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It's flea time!

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Jump to: Tips to help if you are struggling with fleas

It's fall. And in my area this means that a lot of the animals that I see have fleas. Each year I'm seeing more and more animals with fleas...and more and more really frustrated owners!

But I've noticed a disturbing pattern lately. I keep having the same conversation over and over. It goes like this:

Me: Ah, see how your cat has hair loss over the base of his tail and also on the back of his neck? 95% of the time this means there are fleas.

Cat Owner: There's absolutely no way my cat could have fleas. If he had fleas I would know it because fleas love me and I would be getting bites. Plus, he never goes outside at all.

Me: I understand how it can be hard to grasp. But even indoor cats can get fleas. You can bring them home on your clothing after you've pet another animal, or they can be in your apartment building's hallway. See, he's got black debris here...this is flea dirt.

Cat Owner: That's not flea dirt. That's just from when I let him out on the patio for a few minutes and he rolls in the dirt. But he's not outside long enough to get fleas though. Plus, I check him every single night and I have never ever seen a flea on him.

Me: Some cats are so sensitive to fleas that even one flea bite can cause them to start to lose hair like this. In those cases it can be really hard to see the fleas. I'd love to talk to you about using a great flea product like Revolution.

Cat Owner: That stuff doesn't work. I tried it three years ago and he got fleas when he was on it.

Me: Oh, where did you get Revolution? I don't see any notes on your file that we dispensed any.

Cat Owner: I got it at Wal-Mart. The lady in the pet department said it was the same as what you sell only a lot cheaper.

Me: The pet store products are totally different than the prescription flea products that we carry, other than the packaging looks the same. These products rarely work to kill all of the fleas, and some of them can even be toxic to cats.

Cat Owner: The lady at Wal-Mart told me that this was because of allergies, so now I have him on a grain free food.

Me: Food allergies are actually really uncommon in pets. A recent study showed that in itchy animals, 45% of the time the diagnosis is flea allergy. 0.9% of the time it is food allergy.

I could go on, but I'll stop here. This week I have had this conversation at least once a day. Today I saw a kitty that presented to me 6 months ago with balding patches on the back. We had the "your cat has fleas" conversation, and the owner declined flea treatment. I saw the poor boy today and he was loaded with scabs. This time he had enough fleas that I could actually find them and point them out to the owner and she took my recommendations for flea prevention.

The reason why I'm writing this post is to advise people that if your vet is suggesting a prescription flea product, it is probably needed!

If you are struggling with fleas...

I often get asked questions from people who are frustrated about flea problems. Here are some facts that may help:

  • If your pet has balding or scabs that are mostly on the base of the tail and back of the neck, then there is a 95% chance that there are fleas present, even if you can't see any fleas or flea dirt!
  • If you see any black flecks on your pet's skin, the way to tell if it is flea dirt is to put them on a white piece of paper and then drop some water on them. If you can get them to smear a rusty color then these are flea droppings.
  • The vast majority of pet store flea products do not work. Don't waste any time on flea collars, flea dips, and flea shampoos. These products were the best things we had about 30 years ago, but fleas have become resistant to them. The "spot-on" medications that look similar to Advantage or Revolution are not the same product, and they do not work well. However, in some places you can buy Advantage or Frontline at the pet store. These products usually do work well.
  • You need to treat every cat and dog that is in your house, even if you can't see fleas or flea dirt. Fleas can only reproduce if they get a blood meal from a cat or dog, so if you treat one animal, the fleas will just start reproducing off of the untreated animals.
  • You need to treat for at least 3 months in a row. If your pet has fleas then there will be flea eggs in your flooring. As these eggs hatch over the next couple of months they will seek out a cat or dog in order to get a blood meal to reproduce. If your pet is adequately treated then the fleas can't reproduce.
  • If you live in an apartment that shares a common area or hallway with other apartments then you may need to treat year round. If your neighbor's pet has fleas and then goes in the hallway, he'll be dropping flea eggs there. When the eggs hatch they'll jump on to the next pet that goes by, or possibly jump into your pantleg and hitchhike home with you until they can jump on your pet.
  • If your pet has had fleas, then those fleas may have been carrying tapeworms. Dogs and cats can get tapeworms from ingesting an infected flea, so speak to your vet about giving a dose of tapeworm medication.

Recommended flea products

Your vet will advise you on what products work best in your area. Some recommended products are Revolution, Advantage, Comfortis, Frontline, and Trifexis. In most cases, the companies that make these products will guarantee them as long as you are using them properly.

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Dr. Marie was quick to respond and thorough in suggesting treatment for my cat. I am so thankful- I have been so worried about my cat. Now I have additional options to discuss with my vet.

The service was incredibly fast and the vet's suggestions were right on target. This was incredibly helpful given that none of the vets in my area, mine now included, will take off hours calls now.

Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.