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The Best Way to Treat for Fleas in Your Pet!

Last Updated on 6 months by Dr. Shannon Barrett

You found a flea! Now what?? It’s important not to panic. You are not alone! Flea problems plague many pet owners, especially those in coastal areas. They love our sandy soil and tropical climate. They also love our pets!

Unfortunately, many of our pets are allergic to fleas (flea allergy dermatitis) so when they get a flea bite, they become very itchy. We often see them scratch and lick way before we see the fleas. This is called a flea allergy. Certain dogs and cats are allergic to the flea’s saliva so when they are bitten by a flea, they are reacting to the saliva of the flea bite. This allergy explains why you can have 2 dogs in the same house, and both will have fleas but only 1 of them will be itchy.

Sometimes you will also see black specs of dirt in your pets fur, commonly called flea dirt, which is actually flea feces (yuk!) There are many flea treatments marketed to pet owners but if you don’t eliminate fleas from your pet and their environment, you will always have a flea problem.

For those dogs suffering from flea allergies, many of them will have a specific pattern of itchiness.  They tend to be irritated from the waist down (this includes their back, back of their legs, inside of their thighs, tail and stomach). It is very important to keep them on a monthly flea preventative.

Unfortunately, controlling fleas is tough so most over the counter flea preventatives are not effective against our flea population. I think they have tools and superpowers. Instead, we have found that only certain flea preventatives, mostly prescription, are effective in our coastal areas. It’s also important for our furry friends to stay on flea prevention year-round because of our temperate winters. It does not stay cold long enough in the Southeast to kill our super strong fleas.

Of course, we cannot forget about our feline friends. If you have cats in the house that are not on any flea prevention, they are usually a big source of fleas – even if they have never set a paw outside! Cat fleas are usually the most common fleas. We bring in fleas on our socks, pants, etc to our poor kitty friends. Tall grass in the yard can be haven for developing fleas. If you have a dog, the fleas can hitch a ride on both you and your dog. Now they have entered your home, bypassed your security system, and are headed straight for kitty. Kitty is not wearing any flea prevention because he is “indoor only”. The fleas are very excited because they can hang out on kitty and reproduce in your house, and you will not be the wiser…Until the flea population reaches a tipping point. This is when you will either see fleas on you, kitty, or the dog. You may not see flea bites on you at all. Remember to ensure all dogs and cats are on prescription flea prevention every month. If we only treat 1 pet in the house, the others are serving as a source of fleas.

The other thing to remember is that your flea preventatives are only maximally effective if you are also controlling the fleas in your environment!

Both canines and felines must be on a monthly flea prevention to eliminate the flea populations (even if they are indoor only.) The guidelines listed below concentrate on how to treat both your pets and your environment.

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Flea treatments available for cats

There are many over the counter (non-prescription) flea products on the market. As previously stated, they are not very effective in the Southeast. Also, they do not contain heartworm prevention and heartworms are extremely prevalent in our area. When our owners have a flea infestation, we will recommend Advantage II which can be purchased online without a prescription. However, this does not prevent heartworms and our owners are also using a prescription flea prevention from us at the same time.

We have them alternate every 2 weeks between Advantage II and a prescription flea prevention that contains heartworm prevention. However, we only want our owners giving this medication once a month. Therefore, they give the heartworm + flea prevention and then 2 weeks later, they can apply the Advantage II which will again treat the fleas. We do NOT want them to apply the prescription flea/heartworm medication every 2 weeks since we do NOT want to give the heartworm prevention every 2 weeks. Please consult your veterinarian before giving your pet any medications.

We have owners keep up with this protocol for the next few months, so they do not get any new fleas in the house. However, any product you use, prescription or non-prescription, can only work to a certain point but will be overwhelmed if the environment has a heavy flea burden. These products are great but cannot keep up with the emergence of new fleas unless you are also treating the environment. We know the super strong fleas are in your house and yard because any live fleas you see on your pets only represent about 5% of the actual flea population living in your environment.

