Cats and dogs are susceptible to a wide variety of internal and external parasites. In the spring and summer months, fleas, ticks, and heartworm pose the biggest threat to our furry friends. Luckily, most parasites can be prevented and treated with medications and/or vaccinations and environment control.
Fleas are the most common parasite found on both cats and dogs. They are tiny dark-colored critters that live on your pet and feed on its blood. Fleas can sometimes be seen moving across the skin near the abdomen, groin, inner thighs, and head. However, they are small and hard to spot so the best way to check you pet for fleas is to conduct the flea dirt test. If your pet has fleas, the feces (black specks that look like regular dirt) will accumulate in the fur. If you see what you think might be flea dirt, pick some off and place it on a wet paper towel. If it turns red after a few minutes, chances are your furry friend has fleas. The feces turn red when submersed in water because of the blood the flea has consumed.
You should also be on the lookout for the following symptoms:
- excessive scratching, licking, or biting at the skin
- red irritated skin
- patches of hair loss
- allergic dermatitis
- scabs and hot spots
- pale gums
Effective flea control involves the following three-step process:
- protect your pet
- treat the indoor environment
- treat the outdoor environment
Fleas thrive in warm weather so its best to start the flea control process once the weather in your area is about 65° F or higher. If you live in an area that is regularly hot and humid, you may have to protect your pet and its environment year-round.
Step 1: Protect your pet
You can prevent your pet from getting fleas by using a monthly liquid spot-treatment such as Frontline, Advantage, or Advantix. Liquid spot-treatments have proven to be more effective than other preventative products such as flea collars. If you aren’t sure which product will work best for your pet, your vet can recommend the safe and effective products.
If your pet already has fleas, you will need to eliminate the infestation by using a flea and larvae-killing shampoo, spray, powder or dip. These products are great at killing fleas and larvae on your pet at the time of use, but they typically do not prevent future infestation. This is why treating your pet with a monthly preventative treatment like Frontline is so important.
Step 2: Treat the Indoor Environment
Keeping your home flea-free protects both you and your dog. The areas to target are anywhere your dog spends a lot of time. Frequent vacuuming of these areas and frequent washing of pet’s bedding will help stop the fleas from reproducing.
If your home already has fleas, there are multiple DIY products you can purchase from your local hardware store. Some common in-home treatments include aerosol foggers, flea pesticides, and sticky pads saturated in flea pheromones. In extreme infestation cases, you may need to contact a pest control company. Carpet is notorious for trapping flea larvae so you will need to vacuum and chemically treat the carpeting in your home. Regular steam cleaning will not kill all the larvae which get embedded in the carpet, so be sure to use a carpet cleaner made specifically for fleas.
Step 3: Treat the Outdoor Environment
In the spring when the weather begins to get warm, you must spray all the outdoor areas of your home yard with an insecticide specifically formulated for killing fleas. Fleas from your yard can hitch a ride on you or your pet and infest your home so this step is very important. Be sure to pay special attention to areas where your pet likes to spend time. You must also be sure to thoroughly wash any dog houses, kennels, crates, or other objects in your yard which would make a great hiding place for fleas.
If you aren’t sure which products will work best you can speak to a vet or a pest control specialist. They will be able to recommend safe and effective products for your yard.