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24 Aug 2000

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Winning the War Against Fleas

Fleas are one of your pets greatest enemies. These tiny, wingless insects jump onto cats, dogs, and people and ingest their blood. Fleas flourish worldwide in moderate humidity and temperatures; only extreme, prolonged cold weather kills them. Their complex life cycle includes several microscopic stages including egg, larvae, and pupae. Fleas can live for several months.

What are the Dangers to My Pet from Fleas?
Fleas aren't just a nuisance for you and your pet; these pests can cause the following medical problems:
Tapeworms -- If your pet eats a flea, which is likely during self-grooming, he could become infected with the immature tapeworms fleas can carry. These long, flat parasites can cause weight loss and diarrhea, and can be contagious to you and your family. One sure sign of tapeworms is the "white rice" you may find on your pet's coat underneath the tail. These are tapeworm segments, and they also can be found on your pet's bedding. If you see them, take your pet to your veterinarian right away to get rid of these pests.
Allergies -- Fleas are the number one cause of allergies in dogs and cats. As fleas eat, they inject saliva under your pet's skin, an irritation that can lead to miserable scratching, hair loss, and infection. If your pet scratches or licks excessively, see your veterinarian for help.
Infection -- Pets suffering from flea bites can develop dermatitis, or inflammation of the skin. Antibiotics and shampoo therapy can rid your pet of this problem, but if left untreated, the infection will spread and your pet will become more uncomfortable.
Anemia -- Fleas get their nutrition by ingesting animals' blood, and they can consume so much that a puppy, kitten, or a small pet can die as a result of blood loss. It's especially important to keep young and old pets flea-free.
How do pets get fleas? Fleas are picked up by being in contact with other flea-infested animals, or from an infested environment.

What animals get fleas?
The cat flea is the most commonly encountered flea. Despite its name, the cat flea affects dogs and cats, as well as other warm-blooded animals, including rabbits and ferrets. Birds, reptiles and small and furry pets such as guinea pigs, hamsters, mice and rats don't need treatment.

Can I get fleas?
Fleas often bite humans when other food sources aren't available, but they do not thrive on human blood. Their bite leaves a red, itchy spot on the skin.

What are the signs that a pet has fleas?
The obvious sign is seeing adult fleas on the body. A flea-bitten pet will scratch a lot because fleas bite the pet leaving behind saliva that is an irritant to many pets. A pet that is infested with fleas will scratch persistently, which could result in a case of dermatitis.

How can I find out if my pet has fleas?
Place your pet on a white sheet and comb the coat with a flea comb. Now look at the sheet. If you see small black specks, it could be flea dirt. Flea dirt is actually flea feces, made up mostly of blood sucked from the pet that is eliminated through the fleas digestive system as dried blood. Flea dirt turns bloody when water is applied. So if you want to make sure, add a drop of water to the specks and see if it turns a reddish color. If it doesn't, odds are that your pet just needs a good bath.

When can pets become infested with fleas?
Pets can become infested with parasites at any time of the year. However, flea infestation is more prevalent in the spring when cold temperatures turn warmer, making it a more hospitable climate for parasites. You are more apt to encounter fleas in warm, humid areas. Flea populations generally don't develop in dry climates.

I've been using insecticides, but I'm still seeing fleas. What am I doing wrong?
You may see some fleas for 10 days to several weeks following treatment. These are newly hatched fleas which were unaffected by your earlier treatments because of their chemically resistant cocoons. You'll need to re-treat the home and yard 7 to 10 days after the initial treatment to kill the next wave of fleas, and continue your treatments until all existing fleas have completed their life cycle.

Are flea control products safe?
Flea control products can be dangerous if not used properly. Always read the label and instructions carefully. And make sure you use the product only for the prescribed pets. Some products are not appropriate for use with cats. If you have any question regarding the safety of any flea control product with your pet, consult your veterinarian before you use the product.

What are the steps needed to stop a flea infestation?
Your pet isn't the only one at risk. People can get irritating flea bites too. Ridding your home and yard of these pests takes time, several steps and a strong commitment to success.

Here's what you need to do:

  1. Shampoo and dip your pet. The best place to start in eliminating fleas is to make sure you have eliminated them from your pet. Start with a good bath using a flea shampoo. These special shampoos contain ingredients that will kill all adult fleas in your pet's coat. You may also want to consider having your pet dipped to insure you get all the adult fleas. If you want your pet dipped, we recommend that you use a professional groomer or your veterinarian. Use the store locator to find a PETsMART groomer or veterinarian near you.

  2. Remember, a good bath with flea shampoo as a dip will not keep fleas from coming back. After your pet is washed free of existing fleas and debris you should consider one of the on-animal or oral products available from your veterinarian or through PETsMART.com. These products prevent flea eggs from hatching and when used in conjunction with home and yard control can help eliminate fleas from your pets.

  3. Take back your home. You can't conquer a flea problem by treating only your pets; you also must treat your house. Fleas can live for months without food, and every female flea can lay several thousand eggs, which can survive in carpeted areas, wood floors, and furniture until it's time to hatch and re-infest your pet.

  4. One simple way to clean the flea eggs out of your house is to vacuum several times a week, tape the bags shut, and throw them away. Also clean your pet's favorite hangouts and launder its bed regularly. Use a professional fogger in each room and sprays for hard-to-reach spots. Contact your veterinarian for professional advice and the best products, and make sure you use only foggers and sprays that combine insect growth regulators with an insecticide. Don't undertake this project uninformed - flea products can be hazardous!

  5. Re-conquer your yard. Use professional, concentrated yard sprays, many of which attach easily to the end of a garden hose for application. It's especially important to spray moist and shaded areas of your yard. Spray doghouses and kennels with an indoor premise spray, and allow all areas to dry before allowing your pet access to them. Fleas are tough! Be sure to start these procedures simultaneously and treat all of your pets - the best time is now.

Prevention through continued maintenance.
Pets will continue to pick up new fleas emerging from their cocoons. Once the infestation is gone, pets can pick up new fleas when they go to untreated areas or when an untreated pet comes into your yard or home.

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