How to Fight Fleas

Tis the Season - for Fleas!
Signs of Infestation

Fleas are masters of their universe. They can hide in a forest of pet hairs, especially on long-coated or double-coated dogs or cats, and can zigzag among and between hair shafts faster than an Olympic skier . . . then there's the leap. Now you see a black speck with legs, and now you don't. So, don't depend on seeing the flea to know if it's there. Instead, look for clues.

If a dog or cat scratches, he may have been bitten, but he may also have dry skin, an allergy, or mange mites. If he bites at his rear end especially around his tail or the inside or outside of his thighs, fleas are a possibility. If you find tiny black particles that turn red when dropped on a damp paper towel, this is flea-feces evidence.

While dog or cat may be slightly bothered by a flea or two or may play host to a dozen or more without serious consequences, they may be the unlucky recipient of a tapeworm infestation courtesy of mama flea. A dog or cat may be allergic to flea saliva and develop mild to severe skin reactions to even a single bite, and the tapeworm or the skin bumps may be the only signs that the fleas are present.

Flea Treatment

Dog owners have access to an overabundance of flea control products from herbs and electronics to biological controls. Powerful chemicals such as Dursban and Diazinon and systemic insecticides such as the ingredients in Proban, Prospot, and Spotton seem to be on the way out. The systemic insecticides can build to toxic levels in your pet if not used extremely carefully. Some products repel fleas, some kill adult fleas, some kill larva or eggs, and some prevent fleas from growing and reproducing.

Garlic and brewer's yeast are popular flea repellents with the natural crowd, but there are no tests that indicate these diet supplements are effective. However, many pet owners believe they work.

Electronic flea traps are sometimes used to attract and kill the pests before they attack the dog, but they do nothing about fleas in the yard or flea eggs or larvae in the house.

Flea collars have mixed results depending on the chemical involved, the size of the dog or cat, and the density of the pet's coat.

The new generation of controls includes natural or genetically engineered pyrethrum, a daisy; flea-specific growth inhibitors (products containing fenoxycarb and methoprene); an environmental control that desiccates fleas and larvae; a once-a-month pill (Program) that prevents the formation of chitin, the flea's external body covering; and new surface products applied to the dog's skin or coat (Advantage and Frontline). Unlike the toxic insecticides in products such as Spotton, Proban, and Prospot, the ingredients in Frontline and Advantage are not absorbed into the bloodstream and are toxic only to fleas, not to dogs, cats or their owners. The type of control depends on the extent of the pet's problem and the preferences of the pet-owner. The pill or topical application takes less effort, but they should not be used alone in a heavy infestation because they do not treat the environ-ment. The pill works when fleas bite a dog or cat so may not be suitable for an allergic pet. The topical solutions kill adult fleas and have some residual action as long as they remain on the pet's hair, even hair that has been shed on carpets and furniture.

Pyrethrum and permethrin are often found in shampoos and in pet and premise sprays containing growth inhibitors. With mild flea infestations, an occasional bath with a permethrin shampoo or a Program prescription may do the trick, especially when combined with a premise spray that contains a growth inhibitor or with application of sodium polyborate, an insecticide that kills fleas by lethal constipation and desiccation. Infestations that are more serious may call for the big guns, especially if the pet is allergic, but whatever combination platter of flea treatments you choose, make sure you have something on hand for the hot, humid days of summer when fleas can invade in huge numbers.

Springs is in the air, so it's time for flea treatment everyone, and kill those nasty ticks while in the process!


JoAnn Carlson is the owner of #1 Pet Mom, a professional pet sitting and dog walking business in Rancho Santa Margarita, California.