It's bitter cold outside right now, but believe it or not spring is just around the corner. When the weather starts warming up, there will be flea eggs and flea pupae waiting to hatch and make a blood meal out of your pet. Adult fleas make up about 5% of the total flea population. That means that 95% of fleas in the environment are eggs, larva or pupae! If you wait until the weather breaks, or when you see fleas to start medicating your pets, you are already three months behind. It will take three months of continuous treatment of your house, your pets and the surrounding environment before you can get rid of only 98% of the fleas!
Fleas are everywhere, and can cause flea allergy dermatitis, flea anemia, feline infectious anemia, cat scratch fever (does not make the cat sick but the infected cat can make you sick) and tapeworm infections. Fleas don't discriminate based on income or lifestyle, either.
The best way to take care of fleas is to prevent them before they become an issue. There are many "home remedies" people have used to get rid of flea problems, such as bathing in dish soap or flea shampoos, and flea collars. The problem with these products is that the dish soaps and flea shampoos will dry your pet's skin, and only kill the fleas currently on your pet. They stop working as soon as they are rinsed off, so any fleas that have "abandoned ship" are free to jump back onto your pet within minutes. The traditional flea collars unfortunately are only effective at treating fleas around the neck area, but not the rest of the body. There is a wide variety of products available on the market. A large number of the Over The Counter (OTC) products are ineffective, since fleas have built resistance against them. Additionally, these products are only approved by the EPA, which means that the company does not have to prove their safety and effectiveness in animals, but only that they are safe for the environment. Recently, there have been a few veterinary only products that have been approved for OTC use. These products are safe when used as directed by the manufacturer and will kill and prevent fleas up to one month. If any of these products don't appear to be working properly there are multiple factors that can affect their efficacy such as constant bathing or swimming, inappropriate application, overloaded flea population in the environment, or even flea resistance. Some of these products have been on the market for almost 20 years and fleas are starting to build a resistance to them. Newer products and formulations are entering the market on a yearly basis. One of these newer products is an oral pill that will start killing fleas within 30 minutes and will effectively kill 98% of the fleas on the pet after 4 hours. Another product utilizes a new mechanism called bioactivation, which means this product has to be absorbed by the flea, where it is activated by it's body in order to kill it. Essentially it uses the mechanism that the flea uses to build resistance against older products in order to kill them faster and more effectively; this also makes it safer for you and your pet.
Fleas are resilient little pests that can cause an array of diseases in pets and humans. It is recommended that all animals should be treated year round as fleas can live inside the house even during winter months. All pets in the house should be treated for at least 3 months to get rid of 98% of fleas in that environment. Additionally the environment inside and outside the house needs to be treated in order to help control the flea population. While there are an array of products available, it is best to avoid any OTC products, flea shampoos and flea collars since they are ineffective and can possibly cause medical problems to your pets. If you have any questions about any products or fleas in general please contact your Veterinarian to find out which product would be best for your pet.
Luis A. Tarrido, DVM