Fleas love Florida summers, which means veterinarians are seeing many more patients with flea allergies, the most common dermatologic disease of domestic dogs, according to a Kansas State University study.
PetCetera readers often e-mail with questions about these little pests and other parasites. So this week, I asked veterinarian Link Welborn, owner and medical director of four Bay area animal hospitals including Pebble Creek Animal and Bird Hospital in Tampa, for advice on giving our pets a fighting chance.
Last year, many pet owners had a particularly difficult time fighting fleas on their pets. What do you suggest they do to protect their animals and homes this year?
Seek the advice of your veterinarian. There are dozens of flea control products on the market that fall into many categories:
with and without heartworm and intestinal parasite prevention;
with and without tick control;
prescription and over-the-counter;
topical and oral;
products that kill adult fleas and those that block the development of immature fleas;
those that are greatly affected by bathing and others that are not.
Some are very safe for one species and toxic to others. The choices can be dizzying.
Veterinarians are in a better position to advise pet owners about the best flea control for an individual pet than anyone. I would like to highlight the word "individual." Every pet should be treated as an individual with regard to flea control. The species of the pet plays a major role in determining the best product. Those approved for dogs are usually different from those designed and approved for cats.
The lifestyle of the pet is a significant factor, too. Dogs that rarely leave the house and yard may need only a monthly dose of an insect growth regulator. A fast-acting product that kills adult fleas can be administered for the occasional outbreak.
Dogs that routinely walk in areas frequented by other dogs - such as dog walks, apartment common areas, and parks - should receive a once-a-month product that kills adult fleas continually.
Other considerations include potential exposure to ticks. Most pets in our area aren't exposed to ticks, so pet owners don't need to pay extra for a product that controls them. However, if ticks get established in the home they can be a nightmare. For dogs with tick exposure, the use of a combination flea and tick control product is essential.
Finally, dogs that are bathed more than once a month may benefit more from an oral flea control product, one of the more water-resistant topical products or, at the very least, should be bathed with a soap-free shampoo.
Your veterinarian can help you individualize flea control as well as heartworm and intestinal parasite control to ensure you're using the most effective, safest and cost-effective product available. Talking to your veterinarian is particularly important now since we are about to enter the peak summer flea season and several highly effective products recently have been made available.
What do pet owners need to know about the possible dangers associated with over-the-counter topical flea treatments?
Many over-the-counter products are relatively safe for mammals. However, some spot-on type flea products contain 45 to 65 percent permethrin. These products are labeled only for dogs; even small amounts on cats can cause tremors, seizures and death. Ironically, these very potent products often aren't that effective at killing fleas since they have been on the market for many years and fleas have become relatively resistant to them.