Spring = the return of the dreaded F word.

Spring = the return of the dreaded F word.

Fleas. Those pesky little creatures that can cause a giant headache for any pet parent they encounter, and while most dogs and cats are kept on a preventative medication like Frontline or Advantage missing just one treatment can invite some very unwanted guests.

What is a flea? Fleas are wingless insects (1/16 to 1/8-inch (1.5 to 3.3 mm) long) that are agile, usually dark colored (for example, the reddish-brown of the cat flea), with tube-like mouth-parts adapted to feeding on the blood of their hosts. Their legs are long, the hind pair well adapted for jumping: a flea can jump vertically up to 7 inches (18 cm) and horizontally up to 13 inches (33 cm).

 The life cycle of fleas can be as short as two weeks to several months. Fleas go through four life cycle stages:

The flea life cycle begins when the female lays eggs after she feeds, the eggs can be laid in batches and are usually laid on the host which means that the eggs can easily fall onto the ground. Because of this, areas where the host lives, sleeps, and spends a great deal of time become one of the primary habitats of eggs and developing fleas. The eggs take around two days to two weeks to hatch.

On top of being annoying to your dog and causing them to scratch, fleas can transmit diseases, and other parasites such as tapeworm if one is ingested.

The temperatures are warming up and your dog or cat has started scratching, be sure to check your pet for fleas before running to the store and buying a flea and tick shampoo. Flea and Tick shampoos contain a pesticide that can cause even more itching and scratching if these pesky parasites aren’t to blame for a sudden spike in scratching. Many dogs can suffer from springtime allergies just like people, so consult with your veterinarian before medicating your pet.

Your pet has fleas, now what?

You’ve seen fleas/flea dirt on your pet (as seen in the picture to the right), now what do you do? Provided you’ve just started noticing some scratching and your pet does not seem like he or she has an abundance of fleas, it can still be manageable to get rid of them.

  • Be sure to wash any bedding, blankets, and anything your pet has laid on. Flea eggs can fall off of your pet and be present in your home. If this has been going on for a while, call your local exterminator/pest control company to discuss options for possible treatment of the home or bombing.
  • Depending on the condition of your pet, you may be able to bathe them at home witha flea and tick shampoo. Many pet parents have had success bathing their dogs with blue dawn dish soap as opposed to flea shampoo with pesticide, always consult with your veterinarian before buying and applying any topical treatment. If you feel as though you cannot bathe them safely, they have a lot of redness or inflammation, or they simply do not look normal: call your veterinarian before you take any action. Applying flea shampoo to open or infected skin can cause your pet some serious pain. If you have a cat or other animal always consult your veterinarian before you apply these products, as many are meant for dogs only.
  • After taking your pet to a veterinarian/groomer or bathing them at home, do not immediately apply a topical flea treatment. When you bathe a dog or cat, you are stripping their skin of natural oils which when you apply a topical treatment such as Frontline is absorbed through your pet’s skin and into its oil glands. This allows the product to be released to your pet’s hair follicles and skin every time the oil glands are activated. After bathing  ensure your pet is 100% dry before applying, the safest bet I’ve found is to wait until the next day to apply your flea treatment.

When you are buying a flea treatment, many products such as Frontline and Advantage are now available “over the counter” at pet specialty stores and some grocery store chain pharmacies. Be sure the product you are buying is a prescription strength flea product, many “store shelf” brands such as BioSpot claim to have the same active ingredients as Frontline, but are very weak and do not last very long. Most pet parents who use this product see a return of fleas within two to five days. If you are unsure of which product to buy, consult your veterinarian.

After treating your pet, be sure to keep a close eye on them for the next week to monitor for any signs of a reaction to the topical medication, or return of fleas. If these steps are not effective for treating your flea problem, consult your vet/groomer/pet professional and formulate a new plan of action.

Keeping your pet on a preventative can help prevent major problems down the road because getting rid of fleas is no easy task, as well as any skin infections, bacterial infections or parasites your pet may get from having fleas. Many products on the market now prevent fleas, ticks, and many different kinds of worm. Consult your veterinarian before buying and administering any products to your pet.

Featured image courtesy: Buzzle
Flea on animal image courtesy: Pet Informed
Flea life cycle image courtesy: Fleas in-house

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