The nights are finally getting colder. Soon we’ll get a frost, and all the fleas will be dead, right?
Sorry, but it’s not that easy. (If it were, I wouldn’t write an article about it!)
The height of flea season is now.
Not June, but October. Surprised? Most people are!
Most people associate the beginning of summer and the start of warm weather with fleas. We all dust off the Frontline, Bravecto, Comfortis, Advantage, whatever it is we use, and begin giving it to our pets. By the time October rolls around, we’re tired of doing it every month, so when the first cold snap arrives, we stuff what we have left back in the cabinet for next spring. Meanwhile, the fleas, who weren’t all that numerous in the spring and early summer, have had all those months to build their army. Their numbers are large, and their desire to munch on your pet is even larger. Cold weather makes them look for something warm, like a furry critter.
To make matters more confusing, an itchy pet does not necessarily have fleas! This article will focus on fleas, and what to do if you, or someone you know, is having trouble fighting them. Don’t forget, dogs and cats can be itchy for many reasons besides fleas! Seasonal allergies (mold, pollen, ragweed, etc) are probably the most common cause of itchiness in dogs and cats. However, if your pet is extra itchy on his or her lower back near their tail, chances are, it’s flea allergy. If your pet is allergic to fleas, it does not require an infestation for your pet to itch! One single flea can bite them, run away, and your pet is miserable for days! Therefore, it is quite possible for a pet to be symptomatic for flea allergy but you never see a single flea. Some dogs and cats then develop a skin infection from scratching, and THAT itches, so there’s no rule it has to be only one cause of itch. (Not every pet reads the manual though – cats can present for flea allergy in a wide variety of ways!).
Seeing fleas on your pet? There are many options available for dogs and cats. Your best bet is to ask your vet, and we’ll decide on a plan. Don’t go to the store and just grab something off the shelf – most over-the-counter products are minimally effective, and have a higher risk of toxicity. (Ironic, I know.) However, Frontline (fipronil) became generic a couple years ago, so many generic products containing fipronil are safe to use on both cats and dogs. Advantage is also available over the counter from Petsmart and PetCo stores as well, and is a great product!
Many many safe and effective flea products are available only through veterinarians. It used to be we had to drizzle the liquid between the shoulder blades. That is still a great option, but for people who dislike the mess, many oral flea killers are available as well! Comfortis and Nexgard are both given once a month, while Bravecto is effective for 3 months! Again, these are only available with a prescription, so ask your vet which one she prefers.
If you discover your dog or cat has fleas (by either seeing the actual creepy crawlies or just their poo, AKA flea dirt) then fleas are likely in your house, and probably on anything else in the house with fur (hamsters, rabbits, etc). It’s important to treat ALL critters in the house, not just the one you saw the fleas or flea dirt on. For some reason, some pets are just tastier than others – one dog may be covered in fleas, and the cat next to it will have only a single piece of flea dirt! Don’t panic with “fleas are in my house” horror like some people do.
You’re not a bad person – calm down.
How to get rid of fleas in your house?
Your best weapon against fleas in your home is your vacuum. Why? Fleas think it’s an animal, and therefore a meal. The flea brain detects two qualities in looking for a meal: warmth and vibration. Let’s face it, flea brains aren’t that complicated! Guess what: your vacuum produces vibration and heat. Adult fleas love it. Flea larvae love it, and will scurry to it like flies on, well, you know. So, vacuum often, and empty the contents outside your home (not the kitchen trash…unless you’ve scheduled a flea convention in your kitchen trash). What to vacuum? Carpet, obviously, but don’t ignore the wood or laminate floors. Fleas are basically tiny blood-sucking vampires. They don’t like light, so will be hiding in the dark. This means deep in the carpet, or any flooring that is under the furniture (couches, beds, etc). You know, the places that are hardest to vacuum!
Don’t ignore bedding either. Pet beds, sheets, blankets should all be washed regularly. The combination of laundry, vacuuming, and using an appropriate flea treatment on ALL pets in the house should remove any flea families that had hoped to dwell in your lovely home. These days, bombing the house or spraying is generally not needed, and is more dangerous. (The only indication for that would be a SEVERE infestation – like fleas jumping on people constantly.)
Finally, in terms of misery level, that depends a lot on your pet. Some dogs and cats are allergic to flea bites. One flea bites them, and they are scratching and miserable for days, even weeks! Other dogs and cats are not sensitive at all! I’ve seen pets who have so many fleas, they are crawling up my arm when I pick them up, and they have NO skin irritation! The point? Level of itchiness does not correlate to the amount of fleas.
Bottom line on fleas: prevention is so easy! If you’ve been using a flea preventative all summer, now is NOT the time to stop! And, don’t forget your indoor only cat! I cannot tell you how many cats I see that “never go outside” that are covered in fleas. (People and dogs can track them in.) If you want to stop using flea preventative over the winter, when to stop? A frost won’t kill the fleas that are out there. Your best bet is to use preventative at least until there is some frozen material on the ground for a day or so. Around here that can be sleet, ice, snow, whatever.