September 3, 2018

General Wellness & Prevention

Prevention is the Key to Being Flea-Free!

by Aili V. Heintz, DVM


Did you know that fleas were responsible for transmitting the Bubonic Plague (Black Death) in the Middle Ages? One quarter of Europe’s population died as a result of those fleas and the disease they carried. Just the thought of these parasites is enough to make your skin crawl! While we aren’t facing Bubonic Plague in this day and age, fleas can be very troublesome for pets and owners alike.

Fleas are blood-sucking parasites that live on the skin of their hosts. They are small, wingless creatures that move about by jumping large distances. Their hinged mouths pierce the skin, and their saliva deposits anti-coagulant agents into the bites, allowing them to feed on the blood of their hosts. The resulting bites are extremely irritating!

Fleas not only make your pet itch but in large numbers, they can also cause anemia (a decreased amount of red blood cells). With fewer red blood cells, your pet’s organs don’t get enough oxygen, and that can lead to a variety of health problems. In addition, infected fleas can transmit tapeworm to your beloved dog or cat.

How do I know if my pet has fleas?

Your pet may show the following signs:

  • Excessive licking, biting, or scratching
  • Red, irritated and/or broken skin
  • Hair loss
  • Flea “dirt”

Flea “dirt” is actually flea feces, and it looks like tiny brown or black specks on your pet’s skin. If you scrape some of those specks onto a white paper towel and mist them with a spray bottle, they will turn reddish brown. The red comes from the digested blood that the fleas have eaten and scratching ears

I found fleas on my pet….now what?

Because of the variety of problems that fleas can cause, call us immediately. Both oral and topical flea treatments are available. We can assess the severity of the infestation and the health history of your pet to determine the best course of treatment for your situation. Most likely, you will need to treat all pets living in your home and those that have contact with your pet.

If there are fleas on your pet, there are fleas in your home, too. One of the frequent reasons we see repeated problems with fleas is that clients forget that they need to clean and treat their homes, in addition to treating their pets. You will need to:

  • Sweep and mop your floors often.
  • Vacuum floors frequently (empty the vacuum canister outside or throw away the bag each time you vacuum).
  • Vacuum furniture.
  • Wash your pet’s bedding (cover AND stuffing) in hot water.
  • Wash your pet’s toys in hot water.
  • Possibly spray the house with a product that kills fleas (after removing all pets and turning off pilot lights).

Keep in mind that the life cycle of the flea is approximately 3 months, so you will need to treat your pet and your home for at least 3 consecutive months.

Topical Preventatives

Like with many things, the best treatment of fleas is prevention.  If you prefer topical medications, I typically recommend medications called Parastar (for dogs) or Frontline (for dogs or cats). These are liquid preventatives that you apply directly on your pet’s skin between the shoulder blades. Within 24-48 hours, the medication will spread through the oil glands on the pet’s skin to protect her from fleas.

Topical preventatives only last for 1 month, so you will need to reapply them every 30 days. Also, topical preventatives may leave oily spots on your pet’s fur. Make sure the medicated area dries fully before you or your children touch the treated fur. To prevent the medication from washing off, don’t bathe your pet or allow her to go swimming for at least 24 hours after you apply it.

Oral preventativesBravecto for flea prevention

For many people, including myself, the topical medication that leaves an oily spot on the dog’s back may not be an appealing option. In addition, some pets with allergies or skin conditions can’t tolerate the topical preventatives. For these reasons, I love the oral medication, Bravecto. Bravecto is a treat-like chew that your pet (sorry cats, dogs only) eats that helps to prevent fleas and ticks. This product provides protection for 3 months!

Fleas are nasty, miserable creatures.  Keep your pets and your home free from these bugs with a prevention product that suits your lifestyle. If you have any questions about what options would be best for your pet, please do not hesitate to call or schedule an appointment at Countrycare Animal Complex. Together, we can keep your pet flea-free!

Dr. Heintz is a small and exotic animal veterinarian at Countrycare Animal Complex in Green Bay, WI. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from University of Illinois – Urbana/Champaign. Her passion is helping all animals, whether furry, scaly, or feathered, lead long and healthy lives.