Welcome back to Buckley Veterinary Hospital’s monthly pet care column.
Summer is finally here, and if you’re like our medical team, you’ve been anxiously awaiting the warmer weather and longer days. We must say, 2013 in the Pacific Northwest has had a solid number of sunny days so far!
We aren’t the only ones looking forward to sunny days and warm weather. Our pesky little friend the flea seems to emerge full-force during the hot summer months – with our mild winter this year, in some areas, fleas were a problem even through the colder season. Although fleas can be a year-round problem, depending on where you live or whether they have settled inside your home, summer marks the peak of fleas in our environment.
• Fleas are ectoparasites.
• They are extremely hardy animals that have been around for more than 100 million years.
• They have an exoskeleton that withstands high pressures and is shock resistant. You can drop a flea from five feet and not kill it because of its exoskeleton.
• Fleas are incredible athletes. A flea can jump more than 7 inches high and 13 inches long. If a flea were the size of a human, that’s equivalent to jumping 1000 feet high.
Why care about these little bugs?
Fleas can transmit tapeworms when your pet ingests them. Tapeworms are intestinal parasites that can cause malnutrition if untreated.
Young animals with severe flea infestations are at risk for developing anemia (a decrease in the number of red blood cells or fewer than the normal quantity of hemoglobin in the blood).
Not only do fleas annoy their hosts relentlessly, some animals are sensitive to fleas and can develop a skin reaction called “flea dermatitis, which can then lead to bacterial skin infections (pyoderma). If you’ll remember, we touched on this in last month’s piece focusing on pet allergies.
Don’t forget, fleas can also bite people.
Signs your pet has fleas
Fleas cause many pets to become itchy. If your pet is scratching or biting its legs, rump or feet, it could have fleas. Likewise, if you notice black specks that look like pepper on your pet’s skin, this could be flea dirt. Flea dirt is actually flea poop or digested blood. You can tell if the specks are flea dirt by wetting a Q-tip and then touching the black flecks. It’s flea dirt if the Q-tip turns red or rust color.
Not all animals scratch or chew when they have fleas. To check for fleas, look for them on the skin near your pet’s rump, tail and belly. Since adult fleas are fast and not easy to spot, be sure to also look for flea dirt. If your pets have flea dirt, they have fleas, even if you never see a flea. You can also use a flea comb, which has very fine teeth, to look for fleas and flea dirt. Use a wet paper towel to wipe off the comb and look for fleas and flea dirt.
How to prevent and treat infestations
Use one of the many safe and effective flea products from your veterinarian who will help you pick the best choice for your pet.
Be sure the products you use target more than one stage of the flea’s life cycle and use these products year-round to keep your household a flea-free zone.
Always follow the product’s instructions, as some products can be toxic and even fatal if used incorrectly. Never use a product meant for dogs on cats. Some dog products contain ingredients that can be toxic and even fatal to cats.
If you find that your furry family member has signs as we mentioned or you see little critters or dark specs around the house, you likely have a parasite issue. We encourage you to schedule a specific consult to address the concerns early with your veterinarian. Before you and your family encounter this situation, we recommend proactively preventing parasite infestations through monthly parasite control – topical or oral treatments for both your cats and do
Thank you to our readers – we welcome you back next month. As always, send questions, comments, or suggestions for future columns to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Special thanks to IDEXX Laboratories and Pet Health Network for their resources.