Fleas And Ticks
On Your Dog,
Cat Or Ferret
How To Stop The Problem
Ron Hines DVM PhD
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Never use supermarket "flea-drops" (permethrin products, spot-on) on cats. Even exposure of your cat to canine pets in the same household that have those products applied to them has been enough to cause severe seizures in felines. Read about the problem here If you have both dogs and cats be sure flea and tick product you intend to use say they are safe for use on cats.
Fleas are the most bothersome external parasites of pets in most of the world.
In northern climates they are especially troublesome from July through October. In the southern half of the Country or in pets kept in a heated environment they are a problem all year long.
Fleas are one of the most common reasons pets are brought to animal hospitals. Often, owners have no idea that fleas are the root of their pet’s problems. Ear infections, personality changes, anemia, tapeworms and hair loss are just a few of the problems fleas can cause.
Flea bites are not in themselves painful or itchy. It is the saliva the fleas secrete that causes the irritation and itching. This itching varies from pet to pet depending on how sensitive they are and the number of fleas they have.
Flea bites leave a small, reddish pimple at the site of the bite. For reasons that we do not know ,fleas tend to congregate on the rump and dorsal base of a pet’s tail. Some people think this is because in those locations, the pets have problems catching them. Another common place to find fleas is around the neck.
One or two fleas can be hard to spot. Fleas jump on and off pets so none may be present when you make your exam. Rather than look for the fleas themselves, look for the tell-tail pepper-like granules fleas leave on your pet’s skin. This material is the pet’s blood that has passed through the digestive system of the flea. If you are uncertain if this material is “flea dirt” or just dirt, pick it up on a moistened toothpick and place the granule on a white paper towel along with a drop of water. If the the rust color spreads over the paper, then your pet has a flea problem.
one pet in your family has fleas, then they all do. No pets are immune
to fleas. But when they jump onto a human being, they usually jump off
Flea Biology 101
The flea’s narrow shape allows it to move rapidly through your pet's fur. Fleas have mouthparts that pierce the skin and then siphon out blood. Fleas lay their eggs on the pet’s body. The eggs are smooth, oval and white. The flea larvae that hatch from these eggs are about 4 millimeters long. They are grub-like, slender, and off-white in color.
Flea larva fall off of the pet and live in cracks and niches along the floor and in stuffed furniture where they feed on dead organic matter. Out-of- doors, they prefer sandy, shaded soils. Flea larva do not suck blood. They do actively avoid light. After a time, these larva develop into pupae with a silken capsules covered with particles of the debris in which the larval fleas lived.
The time it takes a flea to complete this life cycle is extremely variable. It can be as short as two weeks or as long as eight month. The length of a flea’s life cycle is dependent on room temperature as well as a natural staggering of hatching time.
Fleas lay about five hundred eggs in their lifetime. At any one time, about 5% of the fleas associated with a pet are adults on the pet. The rest are about evenly divided between eggs, larva and pupa. So you are dealing with a lot more fleas than meet the eye.
Fleas wait motionless on the ground or in bedding. When an object cuts off light shining on the flea - it hops. If it lands on a pet it is satisfied. If it lands on a person it usually leaves without biting. Certain people are more susceptible to flea bites than others. We do not know why.
A rather unique characteristic of fleas is that a large portion of them will remain dormant in their cocoons until vibrations, body warmth, and carbon dioxide emanating from pets or people cause them to hatch. This is why new occupants of apartments that appear free of fleas can suddenly be attacked by hoards of them a day or two later. Adult fleas in this resting stage can live for up to one year. Once they have left their cocoons they can only survive about a week without feeding on a pet.
The fleas usually encountered in the United States on all pets are cat fleas, Ctenocephalides felis . This flea does not confine itself to cats.
Fleas are the carrier of the most common tapeworm of dogs and cats, Dipylidium caninum. These tapeworms do not infect humans. Some pets are so efficient in catching fleas that none can be found in their coat. But we know that they have a flea problem if we find the rice-like tapeworm segments in their stool. You can read about tapeworms in your pet here.
How Can I Solve My Pet's Flea Problem?
The best place to kill fleas is on your pet. I do not suggest that you have your house fumigated. None of the chemicals that are used are good for you or your pet. If you use an effective, safe, flea-control product on all your pets, fleas will disappear from your house on their own in a month or two.
There are too many flea control products on the market for me to cover in this article. So I will mention some that have done a good job on pets in South Texas and South Florida. The mild climate and high humidity of these areas make them- two of the worst flea-infested areas in America. If they work here, they will work for you.
Fleas have been around forever. They are continually evolving resistance to products designed to kill them. So as time passes , the effectiveness of every product will decrease. In mild climates with high humidity, many products that were once excellent are no longer effective. This includes Frontine and Advantage.
