Susan was educated at the Montreal School of Dog Grooming and became a certified esthetician for dogs and cats in 1988.
Do not let the flea's tiny size betray its true nature. It has survived all of our best efforts to wipe it out for thousands and thousands of years. It is a survivor. The only way to win against such a deadly foe is to declare open warfare on it. That means a plan of action, weapons, time, and perseverance. If your animal is infested with fleas, he or she is not only uncomfortable, he or she may die. Keep in mind, like a good soldier, it's us or them.
Some dogs have a very sensitive reaction (allergic) to the saliva of the flea. Like the mosquito, when a flea bites, she puts a bit of her saliva in to help keep the blood from coagulating. It is that saliva that causes the allergic reaction. In some animals, it can be extremely toxic. It can cause drastic hair loss, skin lesions, and other medical problems. It is up to us, as owners, to make sure our animals are safe and healthy. Letting a condition such as fleas continue without treatment is a form of animal abuse. It is our duty to fight the battle against the flea on their behalf.
I have had people comment that their son or daughter is bitten by the fleas and others in the same house are not affected. Humans also can have allergic reactions to the saliva, causing redness and rashes. Others, without the allergy, would not even see the bite.
While working as an animal hygienist and groomer, I saw many cases of flea infestation that brought tears to my eyes. Abuse is not acceptable, and there is no excuse for it.
Know the Enemy
Like any general in a battle, you must know your enemy. You must learn its life cycles, what kind of life it leads, and the best battle plan to match the enemy. The flea is versatile and tough, but it can be beaten. The adult flea drinks the blood of the dog or cat for one purpose, to breed. She will lay her eggs a few days after drawing blood from her victim and she will continue to lay eggs as long as she has a constant food supply. Those eggs are almost impossible to kill. There are no sprays or shampoos that will destroy them. When they hatch, they feed off of the feces of their mothers. The larva can be killed by sprays. That is when they are vulnerable, after the larva becomes the pupa. Amazingly, it can sit in its cocoon for a full year, waiting till it senses a warm blooded animal to feed on. Then, it will break out of it's cocoon and start the whole cycle again as an adult flea.
There is a difference between dog and cat fleas, but that is not important. The cat flea will live perfectly happy on a cat, a dog, and even a human. So whether your dog has cat fleas or dog fleas is really a moot point.
Fleas can jump...a long, long way. Scientific studies have shown that they can jump 84 times as high and 132 times as far as their height and width. That would be 8 inches straight up and 12.5 inches across. Considering their size, that would be comparable to a human jumping a 35 story building. Incredible, right? So, if you see one flea on your animal, in most likelihood you have dozens in the environment. They do not always stay on the animal and the eggs, unlike lice, are not sticky so tend to fall off all over the house. Treating the environment is as important as treating the animal.
Does My Pet Have Fleas or Dirt?
One great test to know if your dog or cat has fleas is to check the fur. Just because a dog or cat scratches, it does not always mean fleas. Sometimes they just scratch because they are just plain itchy or even maybe just bored. Check the skin. Fleas love warm areas; behind the ears, belly and base of tail are favourite areas. If you see black dots, but no fleas, you can check easily to know if it is flea feces or just dirt like earth or sand. Flea feces will turn red with touched with water. Spit on your finger, rub the black dirt. If it turns red, it is the dried blood that the flea ate and then pooped out. Another way to test is to put your animal over white paper, rub him or her well until the paper collects whatever the coat is carrying. Add water. Dirt will stay black and flea feces will turn red. These methods are great because spotting a dark flea on a long haired dark animal can be almost impossible unless the infestation has gone too far.
Choose Your Weapons
There are several steps that are necessary to the elimination of the pesky flea. With persistence, intelligence and the proper products, the flea problem can be overcome. One major thing to remember, whatever product you use . . . READ THE LABEL.
- Wash all floor and living spaces that are possible with pure chlorine bleach. Unfortunately, with carpeting, this is not always possible.
- Wash all bedding of the animals....also adding bleach to the wash.
- Vacuum all areas of the house, top to bottom. When done, throw the vacuum bag out. One mistake most make is reusing the bag. When the vacuum is turn on next time, the exhaust will spit out the eggs into the air.
- Spray the whole house with a flea spray made for environment. There is a difference between the ones you use for the house and one you use for the animal. Also, most of these products recommend you remove the animals to a safe area (I would use the bathroom) and keep them there till the floors and pet beds are dry. The wet spray residue can burn the animal's feet. Read your labels.
- Wash your animal with an insecticidal flea shampoo. Keep in mind that once the animal is washed, and dry, there is no residual protection.
- Use a spray to prevent re-infestation.
- Repeat the whole process two months later and again two months after that. You may have to repeat it a few times if the infestation is severe.
Many use flea collars on their animals. I am against them. They can cause severe skin trouble if they are too tight. They can also cause a type of toxic reaction if they get wet. They don't work very well and a flea will spend a happy time at the base of a dog's tail to avoid that neck area.
The sprays work fine. Some are excellent. But they have to be put on regularly to stop the fleas from hopping on the animal when you visit parks where other dogs or cats have walked. Used properly and with regular use, they can prevent a lot of home infestations.
If your animal comes in contact with many others or lives in a home that has had a flea problem, or if your animal has a severe allergic reaction to the flea bite, I would recommend the drops. A few drops at the back of the neck causes the flea to drink a poison tonic and renders her eggs infertile. I have seen some good results from those products. They are specific, though. You must know the weight of your animal. You cannot use cat on dog and dog on cat. Read the instructions, follow the directions and use the product specifically made for your specific pet and you can't go wrong.
Dogs and Cats Have Feelings
Remember, it is not their fault they got fleas. Don't make them feel worse by showing disgust towards them. Let them know that you still love them and you are going to do all you can to make their problem go away forever. It is your responsibility as a pet owner to cure them, help them, and love them. Please don't hurt their feelings.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2016 Susan May Gudge
peachy from Home Sweet Home on February 05, 2016:
oh that poor dog, you can see such dogs being infected by fleas on the streets