STILLWATER – As the weather begins to warm up, pet owners may notice their furry friends are scratching themselves more than normal. When this happens, it is possible the pet has fleas.
Dr. Elisabeth Giedt, director of Continuing Education, Extension and Community Engagement at the Center for Veterinary Health Sciences at Oklahoma State University, said fleas are a constant source of irritation for your pets.
“Fleas like to ‘run around’ near the tail area or you may see them on the belly of your pet. Flea dirt, which is actually flea poop, appears as dark specs the size of grains of pepper,” Giedt said. “To check to see if it actually is fleas, a pet owner can place this flea dirt on a sheet of white paper and apply a drop of water. Since fleas consume blood, some of that blood is excreted and the flea dirt appears red when the drop of water is applied.”
Now is the time of year when fleas thrive – in warm, humid weather, so it is the prime time to see an infestation. However, since many pets reside indoors, fleas also can be a year-round problem, contaminating both your home and your yard.
In addition, they can be the source of FAD, otherwise known as flea allergy dermatitis. And it is not bad news just for your pets, either. Giedt said if fleas cannot find a good blood meal by biting your cat or dog, they are not opposed to feeding on humans.
“For example, you may move into a new home that has not had pets for a year or two. The fleas have been simply waiting for a food source and both you and your pets can become a target,” she said. “A flea infestation in and around your home may result in you getting bit, which can cause an allergic response.”
Anyone who has ever dealt with a flea infestation knows they can be difficult to eliminate. Areas of the home and yard that support flea development are the pet’s bedding, furniture cushions, carpeting, area rugs, flower beds, gardens, dog houses and spaces under decks and porches.
“To control fleas, they must be removed from all sources, including the pet, the home and the yard. If you have more than one pet, it’s likely they all have fleas,” she said. “Be sure to treat your pets simultaneously. An integrated flea control program includes good sanitation and treatment of the pet and the environment, along with follow-up treatments.”
For a flea program to be successful, it must involve a thorough cleaning to remove the eggs, larvae and pupae in the pet’s environment. It also includes a complete and proper application of flea control products as prescribed by your veterinarian.
Giedt said to groom your pets with a flea comb dipped in soapy water to reduce the number of adult fleas. Discuss with your veterinarian the best products to utilize to control the fleas on your pets and in the environment.
“There isn’t a single chemical or chemical combination of insecticides that will fit all flea situations,” she said. “This is one reason why it’s important for pet owners to seek the counsel of their veterinarians when managing the flea population on pets, in the home and in the yard.”
Over the years, modern insecticides and drug technology have reduced the need for environmental flea control, although in some cases it is still necessary. There are treatments available that stay on your pet for 30 days or more, which reduces the need for environmental treatment.
“Basically, your pet is wearing the premise treatment and when the pet is exposed to adult fleas, eggs and larvae, the compounds are present to destroy these stages of the fleas,” Giedt said. “If your problem is particularly troublesome, your veterinarian may advise the use of premise control products.”