SUMMER’S HERE AND SO ARE THE FLEAS!
“I think my dog has fleas again, but I don’t see any….I just put the flea stuff on last week…” Carol says.
“What’s Chance doing? ” I ask.
“He’s scratching again like mad.” She explains.
Therein lies the rub, or the scratch, as the case may be. If a dog or cat is scratching, it may not be fleas or any external parasite. Most animals that actually carry an infestation of fleas (or one or two) are NOT that itchy. This is because the itchy ones are often demonstrating a flea ALLERGY, a reaction to the flea bite/saliva.
Signs Your Pet May Have a Flea Allergy
Tiny molecules of flea saliva can cause the itch. If a pet is actually itchy and allergic, whether to fleas or other things such as food/pollen, then they don’t tolerate fleas living on them. Thus the itchy animal may not have fleas at all.
However, and this is what may be confusing, they still need flea control. Because the pet that is itchy usually has an ALLERGY to fleas, if flea control is not used (one that works), than a big allergic reaction can result even without many fleas around.
In addition, allergies are ADDITIVE, so if your pet has, say a pollen allergy or dust mite allergy, then it may not be active until or unless the wrong food or a flea bite ADDS to the immune system’s aggravation.
So one component of an allergy can put the pet above his “threshold” for itching. Thus it’s quite possible to control flea allergies or food allergies simply by limiting one or the other, not always both.
Now that you know fleas DO need to be controlled, what is the best way?
I often get the question:
“What type of flea spray or powder do I use in my HOUSE?”
My client is worried about the fleas living around the house or yard.
The good news is most of a flea’s lifecycle is ON the pet. Why is that “good” news? Because if you control the fleas ON your pet, it is less and less likely as time goes by, that they will live and hatch in your environment.
Of course, there are exceptions. In California, where I live, the fleas LOVE the weather. They hang out and reproduce most of the year. If you have carpet, there are more places for eggs to land and stay.
However, if your house is wood/tile or another hard surface, controlling and killing on-board fleas will leave you flea-free and happy.
Cats Can Cause Flea Problems for Your Dog
The other culprit that can be a “stealth” source for fleas on dogs is…your CAT. Not only do cats tend to act as flea “buses” bringing the “outdoors in”, but the fleas we find on dogs are frequently CAT flea species. Unfortunately, they find dogs just as tasty.
Speaking of cats, what if you have indoor-only cats? Do you have to be concerned about fleas? Well, it depends, if you have hard surface floors and minimal material upholstery or area rugs, then it is highly unlikely your cat will have flea problems.
If on the other hand, you move into a carpeted home WITH your cat, there may be eggs or larvae in the carpets waiting for a better deal. Enter: your cat. In this case, it is wise to use a topical or oral product for at least six months on the carpet.
Consider using a safe product such as diatomaceous earth or boric acid powder. Sprinkle it into the carpet and vacuum it up, to desiccate remaining pests.
Misconceptions About Flea Shampoo
One popular misconception is the use of FLEA SHAMPOOS. Flea shampoos do not have any lasting impact on killing fleas, and are bad for this reason:
They use toxins to kill the fleas on the pet but they don’t typically last more than 24 hours, so you have to use more toxins –increases total toxic load. Please don’t use “flea shampoo” unless your pet has an overwhelming infestation of fleas /ticks and MUST have that “kill” effect due to health risks.
There are also now oral products on the market that work much more safely for a quick kill effect on a heavily infested pet. They are intended for only a 24-hour effect and must be followed with a longer acting flea /flea combination preventative.
Veterinary-Approved Flea and Tick Protection
So what DO you use? There are veterinary-recommended flea and tick products evolving every month, it seems. Some kill only fleas, some ticks, and fleas, and some include extras like internal parasites, heartworm, mites, and mosquitoes.
This article is not intended to recommend specific products, but I advice you only use a product obtained through a veterinarian.
Over the counter products (non-veterinary) either do not work well, or, far worse, some have proven fatal to a number of pets-specifically CATS –and the companies are still not being held accountable.
You’re playing Russian roulette to use some of the highly toxic compounds sold in over the counter pesticide-laden flea products.
The veterinary compounds still have some negative qualities, but the overall goals are modulation of the insect metabolism, and avoiding ill effects on your pet.
I am a holistic vet and I’m frequently queried about natural alternatives for flea and tick control.
Please DO NOT USE ESSENTIAL OILS DIRECTLY ON YOUR PET. Too many are not correctly mixed or diluted and can cause severe irritation of the skin.
In cases of cats, they can have severe reactions to ingested essential oils. I find feeding a measured amount of garlic (a small amount daily) and nutritional yeast to DOGS can prevent fleas.
This recipe was recently posted for a natural flea and tick powder that can also be used:
-1 cup Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth
-1/2 cup Neem Powder
-1/2 cup Yarrow Powder
-20 Drops Eucalyptus Essential Oil–Leave out the
essential oil if using for cats.
A word about ticks, they are MUCH tougher than fleas, and they do carry some diseases that can be life-threatening.
Although we’re at a lower risk of that in California, there are still dogs who have contract tickborne diseases.
The risk occurs when the tick has been attached to the dog’s skin for over 24 hours.
To kill or repel ticks requires specific compounds, and only some of the products do this.
I personally find that these are “big guns,” only to be used if your pet picks up ticks in their own yard.
If you’re worried about ticks when out on a hike or camping with your dog, I recommend getting a tick collar that is only used at the time of the outings and checking your pet over carefully once back. This way the more toxic products don’t stay on/in your dog when they’re not needed.
Ear Mites vs. Yeast Infections
Lastly, people often mention they are concerned about their pets’ “ear mites.” In many well-homed, indoor dogs and cats, mites are a very low probability. Usually, the dark waxy material that has an odor, is a yeast infection, with its roots in food allergies.
In fact, one of the cardinal signs or “flags” of a food allergy is excess ear wax/yeast, odor, and itching.
Your veterinarian can easily distinguish yeast infection from mites. In addition, cat ear mites (the more common case) do not transmit to dogs.
Unless you place your cat’s ear wax into your ears, they won’t be interested in your ears!
In the case your cat really does have mites, there are simple topical products that result in a quick resolution.
As summer progresses into the cooler months, remember that California fleas are like California people…they are here for the weather, all year long!
In late fall/winter, you can reduce flea control measures or increase application intervals to every other month, but stopping flea control completely is unlikely.
Consider trying one of the natural remedies mentioned above if you’d like to experiment. It may be the perfect answer.
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