Banish a Blood Sucker

Fleas cause itchiness and discomfort for your pet and can even lead to serious skin infections. Courtesy: Thinkstock.

by Maria Libonate RVT

Los Angeles is known for its sunny and mild weather all year long. And while that warm weather is pleasant for people, it is also ideal for some pesky critters that we would love to avoid. Many pet owners have found out the hard way how prevalent fleas are in this city, no matter what time of year it is. So what can be done to help keep these pests off your furry friends?

Flea control!

This means being diligent about grooming and cleanliness. Bathing your dog at least once a month and keeping your pet’s home environment clean by washing all their bedding and any other surfaces or furniture they like to lay on.

Cleaning alone won’t take care of the problem, though. Flea preventives such as topical solutions or oral medications are very important in keeping fleas from jumping on your pets in the first place. And this means keeping them protected all year long, especially because winters out here can still mean flea season.

The life cycle of a flea is very simple. Once it makes its home on your pet, it will feed on your pet’s blood, and then deposit droppings, reproduce with other fleas, and lay hundreds of eggs in your pet’s fur. The eggs will shed anywhere in the home environment and can incubate for long periods until finally hatching, and then starting the cycle over again by finding another host pet to jump on.

Eggs can incubate for long periods before hatching. Courtesy: Thinkstock.

Simply bathing your pet will not rid them of fleas either, especially if there are still fleas or flea eggs in the environment. Cleaning your home and treating it and the surrounding areas with pet-safe products can keep your environment flea-free and less prone to infestation.

However, even after treating and cleaning, fleas will still be found outside. A dog can easily pick up more fleas just by going to the yard or on their daily walk. Even indoor cats can be at risk of catching fleas, as people can track fleas or flea eggs with their shoes. Or fleas could make their way through open windows where kitties love to lay and watch the world outside. If you see bugs in your home such as house flies or gnats, fleas can just as easily make it inside.

Flea collars may help, but they are usually not as effective as a flea medication, which works systemically throughout the body to form a sort of barrier all over to protect your pet. The best and most effective way to keep the fleas at bay is to use flea medications regularly.

There are many great products that you can buy at your local pet store that can be applied or given orally on a monthly basis. Some medications work better than others, so make sure you do your research and ask your veterinarian about what products will work best.

Also, make sure you know your pet and how they may react to these medications. If they have sensitive skin, try an oral medication. If they are stubborn about taking pills, use the topical, instead. Although these medications are tested and safe for your pets, every pet is different and may have a reaction. Always test the product by giving a single dose and monitoring your pet for the first few hours to make sure there is no adverse reaction. If you notice anything unusual, such as redness or irritation at the site of application, vomiting, diarrhea, or anything concerning, take them to your veterinarian and have them treated right away.

You may think your pet is free of fleas, but these little pests are sneaky and very good at hiding, especially if your pet’s fur provides good coverage for them. Seeing a flea is not the only indicator of a flea problem. Do some detective work and look for incriminating evidence of these stowaways! Remember how I mentioned before about the fleas leaving droppings on the pets they inhabit? Well, there’s your evidence. Flea droppings, more commonly known as flea dirt, can be seen as little specks of dirt on your pet’s fur. Using a flea comb or any fine-toothed comb, pull up some of that flea dirt and place it on a wet paper towel. If the paper towel starts to turn red, those are flea droppings and that means your pet has some unwelcome residents.

Fleas are a big nuisance, causing itchiness and discomfort for your pet and even leading to serious skin infections if your pet has flea allergies. They can also carry nasty parasites, such as tapeworms, which can infect pets and humans alike. If you think a flea or two is not a problem, think again. If you see one flea, chances are there are a lot more where that came from. Leaving it untreated can even cause anemia in some pets who may be too small, too old, or too weak to lose too much blood to them.

Keep your pet and your family clear of fleas by keeping them on flea preventives year round and keeping your pet and environment clean.

Maria Libonate is a Registered Veterinary Technician. She works at the VCA Venice Boulevard Animal Hospital at 12108 Venice Boulevard in Mar Vista. Ph: 310.313.9118. There is also a VCA clinic at 2506 Lincoln Boulevard in Venice. Ph: 310.306.8707.