Purchasing over-the-counter products from pet centers, retailers or online sources is a waste of time. None of them will be effective in solving your pet's flea control problem. Here are the products that you should try. When you use them CAREFULLY FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS WRITTEN ON THE BOX . It is very important that the pet not be able to reach the spot where the medication is applied and lick it off. Do Not Use Products On Cats That Are Labeled For Dogs Only.
If you have a flea problem on a young puppy or kitten, you are always safest if you wet cotton with 70%alcohol and hold it over the flea until it no longer moves. Then pluck it up with tweezers and drop it into a paper cup of alcoholic beverage or flush them immediately.
Frontline (Merial Co.) is designed to be dripped on the scruff of your pet's back or misted into your pet's coat. It contains fipronil and methoprene. Frontline Spray, Top Spot and Frontline Plus are all approved for both cats and dogs. The basic ingredient is fipronil, The Plus formula also has methoprene to interrupt the flea's life cycle. I prefer the drip-on formula. Follow the directions on the package. It works best if you allow some of the pet's natural oil to return to your pet's coat after bathing before you apply Frontline.
Frontline is not as effective as it once was. This is most noticeable if stray cats or dogs are passing through your yard, if you have large numbers of pets or if your pet roams loose. If Frontline still works well for neighbors whose pets live the same lifestyle your pet does, it may still work well for you.
Advantage (imidacloprid, Bayer Co.) is also applied to the coat of your pet. It is about as effective as Frontline. However, Advantage, like Frontline, is loosing its effectiveness among resistant flea populations.
Revolution (selamectin, Pfizer Co.)is an excellent product for dogs and cats. Because it also prevents heartworms, it is especially useful in dogs. In most localities, it is still effective in controlling fleas.
Promeris (metaflumizone,Wyeth Co/Ft Dodge). There have been reports of nausea, vomiting and drooling following the use of this product in dogs and cats. These signs often occur with topical flea-control products when the pets mange to lick them off shortly after they are applied. The use of Promeris has also been associated with a form of autoimmune skin disease. (ref)
Pyrethrin/ Pipronyl butoxide:
Pyrethrin is an extract of the flowers of certain chrysanthemum plants grown in East Africa. It is the active ingredients in many supermarket flea powders, shampoos and sprays. Pipronyl butoxide is used to enhance its strength. These products do kill fleas and they are very safe. But they do not solve a flea problem in your home or yard because they have no residual activity. Within a mater of hours, new fleas will jump on your pet from the environment. They are excellent to de-flea a pet before it moves to your home. Pyrethrin only kills adult fleas. So I prefer using shampoos to de-flea pets, because they will wash away the larva and eggs that are on the pet as well.
Comfortis (spinosad, Lilly/Elanco Co.) Spinosad is an agricultural pesticide derived from naturally occurring soil bacteria. It is used allot by organic gardeners. (ref) The compound is considered very safe in agricultural applications.
However, I have reservations about giving any insecticide orally because we do not know what the long term side effects might be. I have been delighted with spinosad's its flea-killing ability when it is sprayed in the pet's yard environment according to directions. Flea control is not a government-approved use for these products, it is only a pleasant side effect.
There have been reports of side effects when giving spinosad in pill form to pets that are taking ivermectin to prevent heartworms. (ref)
Vectra Dog and Vectra Cat (dinotefuran,Summit VetPharm Co.). The active ingredient, dinotefuran is an agricultural pesticide with a history of low toxicity. Since fleas have had little exposure to dinotefuran, it should prove effective for a while.
This product has become popular among certain veterinarians because Company policy prevents it from being purchased on the internet or elsewhere at a discounted price. Packages of this product are imprinted with "Blood Hound" track-and-trace bar-code technology and the producer, quickly locates the veterinarian selling it in bulk to third parties. Vectra has not been in wide spread use long enough for information on its safety and effectiveness to become readily available. I avoid the product because I do not like marketing techniques that attempt to restrict access to maximize profits. You have many other good products to choose from.
You Didn't Mention A Flea-control Product I Heard about. Why is that ?
I can't keep up with the large number of products on the market for flea control on dogs and cats. The pharmaceutical industry is constantly introducing new ones and modifying older ones. The latest, Activyl, by Merck, (announced April 12 ,2012) seems to have as its most important selling point, a new technology (Track&Trace) that the Company hopes will prevent the product's diversion to online or retail sales (at a reduced markup). Merck's limited in-house study indicates it is , perhaps, a bit more effective than Frontline-Plus. Time will tell.
What About Ticks?
Ticks are much tougher to kill than fleas. Pet owners face two kinds of tick problems.