Warm weather brings fun in the sun for our dogs— but also an increase in fleas! llnesses from mosquito, tick and flea bites are on the rise in the United States, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Illnesses from mosquito, tick, and flea bites have tripled in the U.S., with more than 640,000 cases reported during the 13 years from 2004 through 2016.” —CDCAdvertising
If you’re looking for advice and tips on detection, treatment, and prevention for flea season this year, you’ve come to the right place.
How to tell if your dog has fleas
It’s not the bite, but the allergic reaction to it that causes your dog to get itchy. Some pets are hypersensitive to fleas and may suffer a severe reaction from just a single bite. However, all pets will experience discomfort in the event of flea bites. So as soon as you see repeated scratching, suspect fleas.
To confirm the presence of fleas, check your dog’s fur. Use a fine-tooth comb, such as a specialized flea comb, to look for “flea dirt.” In more severe cases, you might also find the bugs themselves.
Flea dirt, which looks like black pepper, is visible to the naked eye, though you may have to look close to the skin on long-haired dogs. “If you’re unsure whether flea dirt is present, the black specks can be dampened to see if they turn red. If they do, pet owners should carefully comb their pet’s fur to remove dead hair and debris,” explains master groomer Nicole Kallish.
If fleas have already taken hold, don’t worry. You can stop them in their tracks! Effective flea control starts with your living environment. Once fleas have had a chance to establish their life cycle in a home or outdoor environment, no program that doesn’t emphasize environmental control will be successful.
Experts say it takes three to four months to completely get rid of a flea infestation. To tackle a flea problem, follow these steps.
- Wash all bedding in hot, soapy water.
- Vacuum all carpets, hardwood floors, linoleum, and tiled floors, and throw away the vacuum bag.
- Choose and apply a spray, pellet, or nontoxic treatment for your yard. Nematodes (bugs that eat fleas), can be purchased at your local garden center or online.
- Flea and Tick Shampoo can help rid your dog of pests in about 4 hours.
- When all else fails, a Flea Fogger is your best hope to end the cycle of a flea infestation in your home. Alternatively, call a local exterminator.
- Continue to treat your dog and any other pets with a monthly preventative.
Choosing a safe, effective flea product to use on your pet is the first step. Talk to your vet about the safest products, and always follow the instructions on the label. The two main options are oral or topical treatments.
Over-the-Counter Oral Flea Treatments
Prescription Oral Flea Treatments
The pill form of flea protection is the fastest choice as it goes right into your dog’s bloodstream. What’s even cooler is some formulations include de-wormers, heartworm, and tick prevention for a one-shot punch to many of dog’s least favorite critters.
Topical spot-on treatments involve squeezing a small vial of goo onto the nape of your dog’s neck. The topical preventative medicines like Frontline and K9 Advantix will take 24 to 48 hours to kill fleas.
As a certified vet tech, I’ve tried many products recommended by our vet, and the one that seems to be the most effective is Trifexis.
Flea treatment for puppies
Even a mild-to-moderate infestation can put a puppy’s health at risk. A flea bite has a much larger impact on puppies. Their immune systems haven’t completely developed and they have a greater chance of developing anemia.
Many prescription and over-the-counter flea treatments can be used on puppies older than 7-8 weeks, though it’s always good to double check with your vet on the dose. The treatment you give your full grown dog may be too much for a puppy, and some brands require your puppy to be closer to 6 months before treating. For a guide on what ages are recommended for flea treatment medication, see this handy table from the AKC.
For pregnant and nursing dogs, as well as puppies too young to be treated with topical medications, experts recommend using a flea comb and a gentle flea shampoo formulated for younger animals. You will also want to be conscious about what preventative environmental treatments you use, as pregnant dogs and newborn puppies are more sensitive to chemicals.
Natural flea prevention alternatives
Frequent vacuuming, washing your animal’s bedding (all blankets!) and regularly steam-cleaning your carpet help reduce flea populations in the environment. In addition, these natural flea prevention strategies can be added to your toolkit.
Natural alternatives include:
- Borate powder like Fleabusters, which you sprinkle into carpets and furniture, leave overnight, then vacuum away.
- Natural Flea and Tick Home Spray is handy for the occasional flea or tick on you or your pet, or to spray down bedding or carpets. The active ingredients are peppermint oil, clove oil, and soap.
- Flea-repelling herbs or flowers such as marigold, lavender, mint, and lemon balm
- Dietary supplementation with brewer’s yeast and vitamin B complex
- Diatomaceous earth
Diatomaceous earth is the sandlike remains of ancient organisms. According to the expert herbalist Greg Tilford, “its activity against parasites is strictly mechanical, as each tiny particle has sharp points and edges that penetrate the bodies of fleas.” It should never be allowed to contact your pet’s eyes or other mucous membranes. Make sure you use the food-grade powder, as other versions may contain chemicals not approved for home use.
Diatomaceous earth is approved by the FDA for both internal and external use with livestock animals and has been used for years with companion animals.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
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