“My cat doesn’t have fleas! He stays in the house and I’ve never seen them!”
“I don’t see any fleas on my white socks.”
“Buster only goes outside to potty so it’s not possible for him to have fleas.”
“I bathe her every week so I know she doesn’t have fleas.”
Perhaps you yourself have uttered the words in one of the comments above. Maybe you or someone you know is convinced that just because they don’t see the fleas that they aren’t there. Well, let me tell you, I’ve worked in the veterinary field for a long time and most of the clients who find out their pets have fleas, are utterly shocked. Fleas are just one of those things that no one wants to think about. They are sneaky little critters and will take the opportunity when it presents itself.
A common misconception about fleas is that when the weather starts to get cold, they all die. In reality, what they are doing is trying to do what every other creature on this earth tries to do; get warm. As the weather gets colder, they actually get more aggressive about finding a more suitable place to live. When Buster goes outside to do his business, those fleas see a nice warm body and hop on for a ride. They don’t care if your dog is pampered, bathed, and perfumed. All they care about is hitch hiking on whatever it is they can find that happens to be warmer than the place they are in. And who can blame them?
Indoor cats are just as susceptible to getting fleas as any other pet. Fleas can enter a home at any time. The thing about cats is that they are fastidious groomers. Unless the cat is horribly infested, chances are you aren’t going to see many signs that he’s got bugs. A cat will groom and lick, and eat, the flea probably before you have a chance to know what’s going on.
A lot of people swear by the “white sock” theory, believing that fleas love white places and to find out if you have fleas simply walk through your home in white socks and see if they jump on. Whether it’s true or not, it’s not going to work unless there is a horrible infestation. Think about this. The normal body temperature of a cat or a dog is higher than that of a human being. Fleas, again, are seeking heat. They would much rather stay on the nice warm feline or canine than take their chances, jump off and look for something else only to find you, which isn’t as pleasing. However, if you do have a heavy load of them, you just might find some on your being. It boils down to this; if you see fleas on your sock, you have a major flea problem.
Bathing pets may be helpful in getting rid of live fleas. The problem lies in the ones that aren’t on the pet and with the flea eggs. Fleas lay eggs everywhere, in the carpet, in the upholstery, and on the pet. When a dog is bathed, it seems encouraging because the fleas seem to come alive and start running for their lives as they scurry towards the head of the animal fleeing from the drowning suds that chase them. Be assured though, that there are more. They are hiding and they are reproducing. Their eggs will soon hatch and a new colony will arise.
So, how can I get rid of them, you ask? I will tell you. It can take some work and some patience to get rid of these pesky critters.
If your pet has the itchies, there is a good way to determine if fleas are a problem. It’s not always 100% but it is often quite accurate and is one of the ways that veterinary professionals check. Get yourself a flea comb. It’s a small, very fine, metal toothed comb. Comb the back of your pet, paying particular attention to the lower back and the base of his tail. Be sure to keep the comb teeth close to the skin and comb straight through the hair. If done correctly, much hair will be combed out. Investigate this bit of hair and look for very tiny black specks that resemble dirt. See it? Well, dirt is in fact what it is. It is flea dirt. When a flea bites a pet, it ingests the blood, digests it, and passes it through. This is what you are seeing. To prove it, try putting several pieces of dirt on a white paper towel. Add a drop or two of rubbing alcohol and gently rub the dirt. If you see the speck turn to red or make a red streak on the paper towel, then it is confirmed. Your pet has fleas.
I must stress however that this isn’t always a test that proves 100% results. If you see the specks turn to red, then you know your pet has fleas. However, if you aren’t finding any dirt on your pet to begin with, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have fleas. Typically, in a case where a pet has fleas but they are unidentifiable, you can get away with simply preventing them. Good preventative measures are also good ways to get rid of a mild case of fleas.
Let’s move on and discuss what we need to do now that you’ve confirmed that your worst nightmares have come true and you pet does indeed have fleas.
