By Steve Guntli
The warm weather heralds the onset of summer, but for pet owners it also means the beginning of flea and parasite season. Fleas thrive in warm, wet regions, so they are nearly unavoidable in the Pacific Northwest.
Last year, the onset of fleas and other parasites reached record levels, thanks to an unseasonably warm winter, and though this year shouldn’t be quite as bad, expect the bugs to be out in full force. You have ways to protect your pets against these annoying little critters, and keep a minor annoyance from becoming a major problem.
Know your enemy
The symptom most commonly associated with flea infestation is itching. Fleas sustain themselves by feeding on the blood of their hosts, and doing so leads to itchy and sometimes painful skin inflammation.
The average life cycle of a flea is just under a week, but in the right environment colonies of fleas can survive for twice that. They mostly ignore humans, but they love to munch on dogs, and particularly cats.
Fleas are very small, about the size of the head of a pin, and can be easy to miss.
One of the telltale signs of a flea infestation is “flea dirt,” a dark substance that will start showing up in your pet’s fur. Flea dirt (actually feces and undigested blood) can be distinguished from regular dirt by taking a sample, placing it on a paper towel and running it under water. If the towel turns red, you’ve got fleas.
Ticks are also common. Ticks are larger than fleas, and tend to burrow under the skin to feed on blood. They are more common farther inland, where the land is drier, and are especially common in tall grass.
Unlike fleas, ticks are pretty indiscriminate about who or what they chew on, so it’s just as likely for a pet to be infested as its owner. If left untreated, ticks can cause serious illnesses, such as Lyme disease.
Check with your vet
Your first step should always be contacting your veterinarian. Some pet owners go straight for the store-brand flea treatments without confirming how their pet will react to the medication. Some pets are hypersensitive to fleabites and require a prescription-strength treatment. The vet can also help you sort out which treatments work and which do not.
Early and simple treatments
Flea collars are cheap, easily accessible and can be effective means of preventing infestation. But it’s worth noting that flea collars don’t kill fleas that are already on your pet, nor do they eliminate any bugs in the environment. They are best used as an early preventative measure to make your cat or dog less appetizing.
Frequent baths using a flea shampoo can help address the issue, as can regular checks with a flea comb.
Bomb your house
For most people, the worst part about trying to get rid of fleas is clearing them out of your home. Fleas are known to lay their eggs in the carpet, so traditional flea treatments may not be enough to wipe out the populations.
Flea powders are on the market to control small infestations, but if you find yourself fighting a never-ending battle against the parasites, flea bombs could be your best option.
Flea bombs are pressurized canisters that release a steady stream of flea-killing poison into your house over the course of a few hours. Be sure to clear all pets and people out of the house before setting one off, cover all food and delicate items and be prepared to do something away from the house for a few hours. Most flea bombs take about three hours to completely empty.