarian. This will kill all of the adult fleas on the pet in less than 24 hours. Unfortunately it doesn't last so new adults will jump on. I have clients use it every 2 days while we are getting a problem under control. Then add a topical product to every pet. This will continue to kill fleas as they jump on the dog or cat. The growth inhibitors will also control fleas in the environment where the pet spends most of its time (the pet bed or corner of the run where they sleep.)

Vacuum the house well and throw out the bag when you are done. Wash all bedding in warm water. You can use an area spray for the highest traffic areas. If you are going to bath your pet, do so before you put the topical products on, no sense in washing them right off.

Now I know you are going to think, I can get a cheaper product from the pet shop. Fight the temptation as not all of these products are as safe or effective as those that your veterinarian will have on hand. In addition, the person advising you at the store may not be well trained and could possibly give you incorrect advice.

And why is it important to treat these fleas? Well besides the fact that they are gross and icky, they can cause disease in people and pets. I have seen dogs and cats actually die from anemia as these parasites suck the very blood from these poor animals. What a horrible way to die. They are also vectors for diseases that can infect both people and pets. If you follow this post, you already saw the link to Ted Nugent last week.

Next post I'll finish this series with a discussion of heart worm disease in dogs and cats. Hopefully by then I'll be able to put my graphics in the middle of my post.

Keith Niesenbaum, VMD

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