April is Parasite Awareness Month, and there is no time like the present to ensure your home, family, and furry friends are protected.
Fleas are the most prevalent parasite among companion animals. These pesky pests are known to cause itching and irritation, but they can also transmit diseases to animals and people.
Flea Transmitted Diseases
Fleas can carry plague, typhus, tulaRemeia (a potentially serious illness that occurs naturally in North America), and Bartonella ("Cat Scratch Fever"). Many of these illnesses are rare, but all of them can be transmitted to humans. In addition to Bartonella, fleas pose specific risks to cats. Mycoplasma haemofelis is an infection of the red blood cells that causes feline anemia and can affect some humans with compromised immune systems. Fleas also act as an intermediate host for tapeworms.
The Flea Life Cycle
The adult fleas that you see on your pet are just the tip of the iceberg and represent only 5% of the flea population. Hundreds or thousands of eggs, larvae, and pupae may live in your home and on your pet.
Flea eggs are laid in your pet's coat by an adult female. Flea eggs then fall off your pet and into your home. Larva hatch from the eggs and develop in your pet's environment by feeding on adult flea feces (digested blood) that falls from the infested pet. Larvae eventually spin cocoons to form pupae. Pupae are resistant to freezing, drying, and insecticides and can lie dormant for many months. New fleas hatch from the pupae when they sense the presence of a mammal (preferably a dog or cat).
Flea Control Tips
Gone are the days of flea dips and regular flea baths. Newer, safer products can help us control and prevent fleas on your pet.
- Treat ALL pets in your household, even indoor cats. Fleas can enter your home on clothing or via other pets.
- Treat your pets year-round with a monthly flea control product regardless of whether you see fleas. In warmer climates like South Carolina, fleas are ever-present, and prevention is the best medicine.
- We recommend Revolution for cats. Revolution is a topical application for cats that also prevents heartworms.
- We recommend Simparica for dogs. Simparica is a chewable pill that kills fleas and ticks fast. Trifexis is a chewable pill for dogs that is also a combination of heartworm and flea prevention. The problem with Trifexis is that it can cause vomiting in some dogs, and it doesn't control ticks. However, it does work very well for many of our patients whose owners prefer a combination product. For dog heartworm prevention, we recommend Sentinel Spectrum, which is a monthly chewable tablet. Sentinel Spectrum, as the name suggests, has the widest spectrum of parasite control on the market. Sentinel Spectrum prevents hookworms, roundworms, whipworms, and tapeworms. As a bonus, it contains lufenuron. Lufenuron helps control flea populations by rendering the larvae incapable of cracking their eggshell. If ALL pets in a household are on lufenuron, fleas cannot establish an infestation in that home, even if there is a lapse in regular flea control. However, you can still see adult fleas on pets on lufenuron if fleas are picked up outside. This is why we always combine Sentinel Spectrum with something like Simparica.
- Cats can take lufenuron by getting an injection of it (Program) every 6 months and this is recommended in households that currently have or have recently had a flea outbreak.
- If your pet is epileptic or has ever seizured, be sure to let your vet know! Many flea control products are not appropriate for dogs with this condition.
Treating a Flea Infestation
If you follow the tips listed above, you will absolutely get your flea problem under control, but it can take up to 3 months. Remember that the pupae is resistant to all attempts to kill the maturing flea inside. Your pet will frequently encounter maturing pupae, and fleas will hatch out and hop on. These fleas will be killed by your flea product, but since no product kills fleas instantly, you will likely still see fleas regularly for up to 3 months, or until all pupae have hatched.
When you see these fleas, you can give dogs and cats a pill called Capstar. Capstar kills fleas within minutes and is very safe. However, Capstar does not work for more than 24 hours.
To speed up this process of getting eggs, larvae, and pupae out of your house, treat your pet's environment. We recommend calling a professional exterminator to treat inside and outside your home. If you prefer to treat your home yourself, you can do so with Knockout spray. Be sure to…
- Remove your pets from the area that is being sprayed.
- Wash all bedding, blankets and towels on a hot-water cycle.
- Vacuum all carpets and upholstery and then discard the vacuum bag (or the eggs will just hatch in there and hop out into our home again.)
- Spray all surfaces where your pet walks, and spend extra time on the areas where your pet hangs out the most - bedding and play areas.
- ALWAYS wait until all surfaces have dried before allowing your pets back into a treated area.
- Repeat the process in 2 weeks.
Flea bombs aren't very efficient because they treat areas that don't need to be treated (i.e. your counters) and don't focus on the areas that need extra attention.
Sometimes a pet's outdoor environment will also need to be treated. Yard sprays labeled for fleas can be used for this purpose. Follow all instructions on the label.
Protect Your Pet
Need help developing a protection plan for your pet? Request an appointment online for individualized recommendations. All Bees Ferry patients have access to our on-site dispensary and an online pharmacy with free shipping.