A step-by-step guide to identifying a flea infestation, treating your pet, and permanently ridding your home of fleas.
Every spring, summer, and fall, Brookfield Animal Hospital phones light up with calls of suspected flea infestations. Rarely do they pan out. The cause of itchiness in most pets is not fleas, as many pet owners suspect, but allergies or other kinds of skin issues. We have written extensive resources for our clients on the topic of pet allergies. You can scroll to the bottom of the page for links to these articles.
To determine if your pet has fleas, take a white sheet of paper and place it alongside of you pet. Next, use a fine toothed flea comb, and pass it through the fur of your pet. If your pet has a heavy flea infestation, you may see a few fleas jump from the fur or become entangled in the fur of the comb in which case, your pet is positive for fleas. More likely, you will not see fleas, even if your pet is infested, because fleas spend only about 5% of their lifecycle on their host. The adult flea takes a blood meal from your pet, then lays its eggs which fall off and end up in the cracks of your floor boards, in your carpet and on your furniture.
Though you probably will not see fleas, you will see their ‘dirt’ or their feces, which will look like flecks of black pepper. Take whatever fur you gather from the flea comb and loosen it over the white sheet of paper where the black flecks will be more obvious. Next, take a bit of water and smear it over the flecks. If the flecks are truly flea dirt (and not earth dirt) they will smear into a rust red color.
If you have an adult animal with a mild-to-moderate infestation and the fleas in your house are not biting anyone other than your pet, you can administer oral Simparica (for dogs) or apply topical Revolution (for cats). Both effectively kill fleas within 3 hours of administration. Additionally, if other fleas get on your pet after the application of the medicine, they too will die. Eventually all the fleas in your household will be eliminated. Year-round protection with either of these medicines is safe and recommended. IMPORTANT: Do not apply dog flea products to cats or cat products to dogs.
If you have a puppy or kitten that’s infested or a heavily infested adult pet, it is best to bring him or her to Brookfield Animal Hospital for evaluation and treatment. Here’s why. Fleas can quickly overburden an animal’s ability to provide them the blood they require and they can become anemic. This is especially true for kittens, puppies and small adults. Lastly, heavily infested pets should be bathed with an effective flea shampoo. Though flea shampoos are sold over-the-counter, they contain toxic pesticides and they should be handled by experienced groomers or veterinary professionals. If we give your pet a flea bath or ‘dip’ as it’s sometimes called, we’ll make sure that we dilute the medicine properly and that we avoid getting it into your pet’s eyes and mouth.
Depending on the severity of the infestation, Brookfield may also administer a one-time dose of a medicine called Capstar. Capstar is a prescription medication and is not available for purchase in pet stores. If you feel that your pet has a significant flea problem, call us and we’ll guide you towards the most affordable and effective treatment option.
If you have a flea infestation, all the pets in your house will be affected, fish, reptiles and birds withstanding. If you have a pocket pet, it is unlikely that they will be infected, but if you are unsure, bring them in for evaluation. Do not treat your pocket pet with any of the above-mentioned medicines without consulting us first. Brookfield Animal Hospital’s preferred flea medications are Simparica for dogs (a palatable chew that protects against fleas and ticks for 1 month) and Revolution for cats (a topical medicine that protects against fleas, ticks and other internal and external parasites). For more information on Simparica and Revolution, visit our online store where we have manufactures’ discounts on the products and more information on both.
Fleas are an intermediate host for tapeworms. If you have a dog or a cat that has a flea infestation, there is a moderate probability that he or she also has a tapeworm infestation. Tapeworms are usually diagnosed when owners see moving rice-like worms on their pet’s stool or around the pet’s hind end. Bring in a stool sample to screen for other intestinal parasites and to discuss treatment of the tapeworms.
#5. Treat Your Home
95% of all fleas are currently living in your house or your yard, not on your pet. To permanently eliminate fleas, you must treat both the pet and the home. In moderate cases of flea infestation, pets treated with Simparica or Revolution will shed enough of the pesticide in the environment (their treated fur will shed onto the areas that fleas are likely to inhabit) to kill all the fleas living your home. Alternatively, over time, fleas will continue to jump onto your treated pet and die. In moderate cases of flea infestation, you will not need to do anything more than apply the medicines Simparica or Revolution.
But the idea of having fleas in your home will likely give you the willies and you’ll want to jump to immediate action. Here’s what you can do.
- Vacuum all hardwood floors and carpets. Place 2 tablespoons of cornstarch in the vacuum bag to kill the fleas. Juvenile fleas (larva) live on dried bits of skin and blood that are shed in the environment, so a good cleaning eliminates the food source.
- Wash and/or heat dry all pet bedding (depending on the thickness of the item, 30 minutes of high heat should suffice to kill all life stages of the flea).
- Use a veterinary recommended area treatment spray on items that cannot be laundered or vacuumed well. Be sure to test the product on fabric first.
Remember that fleas can cause other kinds of disease in animals. In fact, 1/2 of Europe was killed off by the Black Plague, a bacterial infection that was transmitted by the bite of a flea. While the plague isn’t a top concern of ours now, other diseases like tularemia and intestinal parasites are. Monthly prevention costs roughly 10-13 dollars per month. Considering the dangers and bother of a flea infestation, it is a worthwhile investment.