Flea Treatments Available for Dogs

Keeping your dog on a monthly flea and heartworm prevention is necessary year-round in most areas of the country. Most prescription flea and tick products kill adult fleas on doggies within a few hours of administration and helps prevent fleas for about 30 days. However, any prescription product we use on them can only work to a certain point but will be overwhelmed if the environment has a heavy flea burden. These products are great but cannot keep up with the emergence of new fleas unless you are also treating the environment.

Seresto collars

These collars can also be effective for both dogs and cats that will not take oral flea medications or have allergies to topical flea medications. Older generation flea collars were not as effective but the Seresto collars are a good alternative. Note that these collars do not contain heartworm prevention.


Treating Your Environment for Fleas

After application of flea control products to your environment, baby fleas (pupae) will continue to emerge and develop into adult fleas, mostly because it is hard to kill the pupae. The flea life cycle is tough to break which is why it takes at least 3 months of constantly treating the environment and the pets to get rid of the problem.

Live fleas that we see on them today come from eggs that were laid a few weeks ago which is why we want to break the cycle now so it does not continue, and we can catch up since there are likely flea eggs and pupae (baby fleas) living in the carpets and upholstery which will hatch in the coming weeks.

Inspect your pets often, especially during flea season. Wash your pet regularly with a gentle shampoo and use a flea comb to reduce the number of adult fleas. Pay particular attention to your home environment, especially your pet’s bedding. It is important to treat the whole house and yard to break the flea lifecycle and eradicate fleas.

You can try products such as Flea Busters powder or Knockout treatment spray on the rugs and upholstery. Do NOT apply directly onto the pets but you can spray the furniture, under the sofa, on carpets and any bedding that they sleep on. Pay attention to label directions. You can also use it in the yard.

Wash all bedding in hot water, especially any that they sleep on at least once a week to help reduce these numbers. It is important to be diligent about vacuuming all rugs and upholstery.

It is recommended to vacuum at least every other day and throw out the bag each time because the fleas will reproduce inside the bag. If you have a bag-less vacuum, make sure to throw the garbage bag outside after vacuuming.

Some clients will have an exterminator come out and spray/bomb the house and yard for fleas. The yard also serves as a big source of fleas. You bring these in on your pant legs, socks, etc when you enter the house.

If you suspect you have a flea allergic pet, contact your veterinarian to discuss the appropriate flea product for both your pet and your environment.  They can help you with a plan to prevent future infestations. Your pet and your legs will thank you!

Can fleas live on humans?

Fleas do not tend to live on humans because they do not have a protective coat compared to your pet’s fur and other animals. This is important for the reproductive process. However fleas can bite humans and can sometimes be confused with mosquito bites.

What are the signs of flea bites on my pet’s skin?

Many dogs will have thinning fur along the back of their legs, inner thighs, around their tail and on their stomach. These areas may also have scabs or red bumps. Cats may have more widespread scabbing and fur loss so you may see affected areas around their neck as well. If you are worried that your family pet is developing flea issues, contact your local vet.

What do fleas look like?

Fleas are visible to the naked eye and can be black or reddish-brown. They are flat and about 1/8″ long. Adult fleas do not have wings but have strong hind legs which allows them jump quickly. The flea dirt may appear as small, black specs on pet beds or other furniture.

These products are simply suggestions. Please contact your veterinarian to see if these products are appropriate for you pets and that they are healthy enough. This does not serve as medical advice.

Dr. Barrett veterinary blogs

Dr. Shannon Barrett brings an exceptional blend of academic excellence and professional expertise to the world of veterinary medicine. With a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Western University of Health Sciences, where she graduated with honors, and dual Bachelor degrees in Biological Sciences and Psychology, her depth of knowledge is extensive. A member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Dr. Barrett's insights and contributions to pet health have been featured in leading publications such as Rover, MarketWatch, and Newsweek.

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Dr. Barrett veterinary blogs

Dr. Shannon Barrett

Veterinarian with a Passion for Educating Pet Parents

Pets change our lives for the better and we are always trying to do the same for them. This site is a combination of tips and product recommendations to enhance the lives of our pets and the people owned by them.  Thanks for stopping by!

Dr. Shannon Barrett

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