Original article by Elizabeth Gigis, DVM, West Chester Veterinary Center
The sun is shining and the temperatures moderate. It’s a great time to take man's best friend out for a day at the park. You put Buddy’s leash on and head down to the local dog park. It’s a great way to spend the afternoon. There is nothing better than watching Buddy making new friends at the dog park. A few days later, however, you notice Buddy seems irritated. He can't sit still! He is biting all off the hair off his back end and scratching like crazy. You inspect closer... little black things are climbing all over him...what in the world? Oh no, Buddy has Fleas!
The foe of all dogs and dog owners and the most common external parasite of dogs is the flea. How do we rid Buddy of this common infestation? First we need to know our enemy.
The most common flea that we find on our pets is the actually the cat flea, Ctenocehpalides felis. Most people think of fleas as a nuisance, however in some cases, fleas can actually be deadly. Fleas cause several diseases, such as tapeworms, flea allergy dermatitis, and even can transmit the bubonic plague! Severe flea infestations in young, old or debilitated animals can lead to life-threatening anemia (low red blood cell count).
There are four stages of the flea life cycle, and it is important to break the life cycle in more than one place. The more stages of the life cycle you can affect, the more effective you will be at getting rid of and preventing flea infestations. One single adult female flea lays up to forty eggs per day. These eggs fall off of the pet and land in the pet’s environment-your carpet. Eggs incubate best at temperatures above 65 degrees and in high humidity (like Ohio in the summertime). Eggs hatch anywhere from two days to two weeks, depending on the environmental conditions. As the eggs hatch, they become larva, resembling little caterpillars, crawling around. The larva feed on everything they find in the carpet-such as digested blood from adult flea feces, dead skin, hair, and feathers. This is the stage that fleas can pick up tapeworm eggs, which can later be transmitted to your pet. The next stage is the pupal stage, where the little flea caterpillar spins itself a cocoon, where it will develop into the adult flea. Fleas in cocoons are very hardy, and can last several months, including over a hard winter, to emerge and hatch in the spring. Pupae are especially protected in carpet, and will remain there, hidden, until stimulated by a nearby pet to emerge and feed. The mature pupae will be stimulated by movement, light, and even carbon dioxide from your nearby pet. Then it will emerge, ready to eat.
A common history may be that you take your dog to a boarding facility and go on vacation for two weeks. You come home, and after a day or so, you find your dog eaten up by fleas. You think, ”That boarding kennel gave my dog fleas!” Actually, what happened was the pupae, stimulated by a returning host, quickly emerged, hungry and ready to feed. This is why pets need constant and continual flea protection, not just spot treatments when adult fleas are seen. It’s for the part of the flea life cycle which lays in wait, hibernating for months, protected until they decide to emerge. The adult flea will emerge, find its host, feed, and then begin to produce eggs 24 hours after feeding. The adult flea will lay eggs continuously until dying. The lifespan of the adult flea is four to six weeks. On average, it takes three weeks from egg to adult flea.
Flea control products are a billion dollar industry! How do you know which product is most effective? First, let me explain one small difference between flea control products and other medications you may get from your veterinary clinic. Many flea control products are classified as pesticides and are regulated by the EPA not the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Thus, you can buy lots of flea control products over the counter. However, it is important to discuss your choice with your veterinarian, because these chemicals are not all benign. In fact, some can be very toxic to small dogs and especially cats. Some can cause local reactions on the skin surface, and some may not really be that effective at all. As discussed before, it is important to break the life cycle in multiple places. Products that kill adult fleas are called adulticides, and contain pesticides such as imiticloprid, permethrin, and fipronyl. Thus, when newly hatched adult fleas jump on your pet, from the home or another animal, they will be quickly killed before they can produce a lot of eggs. Many developments have also been made in the way of breaking the flea life cycle, and this is done with an IGR, or insect growth regulator. Eggs and pupae are quite resistant against insecticides, so other products such as as pyriproxyfen or methoprene are used to target these stages. Lufenuron is another IGR which sterilizes the adult female flea, not allowing her to produce eggs.
