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Nanaimo Veterinary Hospital

How to Treat Fleas

November 6, 2013

One of the downsides to living in one of the most temperate climates in North America is that fleas can (and sometimes do) live year round. This means that, while we don’t have to worry about our pets getting potentially fatal heartworm, we do have to worry about those tenacious, annoying, itchy scratchy fleas.

Many clients will ask us when, if, how, and for how long to treat against fleas. There is no hard and fast rule, and our recommendations would be different depending on the household, lifestyle and type of pet(s). Some pet owners prefer to treat preemptively and all year round, just to prevent any chance of a flea infestation. Others will treat during the height of flea season (spring through fall). Still others will only treat when they notice that their pets have fleas.

Fleas are parasitic insects that feed by sucking the blood of birds and mammals. Flea bites result in a raised, itchy red spot on the skin that may remain for several weeks. Most of us with pets have had to deal with fleas at one point or another, but may not be aware that the harm they can do goes beyond a few itchy bites.  Allergic flea dermatitis can lead to severe skin problems, leading to hair loss, skin infections and self-inflicted trauma from scratching. In addition, many fleas are infected with tapeworm, meaning that pets can become infected with tapeworm if they ingest a flea while grooming. Severe, ongoing infestations can even lead to anemia due to blood loss.

Like many insects, fleas go through several distinct life cycles:  Egg, larvae, pupae and adult. During the pupae stage, the fleas incubate in virtually indestructible cocoons and can lie dormant for up to a year, waiting for the right stimulus (the movement and warmth of a warm-blooded mammal to feed on) before emerging. Once the female flea has a constant food supply, she can lay several hundred eggs in just a few weeks.

On to flea treatment: The most common treatments we sell at the Nanaimo Veterinary Hospital are Advantage and Revolution. Both are monthly topical treatments, consisting of a small tube of liquid that is applied to the skin between the animal’s shoulder blades and are available in different doses depending on the weight of your cat or dog. It is important to treat all the pets in your house for fleas even if you are only seeing fleas on one of your pets. Otherwise, the pet that does not currently have fleas will become the next host for any flea larvae or pupae, creating a seemingly endless cycle of infestation.

The main ingredient in Advantage is imidacloprid, an adulticide, which kills adult fleas on contact. Once applied, Advantage begins working to kill fleas within 12 hours and kills reinfesting fleas in two hours. Advantage is sold in packs of four and six and can be purchased without prescription through most veterinarians. It is safe for use on cats and dogs 8 weeks and older and has been tested to remain effective on animals that encounter water due to swimming or a bath in non-detergent shampoo no more than once a week.

Revolution contains Selemectin, a parasiticide that kills adult fleas and prevents any flea eggs that are laid on the animal from hatching. Revolution also prevents heartworm, controls ticks and treats mites in both dogs and cats, and also treats hookworm and roundworm in cats. It is available only by prescription, meaning that the dispensing veterinarian must have an active file and current health record on the animal. Revolution is sold in individual tubes, meaning that you can purchase just one treatment at a time, but may also purchase as many treatments as you like. Revolution is waterproof, making it a good choice for dogs that swim or are bathed regularly. Animals as young as six weeks can safely be treated with Revolution, and is safe for use in breeding animals and lactating females.

If you have questions about which flea treatment is right for your pet, please stop by or give us a call; we would be happy to provide you with more information and advice. Although purchasing flea treatment from a pet store or supermarket may seem like a good way to save money, in the best case scenarios, these products simply do not work, and in the worst cases, actually cause severe harm to pets.

Stay tuned for more information on fleas, flea treatments and how to deal with an infestation.

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