When I was fresh out of veterinary school, I would always get excited when I would see on the schedule: “cat scratching so much it is bleeding” or “dog is itchy.” Ahhh, something I could handle as a new graduate. The majority of the time the dog or cat had fleas, and in some cases had become allergic to the flea bite. Now, I just loathe the thought of a dog or cat coming in with a likely flea problem. What could cause me to have such an aversion to a topic I used to love? Fleanial. Yep, nearly every owner has it: a denial that their cat or dog has fleas.
Like any exam, I begin with a series of questions to get a clear history of what is going on. One of the first questions I ask owners with any dog or cat that is pruritic (itching) is, “Are you using flea prevention?” Then the quick and rather disgusted response from the owner, “No, he doesn’t have fleas!”
Fleas not only cause your dog to be itchy, but can also be a life threatening parasite. Fleas take blood from their host in order to survive. This can cause your dog to become anemic (low red blood cell count) that could result in the need for a blood transfusion.
Fleas carry bacteria, Bartonella henselae, that can be transmitted to people. This transmission is most commonly caused after a cat infected with the bacteria (from the flea) scratches an individual.
Dipylidium caninum, more commonly known as a tapeworm, infect your dog or cat after they ingest the flea from grooming. This tapeworm is a nuisance and often identified by the owner reporting rice like worms on the feces, around the dog’s anus, or even finding them in the owners bed, GROSS! Tapeworms can also be transmitted to humans.
Flea Allergy Dermatitis is a skin condition that occurs after repeated exposure to flea bites. The skin has alopecia (hair loss), secondary skin infections, and excoriations (scabs) from the animal scratching.
Oh my! Tapeworms, anemia, and flea allergy dermatitis can all be prevented by flea prevention.
Make sure your dog is on veterinary approved flea prevention. What do I mean by veterinary approved flea prevention? Buy your flea prevention from your veterinarian. The products are backed by the company and you know where it is coming from. Online veterinary products are not always safe and cannot be trusted to be the product you think you are getting. Please, stop wasting your money on over the counter products as well that claim to have the same ingredients as Frontline Plus.
Now that you have your veterinary approved flea prevention in hand, give/apply your flea prevention to EVERY animal that you own/claim inside AND outside of the home. This must be done every 30 days year round to prevent fleas and to control them as well.
If you already have a “flea problem”, it may take up to 3 months to get control of the fleas. Be patient with your product, even though you are seeing fleas, it does not mean that the product is not working, it just takes time. Treating the environment is a must. The adult fleas live on the animal and the baby stages are in the environment (bedding, carpet). Treat the environment with a spray sold at your veterinarian, vacuum often and regularly, and wash pet and people bedding regularly to get control of the fleas faster.
By: Dr. Hilary Carlisle