Since three quarters of the flea’s life is actually spent off the host, it’s crucial to treat the home and outdoor environment. This is where the eggs, larvae and pupae can live. A study done by UC noted that vacuuming can rid the home of up to 96% of adult fleas. It is important to also pay close attention to your pets sleeping area. Wash all bedding in hot water at least once per week. Since fleas survive in a warm humid environment, adding a dehumidifier and running the air conditioning should also help eliminate fleas. After vacuuming, you can use sprays, foggers and carpet powders containing insecticides and IGRs that can be used to treat the carpet for flea infestation. There are also several products that can be used outdoors to control flea infestation. It can be nearly impossible to kill all fleas in the environment. The most important point is to keep treating your pet for at least six months with an adulticide and an IGR (flea sterilizer). If some fleas left are able to hatch, they are quickly killed after jumping on your pet and are not allowed to reproduce.
Education is the first step in pet poison prevention.
Pet owners should take the time to educate themselves on the various, sometimes unexpected, pet poisons in their environments. The Pet Poison Helpline provides an extensive list of poisonous items for pet owners to be aware of, but here are a few of the most common items seen by veterinarians:
Many people believe certain dog breed, such as huskies and malamutes, are capable of living outside all of the time because of their thick coats. However, no dog breed should be consistently left unprotected outside. According to the City of Cincinnati, when the temperature is below 20 degrees Fahrenheit or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, a pet owner should not leave their dog outside for longer than sixty minutes without adequate shelter. For outside dogs, owners should provide a warm, dry, draft free shelter with fresh, unfrozen water. Heated water bowls are a great option to ensure consistent access to unfrozen water. Owners should also feed their outdoor dogs more during the winter because their bodies use more energy trying to keep warm. In 2016, the City of Cincinnati passed an ordinance with further restrictions and shelter guidelines for dog tethering and weather conditions, which can be found by clicking here
A common winter hazard that vets encounter consistently with cats is engine belt injuries. Cats will climb into cars to keep warm, and without knowing they’re there, people will start their cars and harm the cats. Before starting your car in the winter, it’s advised to give the car hood a few raps to make sure there are no cats cozied up inside.
Pets start an estimated 1,000 fires per year. While this isn’t a huge number, it’s easily preventable. Pet owners should identify the risks in their home and make sure they’re contained from pets. Risks to consider include, open flames such as candles, space heaters, stovetops, fireplaces, and frayed wires chewed by puppies.
Even if all fire hazards are contained from pets, there’s still always a chance of a house fire. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) , there’s a home fire reported every 86 seconds in the United States. So while the hope is that you and your pets never have to face a fire, it’s important to have a plan.
In case of a fire, pet owners should hang window clings that let firefighters know there’s a pet in the home. The ASPCA offers a free Pet Fire Safety Pack that includes a window decal. When leaving home, pet owners should know where their pets are and keep them close to exits if possible. Pet owners should also consider investing in monitored smoke detectors that alert homeowners of a fire when they’re not home and automatically dispatch firefighters.
Getting your dog microchipped is an easy and relatively inexpensive procedure that drastically increases the odds that your pet will find its way home if it’s ever lost. A microchip is a tiny chip that’s about the size of a grain of rice and contains a unique identification number. It’s injected into a pet’s skin between the shoulder blades on their back. When scanned with an electric scanner, the chip will show the unique identification number and manufacturer of the microchip. This unique identification number will be linked to the pet owner’s contact information in the microchip manufacturer’s database.
If a stranger ever finds your dog, a shelter or veterinarian can scan your pet for a microchip. Once they have the identification number and manufacturer from the chip reading, they will call the manufacturer in search of the pet owner’s contact information. Therefore, if a dog owner moves or changes their contact information, it’s extremely important for them to update the contact information associated with their pet’s microchip identification number.