Flea Season’s Over, Right?

Flea season’s over, right?

The nights are finally getting colder. Soon we’ll get a frost, and all the fleas will be dead, right?

Sorry, but it’s not that easy. (If it were, I wouldn’t write an article about it!)

The height of flea season is now.

Not June, but October. Surprised? Most people are!

To make matters more confusing, an itchy pet does not necessarily have fleas!  This article will focus on fleas, and what to do if you, or someone you know, is having trouble fighting them.

Most people associate the beginning of summer and the start of warm weather with fleas. We all dust off the Frontline, Revolution, Advantage, whatever it is we use, and begin applying it to our pets. By the time October rolls around, we’re tired of doing it every month, so when the first cold snap arrives, we stuff what we have left back in the cabinet for next spring. Meanwhile, the fleas, who weren’t all that numerous in the spring and early summer, have had all those months to build their army. Their numbers are large, and their desire to munch on your pet is even larger.  Cold weather makes them look for something warm, like a furry critter.

Seeing fleas on your pet? We can talk about with treatment/preventative is best for you. There are many options available for dogs and cats. Your best bet is to ask me, and we’ll decide on a plan. Don’t go to the store and grab something off the shelf – most over the counter products are minimally effective, and have a higher risk of toxicity. (Ironic, I know.)

Don’t forget, dogs and cats can be itchy for many reasons besides fleas! Seasonal allergies are probably the most common cause of itchiness in dogs and cats in our area. However, if your pet is extra itchy on their lower back near their tail, chances are, it’s flea allergy. (Not every pet reads the manual though – cats can present for flea allergy in a wide variety of ways!) We’ll cover seasonal allergies in another issue. The point: itchy pet does not equal fleas!!!

If you discover your dog or cat has fleas (by either seeing the actual creepy crawlies or just their poo, AKA flea dirt) then fleas are likely in your house, and probably on anything else in the house with fur (hamsters, rabbits, etc). It’s important to treat ALL critters in the house, not just the one you saw the fleas or flea dirt on. For some reason, some pets are just tastier than others – one dog may be covered in flea, and the cat next to it will have only a single piece of flea dirt! Don’t panic with “fleas are in my house” horror like some people do. Chances are, I’ve seen your house, and if you had a bad infestation, I would have told you. Since I haven’t told that to any of you, calm down.

Your best weapon against fleas in your home is your vacuum. Why? Fleas think it’s an animal, and therefore a meal. The flea brain detects two qualities in looking for a meal: warmth and vibration. Let’s face it, flea brains aren’t that complicated! Guess what: your vacuum produces vibration and heat. Adult fleas love it. Flea larvae love it, and will scurry to it like flies on, well, you know. So, vacuum often, and empty the contents outside your home (not the kitchen trash…unless you’ve scheduled a flea convention in your kitchen trash). What to vacuum? Carpet, obviously, but don’t ignore the wood or laminate floors. Fleas are basically tine blood-sucking vampires. They don’t like light, so will be hiding in the dark. This means deep in the carpet, or any flooring that is under the furniture (couches, beds, etc). You know, the places that are hardest to vacuum!

Don’t ignore bedding either. Pet beds, sheets, blankets should all be washed regularly. The combination of laundry, vacuuming, and using an appropriate flea treatment on ALL pets in the house should remove any flea families that had hoped to dwell in your lovely home. These days, bombing the house or spraying is generally not needed, and is more dangerous. (The only indication for that would be a SEVERE infestation – like fleas jumping on people constantly.)

Finally, in terms of misery level, that depends a lot on your pet. Some dogs and cats are allergic to flea bites. One flea bites them, and they are scratching and miserable for days, even weeks! Other dogs and cats are not sensitive at all! I’ve seen pets who have so many fleas, they are crawling up my arm when I pick them up, and they have NO skin irritation! The point? Level of itchiness does not correlate to the amount of fleas.

Bottom line on fleas: prevention is so easy! If you’ve been using a flea preventative all summer, now is NOT the time to stop! And, don’t forget your indoor only cat! I cannot tell you how many cats I see that “never go outside” that are covered in fleas. (People and dogs can track them in.) If you want to stop using flea preventative over the winter, when to stop? A frost won’t kill the fleas that are out there. Your best bet is to use preventative until there is some frozen material on the ground for a day or so. Around here that can be sleet, ice, snow, whatever.