When a pet comes into the clinic for itching, one of our first questions is always about flea control. Often pet parents explain their lack of flea prevention with one of several tried and true reasons:
● I don’t see any fleas on him
● She never goes outside/only goes out to use the bathroom
● It’s winter
When we believe these things will keep our pet flea-free, though, we are woefully underestimating our adversary. To discover why let’s back up and talk about the flea itself and how it causes discomfort for our pets.
The life of fleas and pets.
Fleas have a life cycle like a butterfly. They start life hatching from an egg, eating dust and the poo of adult fleas as a larva, growing inside pupae, and finally hatching out as an adult that feeds by biting dogs or cats and lays eggs to begin the cycle again.
This cycle takes about 6 weeks, but the flea can lay in wait in its cocoon for much longer, up to 6 months, waiting for a dog or cat to walk by. A single female flea can lay 20-50 eggs per day and lays them over a 50 day period leading to over 2000 eggs falling off of your dog or cat from one little hitchhiker. By the time you can see multiple fleas crawling on your pet, only 5% of the live fleas in the household are adults. That means that for every 5 fleas on an animal, there are 95 eggs, larva, and pupae in the environment, growing into adulthood.
So, since one flea may evade detection, it’s best to avoid the problem altogether by preventing a flea infestation before it starts. Too late to prevent? Scroll down for tips on eradicating the fleas in your home.
Flea allergies and pets.
Now even if you aren’t seeing fleas, why are we concerned that they are causing your sweet pup or kitty to itch?
When it comes to fleas and pets, it’s best to think of people and poison ivy. Some people can trip down to their birthday suit and wallow in a bed of poison ivy without so much as a stray itch. Others can view the same poison ivy from a distance of 10 feet while wearing a hazmat suit and still end up with a rash that requires a steroid injection. Pets and fleas are the same. Some pets will itch for 6 weeks from a single flea bite.
For those two reasons, we advocate year-round flea control on all pets, but especially those that are itchy.
Did you know that the dermatology department at Dr. Caroline’s alma mater, the University of Tennessee, would not even make an appointment for an itchy dog or cat until they had been on quality flea control for 3 months? A private dermatology practice may not have such strict requirements, but when the primary goal is teaching young vetlings, the professors sought to weed the simple cases out of their schedule with this blanket rule.
So what kind of flea prevention should you use?
There are tons of products on the market and some admittedly scary stories on the internet.
Oral flea preventions, such as Bravecto and Simparica, fall in the isoxazoline class of drugs. They leave no residue on the pet for your family to contact and are usually very yummy. They cannot be washed off with bathing or swimming, which makes them extra useful for outdoorsy or heavily groomed dogs. While they should not be given to pets with a history of seizures, they have been administered to millions of healthy pets with no side effects. These oral products are regulated by the FDA and must prove safety and efficacy before being placed on the market. Because they are drugs, they are only available with a prescription from a veterinarian.
Next, we have over-the-counter topicals. These products, available at many popular retailers, are regulated by the EPA. To be sold, they do not need to undergo rigorous efficacy and safety trials. Some products that used to work well, such as those using fipronil, are no longer efficacious. You will remember that Frontline (fipronil is its active ingredient) used to work really well! Now, most fleas and ticks laugh in its face.
There are also products that have never been in veterinary offices, like Hartz and Sergeants. Every vet can tell you stories of dogs and cats brought in mid-seizure from these products. While the majority of pets can use them safely, they are never recommended.
If you do choose to buy over-the-counter flea prevention, also be aware of where you purchase it. Online scammers have grown wise to the popularity of medications like Seresto and sell fake collars (containing no active ingredient) that look JUST LIKE the real thing. The makers of these fake products commission factories to make replica boxes, collars, and tubes of medicine, but do not add the active ingredient to protect pets. If you do choose to purchase over-the-counter flea and tick products, make sure that they come from a reputable seller.
Can’t we just give a shot?
We wish! If it were available, I would sling the flea-killing injection all day every day to every pet I saw. Maybe someday, but that is way beyond my understanding of pharmacokinetics.
Consistency is key.
When using any of your pet’s parasite preventions, consistency is key. Life gets busy and it’s natural that sometimes we find our self questioning whether we gave the cat her flea medicine last week or not. There is no perfect answer to keeping on track, but many clients have found success:
● Setting calendar reminders on their phone
● Using the stickers in the boxes of prevention on their calendar
● Ordering from an online pharmacy (like https://petsfavoritevet.securevetsource.com/index.pml) that ship doses and charge for them as they are due
● Adding it to another monthly routine, like changing air filters or self-breast exams.
Wrapping it all up.
All pets, especially itchy pets, need year-round flea and tick protection in the southeastern United States. While many clients protest that it could not be fleas and they want to skip this step, a flea allergy is actually the easiest of the allergies to manage!
To determine what flea prevention is best for your pet, please call us directly.
If you would like to try an over-the-counter medicine, like the Seresto collar, you can order them safely from our online pharmacy.