Fleas – Know what to look for


Lawndale’s ‘Paws to Protect’ topic for June is focusing on the importance of year-round flea and tick prevention. With so many preventive choices available from topical to oral products, this recommendation is easier to follow now more than ever. And, if you think about the amount of money and effort involved with treating an infestation and/or dealing with any problems or illnesses caused by fleas and ticks, monthly prevention could save you time and money! For this week’s blog, we want to focus on common flea issues that every pet owner should know about.

A dog or cat with fleas will likely be itching, scratching, overgrooming, and biting/ chewing on their fur or skin. The fleas might be easily visible, especially in short and thin coated breeds. Live fleas may be difficult to visualize on a dog with a lot of fur. Cats are notorious for grooming off the live fleas to where it is very difficult to find any. Utilizing a flea comb, especially along the back and underside may help you find the adult fleas. Comb all the way down to where the fur meets the skin. “Flea dirt” will also be present, even if you don’t see live fleas. Since adult fleas live on the animal where they take blood meals, they also leave their excrement on the pet (“flea dirt”). The waste contains blood. If you find small dark debris on your pet and you are suspicious that it is “flea dirt”, place some on a white paper towel and then drop some water on the debris. If it dissolves and has a red appearance (blood), you have found “flea dirt”.

Some pets are more sensitive to fleas than others – some even have allergies to the flea saliva. Pets can commonly have secondary hair loss, “hot spots”, and skin infections from flea infestations. For any pet presenting to Lawndale with any type of skin problem, one of the first things we do is to look for the possibility of a flea problem. Sometimes the skin changes are severe enough that we have to manage the problem with topical and oral medications like antibiotics, antihistamines, and possibly even steroids.

When a flea problem is identified, a multi-modal approach to managing the fleas is incredibly important. Flea products that kill the adult fleas are essential – but the adult flea is just the tip of the iceberg. One female flea can lay up to 40 or 50 eggs per day. These eggs drop off into the environment and contribute significantly to an ongoing infestation. As the eggs hatch out at different rates, pets will be continually re-exposed to new fleas. Having pets on a product that also keeps flea eggs from hatching is another important level of control. Additionally, environmental clean-up is key. This involves regular vacuuming (and throwing out the bag each time), washing bedding often, cleaning the cracks and crevices in places like the couch and hardwood floors, and possibly even environmental treatments (flea bombs, etc.).

Our clinic regularly recommends Nexgard + Sentinel for dogs, and Revolution for cats. These products will work to kill adult fleas and keep flea eggs from hatching. We encourage you to talk with our team about which preventive option is best for your pet. Keep your pets comfortable and flea and tick free – year round!

Author: Dr. C. Noureddine, DVM, MS