Thursday, July 30, 2009 3:21 PM

No Fleas, Please

Another issue that rears its ugly head more noticeably during the warmer weather is flea infestation. Although technically a year-round problem, it seems more apparent during the warm weather, when pets spend more time outdoors and in contact with other animals. Also, the flea's life cycle is sped up during warm weather, so there's just more of them. If your pet goes outdoors, chances are excellent that she has fleas. In both dogs and cats, the symptoms are similar: scratching, skin disturbances and the tell-tale flecks of "flea dirt", which is actually flea excrement (ugh) where the pet sleeps. It looks brown until moistened; it then turns rusty, as most of its contents are digested blood. Depending upon the extent of the infestation and the individual animal's sensitivity, red, raw, hairless areas called "hot spots" may appear on the pet's skin. The animal is literally scratching itself raw! These spots are very difficult to treat and the first step is always flea eradication, a tall order when there is a heavy infestation, but an absolute must if the spots are to heal.

Fleas are also vectors of disease (like plague!) and various parasites such as tapeworm. Another annoying habit of fleas is that they will bite humans, too. They don't stay on us, but man, are those bites itchy! It gives you an idea of what Kitty or Lassie are going through. An additional problem is that only about 10% of the infestation's population are on your pet at any one time. Fully 90% of these nasty critters are off-site, that is in your carpets, upholstery, floor cracks and crevices, etc. So, not only do you have to treat the pets themselves, but also the entire house, paying particular attention to areas the pet frequents. It is so much easier to just prevent the problem in the first place.

How to attack the problem? The animal and the environment must be treated simultaneously. The pet will need to be given a bath, no two ways about it. Any gentle soap or shampoo will do, as fleas will drown in the soapy water anyway, so why put insecticides on your pet? As for the house, for a severe problem you will need to use a flea "bomb" that you set off in each room or two, then leave home for a couple of hours. The pets will have to be outside, too, so you might as well save the bath for after the bombing. I've used a couple of different types, and they both seemed to work as long as the directions are followed carefully. We used Zodiac a few years ago, which contains permethrin (an insecticide with low mammalian toxicity) and methoprene (a hormone that regulates insect growth). Afterward, vacuum all rugs, floors and upholstery very well. You should not need to do it again, as the residue takes care of any hatches that occur later.

The ounce of prevention/pound of cure adage applies here as well, so next week we'll talk about how to keep your pets and your home free of fleas.

Movie of the Week: Again, not really a movie, but a British detective series set in Edinburg, Scotland called Rebus. We've watched only the first couple of episodes and we're hooked already. Very stark and realistic, with complex but believable story lines.
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Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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