Pet Talk: Treating and preventing fleas

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When dog and cat owners notice their pet excessively scratching, biting, and licking, many of them associate these signs with fleas. With so many products on the market for flea treatment and prevention, finding the right product to treat your pet and house can be both intimidating and confusing.

Controlling fleas is a multi-step process and often involves assistance from your veterinarian, especially in severe cases. For every flea an owner finds on their pet, it is likely that many other immature flea life stages, such as eggs, larvae, and cocoons, are in the pet owner’s home and yard. Thus, an efficient flea treatment and prevention plan includes caring for both the pet and the pet’s environment.

However, it is important to note that no flea treatment plan shows immediate results, so it is important for pet owners to be patient and continue routine care for flea prevention.

Dr. Adam Patterson, clinical assistant professor and chief of dermatology at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explained the importance of treating both pets and their environment for fleas. “The adult fleas owners see on their pet is just the tip of the iceberg, as those fleas come from immature and unseen flea life stages in the carpet, area rugs, upholstery, dog beds, and shady places outdoors,” Patterson said. “Depending on environmental conditions, it may take a couple of weeks to months for all of the eggs to hatch, so if you don’t keep regularly administering flea prevention to all fur-bearing animals in your home, you are giving fleas an opportunity to come right back on your pet.”

A successful flea control plan eliminates fleas from the pet, as well as the indoor and outdoor environment, thereby preventing immature forms of fleas from developing into blood-sucking adults. Owners should be guided by their veterinarian in choosing the safest and most effective flea control product to treat their pet and home. Veterinarians will choose a product based on the extent of the flea infestation and other considerations, such as the pet’s health, age, and breed.

“There are many products to treat your house and yard with, but this should be something you discuss with your veterinarian,” Patterson said. “Some products may be harmful to some animals in your household so a veterinarian can recommend the best product for you.”

In addition to using a flea control product, owners can treat their homes and yards in other simple ways. For an indoor environment, vacuum thoroughly below drapes, under furniture, and where the pet sleeps. Be sure to remove and discard the vacuum waste bag after every use until the flea infestation is resolved. Washing the pet’s bedding on a weekly basis can also help in flea prevention. Controlling fleas in the great outdoors includes disturbing flea habitat to prevent adult fleas from developing. To do this, target veterinarian recommended products to moist, warm, and shady areas and areas in the yard where there is organic debris, such as leaves. Fleas also populate in areas where pets spend much of their time, such as under patios, porches, and outdoor kennels. Disturb these breeding ground areas by raking, sweeping, and applying an insecticide.

There are many flea control products for pets on the market, including flea collars, once-a-month topical spot-on treatments, and oral tablets. Patterson suggested pet owners consult their veterinarian in choosing the most effective flea treatment for their furry friend, as treatment for the pet is the most important step in good flea control.

Although fleas are often viewed as just an annoyance for most pets, it is important for pet owners to take immediate action when they notice signs of fleas. Allergic reactions, bacterial skin infections, anemia, and the transmission of parasites are additional potential complications that may occur in pets with fleas.

“Of course, if you notice any signs of itchy skin, sores on the skin, hair loss, lethargy, or weight loss in your pet, you should have the pet examined by a veterinarian,” Patterson advised. “The good news with fleas and ticks is that there are very good preventatives available. If you are consistent and vigilant with preventative treatment, you shouldn’t have to worry about complications from fleas.”

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.

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