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August 30, 2011 > Ohlone Humane Society: Fleas 101

Ohlone Humane Society: Fleas 101

By Nancy Lyon

A while back I had occasion to do a bit of research on some nasty little blood-sucking critters... fleas. I had heard that there were hundreds of kinds and frankly thought it was nonsense. Well, I was wrong.

Actually there are thousands of different species of fleas throughout the world and they have preferences when it comes to whose blood they suck. There are cat fleas, chicken fleas, rat fleas, human fleas, sand fleas and on and on.

And if these tiny invaders can't locate their victim of choice, they will happily find a temporary host... namely you.

Cat fleas are the most common type of flea that will live on cats, dogs, and numerous other animals, the biting, irritating critters found on our companion animals and inside our homes. They love laying eggs and infesting carpets, curtains, furniture and entire households as well as the family dog or cat.

One of the biggest errors people make is thinking that our animal friends are the source of the fleas. Common sense tells us that they can't spontaneously generate the parasites, yet many "pets" are booted out of the house to be eaten alive by these hungry opportunists. They too are victims, not the source of the problem.

We live in flea paradise. Our temperate environment includes mild weather most of the time offering plenty of opportunities to experience the great outdoors where we and our animals can pick up uninvited and unpleasant passengers.

Fleas can make life miserable for animals and lead to health problems such as anemia. Once infested and sensitized to these parasites, animals can develop lifelong allergic reactions to even a single bite. The result, if not treated, can be bloody raw areas on their bodies from chewing, a result of trying to rid them of the intense itching, a reaction to the flea saliva... pure misery.

Only a small percentage of fleas are on your dog or cat; the majority can lurk outside in the grass and soil or in your carpets, floor crevices, bedding and elsewhere. Putting poison on an animal's body will only take care of a minor part of the problem; the environment also needs to be treated.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) offers the following advice for controlling fleas:

Use alternatives to pesticides to control fleas and ticks: Comb your pet regularly with a flea comb, vacuum frequently and dispose of the bags immediately after use, mow areas of the lawn where your dog spends time, wash animal bedding weekly, and wash your pet with a pesticide-free pet shampoo. In addition, to protect cats from fleas and ticks, as well as a host of other outdoor hazards, keep cats indoors at all times.

Always consult a veterinarian before buying or using any flea or tick control product on your pet.

Never use flea and tick products designed for dogs on your cat, or vice versa.

Remember never to apply pesticides to very young, elderly, pregnant, or sick animals unless directed to do so by a veterinarian.

Always read the ingredients, instructions, and warnings on the package thoroughly.

Avoid organophosphate-based products by looking for any of these active ingredients: chlorpyrifos, dichlorvos, phosmet, naled, tetrachlorvinphos, diazinon and malathion. Avoid products with carbamates by looking for the chemical names carbaryl and propoxur on the label.

Never combine flea control products on your animal without first checking with a veterinarian.

Consider using a product with insect-growth regulators (IGRs), which are not pesticides. These will prevent the next generation of fleas but will not kill insects already on your pet.

You might want to consider several topical products that are insecticides designed to have fewer toxic effects on the nervous systems of mammals: imidacloprid (found in Advantage(r)), fipronil (in Frontline(r) or Top Spot(r)), and selamectin (in Revolution(tm)).

Worrying about the cost? Prioritze what's really important... one more movie or protecting your animal family's health and well being? Prevention is far less expensive in the long run than treating the results of a flea infestation.

Check out the HSUS website for more information on fleas and flea control:

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