By Terry Spencer, DVM
“Scratchy, scratchy, itchy, itchy, my pet got fleas in New Port Richey!”
This must be the mantra for the month of May. Most of my recent appointments were for cats and dogs that were literally tearing their hair out and chewing themselves raw. The pets felt miserable, and the pet owners had lost sleep listening to Fluffy or Fido chew, “snarf,” or scratch all night long. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the pet won’t stop scratching and 1 being the pet never scratches, most of these pets were an 8 or above on my ”itchy scale.”
The pet owners come to me to give the family some relief. I can do that! Excuse me for this; but “Who ya gonna call? Me, the Flea Buster!”
Surprisingly, most of these itchy pets are not using regular flea control. The pet owners uniformly report that they never see fleas on their pets. The pet owners think that bathing their pets with flea shampoo, using a flea comb, and keeping the pets indoors most of the time will prevent their pets from getting a bite from a flea. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. This is Florida, where every bug known to man lives, thrives, and mutates to the likes of Godzilla. That includes pesky, lowly, fleas.
You don’t have to see fleas on your pet to have a flea problem. Think about it. When you get bitten by a mosquito, the bug is long gone, but you still itch for days. The same is true for your pets. Most of the flea life cycle is off the pet. The flea jumps on its target, bites long enough to get a blood meal, and then jumps off to lay thousands of eggs in your house or yard. These eggs can lie dormant for months waiting for just the proper moment to hatch and start the life cycle
again. Most bug bombs, sprays, shampoos, and dips only kill the adult fleas, not the eggs or the larvae. Flea combs only help you find the adult fleas that might be on your pet at that moment. Shampoos and dips don’t prevent new fleas from jumping on your pet as soon as soon as he/she dries.
Here, in Florida, if you are not using a good quality, monthly flea-control product on your cat, dog, or ferret your pet will get fleas. If your pet is itchy and you have missed some doses of flea control, then the cause of the itch isn’t an exotic allergy or food sensitivity…it is fleas until proven otherwise.
Consult your veterinarian to help you decide which of the many flea control products on the market are right for your pet. There are topical drops and pills you can give. Some of the products are only available by prescription. Some of the products are available over-the-counter. But check with your veterinarian first, even before using the over-the-counter products. Several popular over-the-counter flea products are deadly for cats!
Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey