Fleas. Not only are they a nuisance to you and your pet, but they can be dangerous little disease carriers as well.
During the last three weeks I have treated more dogs for fleas than I would have ever expected to in the month of February. Here in California we have had a warm winter which has forced fleas out of their dormant stage much earlier in the year than usual.
To better understand how this occurs let’s briefly take a look at the flea’s life cycle.
A cat flea, which is your most common type of flea found on dogs and cats, can lay up to 50 eggs a day. Once an egg is hatched, the little (not cute) baby flea will eventually form a cocoon where it matures into an adult flea. Optimal temperature for adult flea development is 70-90 degrees F. Once fully developed the adult flea can stay in the cocoon for up to 12 months until warmer temperatures force them to emerge from their slumber.
So, here in the Hanford California, we have been hitting record highs for February and have had 13 days exceeding 70 degrees. These are temperatures which typically wouldn’t be seen until at least April, hence the sudden early sightings of fleas. The temperature lately has been ideal for the adult fleas to emerge from their cocoon, and these cocoons can be anywhere — your carpet, couch, backyard, front yard or pet!
So now that we know why we are seeing fleas so early in the year let’s talk about prevention and treatment. Preventing a flea problem is going to be much easier (and cheaper) than treating one. There are several products on the market for cats and dogs that prevent and treat flea infestations so let’s take a look at them.
Oral Flea Treatment
The most effective way to treat or prevent a flea problem is a veterinarian prescribed oral flea medication. This medication is usually a chewable tablet, with a dosage dependent on the weight of your pet, given to them once a month. I am a strong proponent of oral flea treatments; all three of my dogs are on it and I recommend this type of treatment to all of my clients. It has done a great job at making my dogs flea-free. For instance, my West Highland Terrier has a flea allergy and if he gets one flea on him he is tearing his hair out his back end from the constant itching. Oral flea treatments are the only method that has successfully and consistently solved his issue.
One of the biggest (and possibly only) disadvantages of oral flea treatment is the cost. They tend to be the most expensive form of treatment.
The most popular brands I am aware of are Comfortis, Nexgard, and Sentinel, some of which will also aid in the deterrent of other parasites such as mosquitoes, ticks, heartworm, and intestinal worms. I suggest that you ask your vet about it at your pet’s next appointment and they will be able to recommend a medication that they think will be right for your pet.
Topical Flea Treatment
Another great option for preventing a flea infestation is a monthly topical treatment that is usually applied to your pet’s skin between the shoulder blades (read instructions on the packaging for exact directions of use). Before my pets and I were introduced to the oral treatment I had my pets on the topical flea treatment Frontline Plus. Frontline Plus, Advantage II, Advantix, and Hartz are some examples of topical flea treatment brands that can be purchased at your local pet store or vet office. In my opinion, you pay for what you get when it comes to topical flea treatments. The expensive brands, such as Frontline and Advantix, seem to be much more effective than a less expensive brand such as Hartz.
When searching for a topical flea treatment there are a few additional things you should consider: What does it prevent and kill? Will it kill the fleas and its eggs or just the fleas? Does it kill ticks? Is it waterproof? When does it expire? Yes some of the brands do expire so make sure you check the packaging for an exp date. Also make sure you purchase the correct dosage for your pet’s weight. And never ever put a topical treatment for a dog on a cat or vice versa. Always read the instructions that come with the product before applying to your pet.
With the popularity of topical flea treatments and now oral flea medications, flea collars are not as popular as they used to be. A flea collar is more cost effective and can be longer lasting than the other monthly flea prevention options out there. if you were to use a flea collar, use it for prevention of a flea infestation not for treatment.
Flea collars may not be the best choice if you have children in your household. Most children love their pets and will be petting and playing with them often so they will certainly come in contact with the flea collar and pesticide that is on it as well. Please do your research on the product and ingredients to make your own decision. Flea collars also are not ideal for outdoor cats because they may get hung up on something by the collar such as a tree branch or fencepost.
Some brands such as Vibrac, Hartz and Adams can be purchased at your local pet store or vets office. Flea collars are not safe for use on puppies or kittens so be sure to read the packaging for proper use and age requirements.
Flea shampoos can be purchased at your local pet store, grocery store or retail store. While this is a great way to treat a flea problem immediately, it is not a long lasting solution. Most shampoos will kill fleas instantly (but not necessarily the eggs) while repelling fleas for up to 10 days after the bath. You will find yourself repeating flea bath after flea bath. If you opt to use a flea shampoo make sure to follow up a week later with a long lasting flea preventative such as the oral or topical flea medication. Most flea shampoos are not safe for puppies or kittens and care must be taken to avoid getting it in the eyes. Be sure to read the instructions prior to use.
Organic or Natural Treatments
You can find some natural or organic treatments such as Sentrys Natural Defense or Natural Chemistry at your local pet store. There are also plenty of blogs and articles online that describe natural homemade flea shampoo recipes. While organic or natural can be a more health cautious route to take, I strongly suggest that if you are dealing with a heavy flea infestation you contact your veterinarian to address your concerns about the chemical products.
Yard and House Treatments
If your pet has fleas, you can bet that there is going to be fleas or eggs in your carpet, pet’s bedding, couch or yard. Pet supply retailers have a large selection of yard sprays, bug bombs, powders, indoor sprays, etc. Before you go spending the time and money attempting to treat your house yourself, please get a quote from a local exterminator. They may end up being cheaper and more effective in the long run. Fleas can be very difficult to get rid of and it can sometimes take an expert to completely control the situation.
I hope this has encouraged you to take immediate action in preventing a flea problem this year. While most people believe that fleas only need to be prevented in the summer, it really should happen year-around. Fleas can still survive inside your warm and cozy house during the cold winter months. Take it from me, I have flea shampooed triple the number of dogs this month compared to February of last year. The fleas are here looking for their next furry home and meal, and they won’t be going away anytime soon.