Pets Should be on Flea Preventatives
Why should I use flea preventatives on my pet? Common reasons pet owners forgo flea preventatives include the age of their pets, the fact that their pets stay indoors, are city dwellers and that they have never had a flea problem in the past. Nobody wants to give their pet extra medication if they don’t need to! Medication takes up time and money, not to mention the mental hassle of trying to medicate an unwilling pet. Plus there is always the fear of putting too many unnecessary drugs into our pet’s body. There are however actually some very good reasons to put your pet on flea prevention.
Current flea prevention is almost always a liquid that is squirted directly on the skin once a month, either between the shoulder blades, or down the length of the back. Most of them act by killing all stages of fleas- eggs, larvae, and adults. There are many other types of flea preventatives, such as flea collars or flea baths, but liquid flea preventative has so far proved to be the most effective solution with the fewest side effects.
So why are there a huge number of flea treatment products? Because fleas are a huge problem! Fleas can affect almost any dog or cat, and can result in a variety of difficulties for pets and their owners. In this article, we will give a short introduction to fleas, explain why every pet is at risk for flea infection, and why you absolutely do not want your pet to get fleas.
The most common flea is called the ‘cat flea’ and is shared between cats and dogs. Adult fleas need to feed on blood (just like ticks) and will bite the animal many times a day to get this blood (unlike ticks, which will only bite once, and then remain attached). Adult fleas lay tiny eggs that fall off the animal and form tiny larvae. Once these larvae mature into adults, they go in search of a host (another animal) to feed on blood.
At the beginning, we spoke about common reasons that people have for not using flea prevention. This is because we have the ingrained idea the fleas are normally found on dirty puppies that run outside all the time. In fact, sometimes it is believed that only pets with bad owners get flea and this is simply wrong! Only pets with owners that choose not to use flea preventatives get fleas. Fleas are sneaky. They can enter your house on your clothing or through an open window. They can live in the environment for a couple of days without food, so your pet does not need to come in contact with an animal that has fleas in order to become infected. Fleas are not picky. A flea is not going to look at a dog or cat and say no. If your dog or cat has blood, then it is prime dinner for a flea. In fact, so are you!
That statement leads us to the most important point of why you should use flea prevention: what will happen to you and your pet if your pet gets fleas? The answer is a variety of scenarios. As mentioned, even humans can get fleas. Humans are not the prime dinner target for fleas, but if fleas get hungry and there is no dog or cat around, then they will settle for a dinner of human blood. This is very common in households with flea infestations. The population of fleas quickly increases, and the fleas compete for food. Your ankles are at a great level for them to bite, which is why fleas will cause intense itching, rashes, and redness around your feet and ankles. It’s not just your pet that suffers from flea bites!
But wait, there’s more! Although fleas bite you, they do much more damage to your pet. Because fleas prefer cats and dogs over humans, for every couple of flea bites that you get, your pet will get hundreds more. Flea bites are highly irritating and itchy. This causes much discomfort and agitation. Imagine walking into a swamp in the middle of the summer and becoming lunch for mosquitoes. That’s what it feels like for our pets to get attacked by fleas.
In fact, many pets are actually hypersensitive to fleas. Hypersensitivity is the same reason why some people only get a mild rash from poison ivy, while hypersensitive people get severe itching and blisters that can spread over their entire body. Hypersensitivity to fleas is called ‘flea allergy dermatitis’. Pets with flea allergy dermatitis only need a few fleas (too few for you to even detect) to cause intense itching. When your pet itches this badly, it can rip out hair and even cut the skin. Flea allergy dermatitis also causes the body to overreact by producing lots of inflammation.
Small animals are also at risk of blood loss. Puppies and kittens with lots of fleas often are weak and sluggish because they have lost so much blood. This blood loss can be a big problem in small animals.
Also, the cat flea carries a type of tapeworm that both pets and humans can get. A tapeworm is a long, flat worm that lives in the intestine and absorbs nutrients that we eat. Those nutrients are taken up by the worm, and therefore are not available to the pet. The pet begins to do poorly and lose weight because, even though it is eating enough, it is not getting enough nutrients. Pets can accidentally eat fleas when they are chewing at their itchy skin. Once your pet eats the flea, the tapeworm larva inside of the flea grows into an adult tapeworm in the intestine. Humans can also accidentally eat fleas, because fleas are so small. Although it is uncommon, it is possible for humans to get tapeworms this way.
Even though fleas are common parasites and we don’t tend to worry about them, maybe we should. Once your house is infected with fleas it takes a lot of work to get rid of them, because the eggs and larvae live in the house. Fleas carry many risks for pets and their owners; fleas are especially good at causing itching and transmitting tapeworm. Next time you decide not to put your pet on a good flea preventative, think about what may happen if your pet gets fleas. It may be worth the money to prevent the fleas. As a final note, flea treatment for cats is very different than flea treatment for dogs. NEVER give your cat a flea preventative that is meant for dogs and never give your dog flea preventatives for cats.
By Ashley O’Driscoll – Pets.ca writer