The first thing you must do is contact your veterinarian. Depending on the severity of the case, your pet may need further treatment. Often times when a pet is infested, they will itch until their heart’s delight and still itch some more. Many of them end up with a skin infection of some sort that requires medical attention. Here I will address a mild case of fleas, as your veterinarian will need to treat your pet if it is severe. No matter how mild or severe the case, find out what your veterinarian recommends for flea treatment. There are many products on the market; however the ones you purchase from your vet are the safest and most effective. Products sold in super centers, pet stores, and grocery stores are often ineffective, improperly dosed, diluted or simply unsafe. Your vet may recommend a product that seems very similar to something sold in the stores but I can’t stress enough how different they really are. Always get the recommendation from your veterinarian on the very best product.
There are a number of topical medications that work well, as long as they are the ones you get from the pet hospital. Use only those that are labeled for your particular pet. By this I mean, do not purchase a tube of medication labeled for a large dog and put a few drops on your three small dogs. It also means to never put any product labeled for dogs on your cat. Go only by your veterinarian recommendations and if you have questions about it, ask him or her! That’s what they are there for. These topical medications are applied to your pet’s skin and help keep your pet protected from fleas, most times for up to 30 days. Your vet might also be able to recommend a treatment for your home as well. If there is a heavy infestation, your home may need to be sprayed and treated for fleas as well. Always be very careful with these products and read the label in its entirety before using.
When using the topical medications, keep in mind that every dog and cat that lives in the household must be treated. Fleas will go from one pet to another leaving the product less than effective if everyone isn’t treated. This means the indoor cats need it just as much as the dog that goes outside. It also means that your pampered Miniature Poodle, Princess who is paper trained will need it just as much as the slobbering Saint Bernard, Cody who spends most of his time outdoors. Applying the product for one month probably isn’t going to do the trick either. You will need to continue to apply each and every month. If you are already seeing fleas in your home, stopping the medication when the weather turns cold probably isn’t going to do much good. The fleas are already inside and staying warm; they couldn’t care less what the weather outside is like.
In many mild cases, the simple monthly application of a product like Frontline or Advantage will do the trick. Severe cases require attention to the environment. On the market you will find sprays, bombs, and traps. Here again, you should seek the advice of your vet to determine which is best. Be sure to follow the label instructions very closely. Chances are with bombs and sprays, you’ll have to evacuate your home. This means everyone, you, your dog, cat, gerbil, parrot, and rabbit will have to leave the home for the duration stated on the label of the product. One other thing to pay close attention to as well is the fact that one time may not do the trick. Don’t forget that fleas lay eggs. These eggs will hatch out later in life, making it easy for one to believe that all their efforts for eradicating their home of these bugs were left ineffective. In reality, it did work. But the offspring of those you’ve destroyed have come back for revenge.
I feel I must also tell that there are times when the case is more than severe. In these cases, professional help will need to be sought and you just might need to have an exterminator get rid of these nasty critters. However, most cases are mild and are easy to treat with some time and patience. It all boils down to this: In mild cases, often times simply treating the pets in the household with a good quality product as recommended by your veterinarian is all it takes. In cases that are a little more severe, environment treatment along with the previously stated treatment for your pet will be required.
There is one last bit of information that must be shared. Fleas carry tapeworms. It’s a simple matter of fact even if you do find it a nasty thought. Be sure to ask your veterinarian what he or she recommends for treating these nasty parasites along with your flea problem.
There is something you can do to prevent ever having to go through this and that is, again, seeking the advice of your vet. Use good quality flea prevention regularly and faithfully and hopefully you’ll never see another flea.
As you sit there reading this, look over at your dog and think about it. Whether you call him Spur, Dakota, Heidi, or Happy, and whether he’s an old slobbering goof or a pampered cough potato, he just might be hiding some smaller critters and you just don’t know it yet. Turn around and watch RicRac, Bosley, Brickel, Pumpkin, or whatever it is that you call your feline friend as she grooms her face and licks her tail. What is she really pulling out of her coat and what is she really hiding from you? It all goes back to the same theory; just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Do your part to keep your pet from suffering from the scurrying feet and biting mouths of fleas and to make sure your home stays flea free and keep flea prevention on board. You’ll be happy you did.