The Itch That Keeps on Itching: Fleas and our Pets
April 12, 2013
Of all the joys spring offers us, one of the most troublesome
things about this time of year is the increase of insects on our
furry friends. Of all these creepy pests, adult fleas cause
the most problems for our pets.
In order to become adults, fleas need warm weather, between 70
and 80 degrees, and around 70 to 80 percent relative humidity.
"Those ideal conditions are usually what we are experience
during this time of the year, which is why we generally see more
fleas coming out in the spring," said Dr. Alison Diesel, lecturer
in dermatology at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine
& Biomedical Sciences (CVM).
Unlike many geographical areas where seasonal differences occur,
fleas can be present year-round in Texas because of our warmer
While many people think fleas are relatively harmless except for
making our pets itch, fleas can cause numerous other health
problems in our pets.
For example, some animals may react to an allergen found in
fleas' saliva, causing the animal to have an allergic
reaction. This causes the animal to itch and ultimately
scratch, which can lead to a secondary skin infection.
If there is a massive amount of fleas, anemia could even become
a potential problem, especially with small animals that do not have
large amounts of blood. Fleas also carry diseases like
tapeworms and Bartonella (which causes "cat scratch disease") that
can infect both pets and humans.
While there is no way to completely prevent fleas from reaching
our pets, a key factor to controlling fleas is breaking their life
cycle either by killing the adults and/or at least one of the
"The flea life cycle has four phases: the adult fleas lay eggs,
the eggs hatch into larvae, the larvae turns into pupae, which,
eventually, turn into adults," said Diesel. "Targeting several
phases of the flea lifecycle is best, particularly when dealing
with an infestation. The easiest stage to target is the adult
flea since they live on the pet. The other stages, such as
eggs, larvae, and pupae, are present in the environment."
With regards to specific therapy for fleas and secondary
problems, your pet's veterinarian is a valuable resource for the
best options and possible medications.
"Your pet's veterinarian can help recommend the most appropriate
product to help prevent fleas based on other factors (other skin
conditions, food allergies, etc.) as well as discuss the
appropriate way to administer the product," said Diesel. "I suggest
using a flea prevention that lasts the entire month and is still
effective if the pet gets wet."
Using flea prevention products once every 30 days provides the
best protection for your pet from flea bites and can even prevent a
flea infestation from being established in your pet's environment.
It is important to minimize an animal's exposure to fleas by
avoiding infested areas and pets.
"There are some things which can be done to minimize exposure to
fleas: avoid known infested areas, do not allow your pet to come
into contact with wild animals or burrows, and protect areas of the
house where wild animals may enter to minimize wild animals from
establishing residency in the first place," said Diesel. "If fleas
become a problem inside the house, try vacuuming once a week."
If the flea presence grows larger, there are various in-house
treatments and exterminators to aid in flea removal.
"Focus on places where the pets spends most of their time inside
the house because that will contain the most concentrated area of
fleas," said Diesel. "Also, don't forget under beds and furniture,
behind curtains, and along hallways connecting rooms when treating
the house for fleas. It may be best to contact a professional
exterminator when there is a large flea burden present."
In addition to treating animals and the inside of the home, it
may also be essential to treat the outside environment around your
home. This can be done by treating areas of the surrounding
property that have an unusually high populace of fleas.
"This includes shaded areas, under trees and bushes, in dog
houses, under porches and decks. As with indoor control, when
the burden is high, a professional exterminator may be the most
help," said Diesel.
The best approach to managing fleas is to practice prevention
continuously throughout the year by treating all pets with proper
medication as well as treating the inside and outside of the home
if there is a suspected infestation.
"It is much easier to prevent fleas than to treat fleas," said
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