As veterinarians, one of the most common skin conditions we see in California is Fleas. What often makes this condition challenging to treat is the perception by many pet owners that their pets simply “do not have fleas.”
FACT: if your pet goes outside, and is not receiving regular monthly flea prevention, it will get fleas! Every dog that goes outside, even for a brief walk, is exposed to fleas. Even indoor-only cats can get fleas because we bring the flea eggs and larva in on our feet, shoes, and clothing.
Unfortunately, despite our best efforts to inform and educate, there is still a certain stigma associated with fleas, and those who don’t know the facts think that their pet having fleas means they are “unclean” in some way. Some people even think that their dog can “catch” fleas from another dog. This is simply not true. Fleas do not jump from one animal to another. Rather, they live outdoors–in the grass, dirt, under trees, bushes, houses, and decks. Fleas propagate in moist areas that are not too hot, not too cold, not too wet, and not too dry. Weather extremes kill the flea eggs, which is why some parts of the country do not have fleas, or only have them seasonally. Unfortunately, the climate here in Southern California is ideal for flea maturation during all months of the year, and in order for our pets to be flea-free, they need to be treated with a flea control product year around.
San Diego has an active flea population in the environment year round
Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD)
Some dogs and cats can be infested with fleas and not really seem to be bothered by them, while others will scratch, bite, and chew their skin, lose their hair, and develop dark patches, thickened skin, oozing sores, and skin infections. These animals are allergic to flea bites and have the condition known as Flea Allergy Dermatitis. In these pets, a single flea bite can trigger a severe allergic reaction, caused by an allergy to a protein in the flea’s saliva. When the flea bites their skin, the allergic reaction is triggered. Often, no fleas are seen on the animal because they are ingested while self-grooming, resulting in tapeworms, which live in the intestinal tract. Tapeworms shed segments that look like small white “grains of rice” in the feces.
This is a dog with the typical FAD pattern of hair loss – from the waist to the tail, sometimes involving the legs and the underside. A flea allergy is the only cause of this particular distribution of hair loss in dogs.
Effect of Severe Flea Allergy
Flea Treatment for Your Pet
The only effective treatment to eliminate fleas from your pet is to use a monthly flea preventative. These come in both topical and oral (pill) form. Over the counter flea collars, shampoos, powders, and sprays DO NOT WORK and are potentially toxic to you and your pet. The following products are very safe and effective:
- Topical – Advantage II, Advantage Multi, Advantix, Frontline, Frontline Plus
- Oral – Comfortis, Trifexis, Capstar
Note: Animals with a known flea allergy should be treated with a flea control product more often than the recommended 30-day interval. In some cases, treatment every 2 or 3 weeks may be needed. Talk to your veterinarian about the best choice and treatment plan for your pet.
Treating the Environment
Thorough cleaning indoors and environmental flea treatment outdoors may also be necessary to remove the potential sources of reinfection. Eggs and larva may be hiding out in carpeting, bedding, upholstered furniture, cracks in tile and wood floor, and under couch cushions. Up to 95% of the flea population lives in the environment; only 5% lives on the animal! A great product for environmental treatment is Bayer’s Advanced Complete Insect Killer, which contains imidacloprid, the active ingredient in the Advantage line of flea products. This product is safe for pets when used according to label instructions.