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Warm Winter Plus Summer Humidity Equals Flea Season

by Stacy Conroy

Fleas are always an issue in the summer for pets who spend time outdoors. However, due to the unseasonably warm winter we experienced last year and the stretch of heat and humidity so far this summer, we’re seeing the flea population skyrocket. Dogs and cats allowed to lounge in the cool dirt under porches or shade trees are the most susceptible because that is exactly where fleas reside. They can become quickly infested since fleas multiply at an astounding rate. The female flea lays about 15 to 20 eggs per day — up to 600 in a lifetime — usually on the host (dogs, cats, rats, rabbits, mice, squirrels, etc.). Eggs are often loosely laid in the hair of your pet and can drop anywhere, especially in sleeping areas such as rugs, carpets, furniture, or kennels. The eggs hatch in two days to two weeks into larvae found indoors in floor cracks, along baseboards, under rug edges and in furniture or beds. Outdoor development occurs in soil such as in moist sand boxes, dirt crawlspaces under houses and porches or under shrubs. Fleas can cause medical problems including flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), tapeworms and in extreme cases, anemia. Although bites are rarely felt, it is the resulting irritation caused by the flea salivary secretions that varies among pets. A severe reaction such as a general rash or inflammation can result in secondary infections caused by scratching the irritated skin area. FAD is an extremely common allergy to the fleabite, and results in pets biting and tearing at their own hair and skin until it is raw and inflamed. Tapeworms normally infest dogs and cats, but may appear in children if parts of infested fleas are accidentally consumed. If your pet has fleas, you will likely notice them scratching their bodies with their hind feet and a general restlessness or agitation. Look for adult fleas on the face, base of tail, between shoulder blades, top of head and groin of your pet. They are about 1/16 to 1/8-inch long, dark reddish-brown, wingless, hard-bodied and are flattened vertically allowing easy movement between hairs. A flea comb can be purchased at the pet supply store that when used will confirm the presence of fleas and flea droppings on your pet. Flea control is best achieved with a simultaneous effort involving pet treatment and treatment of the home, both indoors and outdoors. Be sure you only use flea medications specified for cats on your cat. Medications for dogs can injure or even kill a cat. If you are interested in natural flea control for your pet, contact a holistic veterinarian such as those at the Silver Spring Animal Wellness Center on Silver Spring Drive or Animal Doctor, Inc. on Janesville Road in Muskego. A natural product that can be purchased online is Gentle Touch Flea Drops for dogs and cats, an herbal “spot-on” liquid that is applied to the pet’s back. It is designed to soak into the sebaceous glands, spread to the entire body and cause fleas to drop off when they bite. It’s sold over the counter on many web sites such as www.petsmart.com. There are many shampoos, dips, powders, spot-ons and monthly tablet or oral liquid treatments. Usually, the most effective pet treatments are available through licensed veterinarians. However, be aware that chemical pesticides are harsh and can have side effects. Before you purchase, consider carefully which one is best for you and your pet. With heavy home infestation, a pesticide fogger may be necessary. If you do choose to fog your home, collect all items (toys, shoes, clothes, etc.) off the floor, under beds, furniture, in closets, etc., to ensure best access for treatment. Also cover fish tanks, remove birdcages, pet food and water dishes and wash any pet bedding. Follow exact directions on the can. It is necessary to vacuum the carpet regularly every other day in order to be effective. Vacuum especially where lint and pet hairs accumulate along baseboards, around carpet edges, around heat registers, in floor cracks, and under and in furniture where your pet sleeps. After vacuuming, place the vacuum bag in a large plastic garbage bag and discard in an outdoor trash container. Trim lawns and weeds to create a drier, less-ideal environment for flea larvae. Avoid piles of sand and gravel left around the home for long periods of time. Screen or seal crawl spaces under porches and homes. The typical flea season lasts from early August to early October, so taking care of any infestation now is best to keep them from establishing their home in YOUR home over the winter! Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 8 – September 2002