CAL POLY Cat Program

Effective Flea Control

separating lineThe Importance of Effective Flea Control

Pet owners often mistakenly think of fleas as simply a nuisance. Yes, the itching from their bites and the creepy-crawly feeling of bugs running to and fro surely drive pets crazy, but fleas also make dogs and cats sick. Constant scratching and chewing can lead to hair loss and skin infections, and a severe infestation or even the bite of a single disease-carrying flea may prove deadly. This is why the routine use of an effective flea preventative is such an important part of responsible pet ownership.

How Do Fleas Make Pets Sick?

Adult fleas jump out onto an animal in search of a meal - blood to be precise. Large numbers of fleas can bite and suck enough blood out of an animal to produce life-threatening anemia (i.e., low numbers of red blood cells in circulation). This is especially true in young, small, or debilitated animals. Pets suffering from flea-induced anemia appear weak and lethargic, tire easily, and may have visibly pale mucous membranes and take abnormally rapid or deep breaths. Left untreated, these animals can die.

Fleas also carry disease-causing microorganisms within their bodies, which they can pass on to a dog or cat. Tapeworms are the most common example. An adult flea infected with an immature tapeworm jumps on to a dog or cat. The animal tries to get rid of the flea(s) by self-grooming and in the process ingests the flea and immature tapeworm. A few weeks later, the tapeworm has matured and now resides within the dog or cat’s intestinal tract, shedding tapeworm segments that can infect immature fleas in the environment, completing the worm’s life-cycle. Even when a pet receives an appropriate dewormer that kills tapeworms, it can be immediately reinfected unless it is also protected with an effective flea control pet meds.

Cat Fleas Also Make People Sick

Fleas transmit Bartonellahenselaebacteria between cats. These microorganisms are responsible for the disease bartonellosis in cats and cat scratch fever in people. Many cats do not show any clinical signs associated with bartonellosis, but they are still able to pass the bacteria on to people via bites or scratches. Common signs of cat scratch fever include wound infection, swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache, fatigue, and a poor appetite.

Fleas can also carry Yersiniapestis bacteria, the organism responsible for plague. These microorganisms are found in wildlife populations (e.g., prairie dogs), especially in the western United States. Cats become infected either through the bite of infected fleas or by eating infected prey items. People can also become sick through the bite of infected fleas or through contact with sick animals (e.g., cats). Plague may cause fever, lethargy, swollen lymph nodes, pneumonia, and/or a serious, life-threatening infection of the entire body called septicemia.

Flea Preventatives

Thankfully, pet owners have many safe, effective, and convenient flea preventatives from which to choose these days. Sprays, dips, and shampoos can be a good way to quickly kill fleas on an animal, but they do not do much to prevent future infestations. Monthly flea meds for dogs and cats excel in this regard. Spot-ons like Frontline Plus, Revolution, Advantage II flea control, and Advantage Multi are all good choices. For owners who prefer an oral formulation, Capstar quickly kills adult fleas and can be used on an as needed basis, while Program disrupts flea development.
Parasite control products should be used year-round because fleas are capable of surviving indoors during even the coldest months. To remove fleas from within the home, wash bedding and dry it using the hottest setting possible on your dryer. Thoroughly vacuum floors, carpets, and any upholstery that cannot be laundered. Pay special attention to cracks and crevices where flea eggs, larvae, and pupae can hide. Further environmental controls should not be necessary as long as all pets within the home are treated with an effective flea control product every month throughout the year.

In conclusion, the misery and illnesses associated with fleas are almost fully preventable. Talk to your veterinarian about the best way to protect your pets and family from these aggravating and potentially dangerous parasites.

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