It’s Flea Season! These Expert-Backed Remedies will Help Protect Your Home and Your Furry Friends
When you’re cuddling up to your furry companion, you want to ensure you aren’t coming in contact with some nasty tagalongs: fleas. This can be tricky because for every six fleas you can see, there are 300 more present. Fleas feast on blood meals, preferring dogs, cats, and other fuzzy victims, and are much more prevalent on stray cats than any household pets.
A UK study revealed one in four cats and one in seven dogs are carrying fleas, 11 percent of which tested positive for pathogenic bacteria. Not exactly what you want in your bed at night with your pet snoring beside you. The good news is that fleas are largely preventable, even in the summer months when they thrive the most in the warmer temperatures.
Here’s what you can do to protect your home and pets during flea season.
When is flea season?
Fleas hang out all year round, but prefer warm and humid conditions, making summer their favorite season. Lorraine Rhoads, an environmental biologist at Dogtopia, says that 70-85 degrees with high humidity is optimal for fleas, but pet parents shouldn’t wait until the summer months to try to prevent fleas. Instead, they should be using preventative medication year-round.
What types of pets are most susceptible to fleas?
These nasty little creatures feast on the blood of many mammals, including birds, dogs, cats, and even humans, and come in 2,000 different species, shares Rhoads. “Any breed of dog is susceptible to fleas, but the most common flea is actually the cat flea.” This flea called Ctenocephalides felis can be found on any pet, not just cats as its name suggests, and is the most common type found on dogs. Fleas can cause flea allergy dermatitis, a skin condition that can result in infections and hair loss, or worse, can transmit tapeworms, an intestinal parasite.
How can you tell if you have a flea problem?
Often you will be able to see the fleas on your pet. Your first clues might be observing your dog chewing, itching, and scratching, and you might even notice a rash on your dog’s skin in places where the fur is thinner.
“The bite of a flea is irritating, without flea treatment, a flea infestation can result in hair loss and worsening skin irritation. Fleas prefer to camp out around your dog’s neck or collar area, under their legs, near the groin area, and at the base of the tail,” Rhoads says, encouraging parents to watch closely for movement or the jump of an adult flea.
There’s another way to tell as well. “Try the paper towel test. If you find any dark specks of ‘dirt’ on your dog’s skin, place those specks on a wet paper towel,” she says. “If the dark, pepper-looking specks turn a reddish-brown, then you’ve identified ‘flea dirt.’ Flea dirt is digested blood and a sure sign that your dog has a flea infestation.”
How can you solve a flea problem, and prevent them in the future?
If you found fleas on your pet, it’s time for a special bath — ask your vet for a high-quality flea shampoo recommendation, keeping in mind some aren’t safe for cats, Rhoads says. Then, ask for flea and tick medication to prevent future infestations.
But the fun’s not over. The fleas could have moved into your home environment, in the form of eggs, larvae, and pupae. That spells a weekend of cleaning for you since they probably have fallen off the host, especially where your pet sleeps.
“I recommend vacuuming over and under everything! Lift up every couch cushion, wash all pet bedding on the hottest settings, and vacuum over and under every area rug. Vacuum three to four times per week for three weeks. When vacuuming, go over the carpet back and forth at least two times before moving on to the next area,” Rhoads says, noting that so much vacuuming over time ensures any larvae that escaped the suction and became adults will be eliminated the next time around. “On average it can take one to three months to eliminate all the life stages of the flea population in your environment.”
She adds that it can help to check under and around open spaces near your home such as porches and crawl spaces to ensure strays aren’t bringing fleas closer to your entrances.
If you don’t already have a flea issue with your pets, prevention is much easier through regular medication to keep your furry friends clean and healthy.