The Four Letter Word of the Dog World: FLEA!
What They Are and How to Get Rid of Them
All dog owners are familiar with the problems caused by pesky fleas. Fleas are very small wingless insects, brownish red in color, and have sharp mouths by which they obtain blood from their canine hosts. Flea bites usually cause your dog to scratch at affected areas and some dogs are more sensitive than others and can have allergic reactions to flea bites. In general, fleas do not transmit diseases from dogs to humans, but the potential for this exists and they can and do bite humans as well as dogs and cats. Fleas and flea larvae live in warm climates and will live until the ground freezes in cooler climates. They can live on in your home well past this time also.
If you suspect that your dog has fleas, you should take him to your veterinarian. Your veterinary staff member will first use a flea comb on your dog. Flea combs are wide tooth combs and “flea dirt” or dried blood flea excrement is what they are looking for. If this is found, your veterinarian will recommend treatment. Most veterinarians recommend preventive treatment for fleas as it is much easier to prevent them than to treat them.
For those of you that wish to treat your dog for fleas without commercial products, there are a few recommendations. One way is to comb your dog with a flea comb regularly. You can put some petroleum jelly on the comb to help fleas stick to the comb. Other people recommend using rubbing alcohol to slow down the fleas so they are easier to catch. Garlic and Brewers Yeast added as supplements to your dog’s food are recommended by those who prefer the natural approach to treating fleas, however, the benefits of these treatments have yet to be proven.
There are several over the counter flea treatments available at your local pet store. However, many of these contain pyrethrins, which are natural insecticides derived from the chrysanthemum plant. In the past, this kind of treatment of fleas was the only one available to veterinarians. If you choose to use a product containing pyrethrins, you should be aware of the potential side effects. There is a potential threat of toxicity when using a product containing pyrethrins, not just to your dog, but to other animals in the house and humans as well. Make sure you follow the label usage directions and if you have any questions about using these products, consult your veterinarian.
Today, there are much safer products available. Most of these products are only available through your veterinarian. One of the most popular treatments for fleas is Frontline Plus by Merial. It is topically applied to the skin of your dog on the back of the neck. According to Merial, Frontline Plus kills 98-100% of adult fleas within 24 hour and will also kill eggs and larvae to prevent fleas from recurring. Frontline Plus is waterproof for up to 30 days and is safe to use on puppies as young as 8 weeks of age.
Another popular flea treatment is Sentinel by Novartis. Sentinel is a monthly pill that also prevents heartworms. Sentinel kills adult fleas, eggs, and larvae. Novartis also makes the flea control products Program and Capstar. Program is a flavored tablet that is given monthly, and while it does not kill adult fleas, it does interrupt the flea life cycle by preventing the development of flea eggs. Program is safe to use in dogs and puppies four weeks of age and older. Capstar is a pill that is given to kill adult fleas. It can be given as often as once per day. According to Novartis, Capstar will begin killing adult fleas within 30 minutes. One pill should kill all adult fleas. Capstar is safe for dogs and puppies four weeks of age and older.
Remember that it is much easier to prevent fleas than to treat them once your dog has them. As with all medications, follow the advice of your veterinarian. If you need more information about fleas and flea prevention, contact a member of your veterinary staff or pet professional.