Ongoing updates for your pet. Brought to you by Central Houston Animal Hospital.
Springtime is here! The flowers are blooming, the sun is shining brighter, and unfortunately, the bugs are back. Most important to veterinarians and pet owners are those pesky, parasitic, blood-sucking fleas. They cause itchiness, allergic reactions, dermatitis, and lastly, transmission of tapeworms and blood borne diseases. Fleas are prolific and very successful at dominating their territory, however, they are no match for the safe and effective prescription products available at Central Houston Animal Hospital’s veterinary pharmacy. Although a great deal of over-the-counter products are available, many are ineffective and even unsafe, so care should be taken when administering a product that you have not discussed with your veterinarian. Topical concentrated drops, flea baths, flea powders, flea collars, and a group of oral medications are available. Many have merit, but as I will discuss, understanding the bug is the key to winning the battle.
Much of the reason for treatment failure with current flea products stems from the complexity of the flea life cycle. Similar to grubs that mature into June Bugs underground, and caterpillars that pupate into butterflies on a twig, fleas undergo a multi-step metamorphosis before becoming an adult and unfortunately it all happens in your yard, your carpet and even your bed- gross! Different medications are required to target certain phases of that development in order to best eradicate the environmental load from your home and yard in the shortest possible time.
Flea eggs can be deposited in the environment from untreated pets, rodents, stray cats, birds, etc. making yard control a bit tricky. The good news is that a well-treated dog or cat serves as an excellent exterminator. Adult fleas, which comprise only 5% of the entire life cycle, require a single blood meal before they can lay eggs. Once they find a host, they can lay 20-50 eggs per day - a shocking reproductive rate. Those eggs are smooth and roll right off of the pet into the grass, carpet, cracks, or bedding. Once the eggs hatch, the microscopic larvae weave a lovely silken cocoon and hibernate until heat, vibrations, or carbon dioxide from a host trigger them to emerge, feed and reproduce. The near-adult in the cocoon can live for several months before emerging for a blood meal. The cycle then repeats. Because, they are so prolific and so well protected in the cocoon, compliance is key. It is critical that flea prevention be employed year round, even in the winter. Unfortunately for us, Houston is the flea’s haven of bliss.
When a dog or cat becomes infested with fleas, you will notice incessant itchiness especially at the base of the tail, head/neck and backs of the thighs. You may detect significant redness, self-inflicted scratches, tiny red pimples on the underbelly, and particles that resemble flecks of black pepper near the skin when you part the hair. This is the flea’s excrement in dry form and is referred to as “flea dirt”. If you recognize these signs, you should up the ante with your pet’s flea prevention/treatment.
Shampoos, powders and sprays can kill adult fleas on contact, but generally last only 24 hours. Topical spot-on products such as Frontline, Revolution, Advantage/Advantix, and Certifect do kill adult fleas, have activity against eggs/larvae, and some activity against ticks, but these products often take 12 hours to kill adult fleas. The newer oral products, namely Comfortis and Trifexis are prevention products that do kill adult fleas within 30 minutes of dosing and for an additional 30 days. Comfortis kills fleas only, while Trifexis also contains a heartworm preventative making it very convenient and comprehensive. Sentinel, another heartworm and flea preventative combination pill has activity against flea eggs and larvae only, but not adult fleas.
With so many products available, how can you know what is best? The principle behind Comfortis and Trifexis is that fleas die before they are able to lay any new eggs. In general, 3 solid months of Trifexis or Comfortis should rid your yard of 99% of the flea population, with the 1% being the continued influx of fleas from external sources. If ticks are an issue or if your pet is supremely allergic to flea bites, combinations of these products can be utilized in accordance with your veterinarian’s recommendations. Spraying the yard with insecticide and utilizing environmental control measures, e.g. diatomaceous earth and cedar oil all may be useful for short-term results, however many of these products harbor human and animal safety risks. Care should be taken to educate oneself about these risks before using any such product. Know that fleas love your animal most, so treating your pet will lead to the most effective and lasting results.
As a pet owners and veterinarians, our top priority is preserving the health and comfort of your pets. Flea infestations are relentless and debilitating. The flea prevention products available at Central Houston Animal Hospital offer immediate relief and lasting protection at a reasonable cost. Please check with one of the veterinarians at Central Houston Animal Hospital for more details about our flea prevention recommendations.