Q: I have two cats and two dogs and lots of fleas. The two cats never go outside and the dogs spend most of their time in the house except to go outside to potty and for occasional walks around the block. We had a huge problem with fleas last summer and I thought we had it under control. This is February and all four are scratching again and have the little black dots on their skin from the fleas. What is going on with fleas? What should I do to fight this infestation?
A: To be able to control a flea infestation as it sounds like you have, you need to understand the life cycle and preferences of the flea. You also need to know how your flea control products work. Failures in preventing and controlling are frequently due to lack of consistent compliance in the use of flea products and inappropriate use or misuse of the product over time.
There is a three tier necessity for controlling fleas especially long term. First, we must get rid of fleas currently on all pets. Check with your veterinarian. As you will find out, you will not be able to use the product that you use on your dogs on your cats. Correct application of veterinary recommended products is a must. Have your veterinarian show you how to apply that particular product. Always use the entire dose of the appropriate product on all your pets at the same time. Also familiarize yourself with the product and how long it will take to start to kill fleas that are present. Usually this will vary from about four hours to as far out as 36 hours.
Note recommendations about bathing pets prior to applying flea preventatives. Bathing your pets will reduce the essential oils in their skin, which can lead to lack of efficiency of the flea preventative. Many of these, and especially flea collars, depend upon the oils in the skin to effectively cover all areas of the pet. Bathing a pet will usually require a two-day waiting period before applying flea control products. Your veterinarian can help you with this.
The second necessary tier to totally eliminate fleas is to treat the premises where the pets live or frequent. This will require treating the house and the yard. All flea infestations start from a flea-infested area. That includes the yard, anywhere the animals sleep, under couches and chair cushions, etc. All bedding should be washed weekly while trying to eradicate eggs and immature stages of fleas. These may also be in the carpet or cracks between floor boards. Vacuuming frequently also will help.
Be sure to either dispose of the bags or apply flea spray inside the vacuum bags if they are not disposable. Insecticide sprays must be used inside the house and in all areas of the yard. The dogs going out to potty easily can be a source for fleas on the cats.
The flea cycle involves the female laying eggs on the pets. The eggs drop off into areas of the house and yard. These eggs develop into larvae, which spin cocoons. The larvae inside the cocoon develop into pupae which in time emerge as fleas. This cycle takes anywhere from two to three weeks to almost a year. The environment is a big factor in Oklahoma in that increased humidity can shorten the cycle and dry air can lengthen it. Fleas do not usually jump off the pet to lay these eggs so it is the pet moving around that spreads the eggs in the environment. Other animals that might wander through the yard at night such as raccoons, wild canines, opossums and others also can add to the flea population. All areas where the pets live should be treated at least monthly for three or four months.
The third tier to prevent or stop an infestation is continual treatment of all pets and their environments year round. Remember that stray cats and dogs, wild life and the neighbor’s pets can restart the cycle at any time.
In Oklahoma, we certainly have fleas all year long. Some of the worst infestations have occurred in December and January here in the Edmond area. Remember also that all products are not created equal so work with your veterinarian for recommendations of products that are the safest for your pets, especially cats and which are most effective.
Remember also that fleas are intermediate hosts for tapeworms. When your pet eats even a single flea it usually will develop an infection of tapeworms. Have your veterinarian check for tapeworms and provide treatment if necessary. Again, discuss everything with your veterinarian for both prevention and treatments.
DR. M. MARGARET KING, a longtime Edmond veterinarian, is a guest columnist. If you have any questions for her, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.