The infamous fleas and ticks – super-villains of the pet universe. First we have the flea – able to leap flea-sized skyscrapers in a single bound and reduce the mightiest dog to a pile of itching, whimpering fur. Next is the tick – able to drink two hundred times its own body weight in blood and cause illness with a single bite. How do we fight such formidable foes? By using a multi-pronged attack of prevention and treatment. Fleas and ticks can be controlled and prevented from becoming a problem if you know how to recognize the warning signs.
Fleas are one of the more common and well-known problems among pet owners worldwide. They traditionally are the biggest problem in the United States during the "flea season" from late April to November, but with the presence of indoor central heating, fleas can make themselves at home in our houses year round. They can cause a great deal of trouble in their short 2-month lives and will reproduce and leave behind enough of their offspring to ensure their legacy lasts much longer. The adult fleas cause most of the problems but only account for about five percent of the entire population of fleas on your pet. The other ninety-five percent are in the egg, larval, or pupal stages waiting for the chance to give you or your pet those irritating bites.
There are a few warning signs that can let us know that there is a flea infestation that must be dealt with. The most obvious sign is excessive scratching, but animals are susceptible to other skin allergies or things that make them itch so this alone is not enough to convict a flea. You may see small bumps or bites on your pet, especially around its tail and the inside or outside of its thighs, or you might get lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a flea as you inspect your pet. Fleas are experts at moving through hair and can jump one hundred times their own height so it isn't always easy to catch a glimpse of them. A good sign that the adult fleas are present is the appearance of "flea dirt". These tiny black specks are made from dried blood excreted by the adult fleas and looks like dark dust on your pet's bedding, on a flea comb, or on a white piece of paper held under your dog as you rub its skin. If the flecks turn reddish or brown when dampened, its flea dirt.
Fleas can cause a variety of illnesses in your pets that may need addressed, depending on the severity of your flea problem. The most common is Flea Allergy Dermatitis, or an allergic reaction to the flea saliva. This accounts for a lot of the excessive scratching, bumps, and scabs known to occur in flea infestations. If you notice your pet losing weight or having other digestive problems, the problem may be a tapeworm. The tapeworms eggs are eaten by larval fleas. If your pet accidentally eats these larval fleas, the tapeworm can hatch and grow into a parasite inside of your animal, taking away its food and nutrients. Young, old, or sick pets can also become anemic if too many fleas are taking too much blood out of your animal. If you notice pale gums, weakness, or lethargy in an animal during a flea infestation, contact your vet immediately.
There are hundreds of flea remedies and products available that work in countless different ways. Flea collars are popular for repelling and killing fleas but vary in effectiveness and safety, depending on the coat of the animal and other factors. Various chemical flea control
options are available to apply to your home and animal that eliminate fleas, but some only work on specific life stages and each varies in how it works and how safe it is. Natural flea control
prouducts are also available. Herbal supplements and treatments like garlic and brewer's yeast may help but haven't been proved 100% effective. Flea traps
may be used to catch adult fleas but don't attack the eggs or larvae. Flea shampoos
may help for mild infestations or act as repellents.
The best approach is to use a veterinarian recommended flea and tick control
product, like Frontline, all year round. It is vitally important that you only use a dog flea product on dogs and a cat flea product for cats. Some chemicals formulated for dogs can be poisonus or even fatal to cats. Be sure to read the packaging instructions and warnings before using any product. Contact a vet in your area to find out which treatments work the best locally as different areas have different conditions affecting flea populations.