Fleas: Identifying problem key to solving infestation

By DR. FRED SELF / Veterinarian

This time of year we start seeing an increase in the number of fleas on our pets. The winter usually keeps fleas hidden, but once the first hints of spring arrive, so do the fleas. Many of our clients miss the first few fleas and the chance to stop them because they simply forget to look for them.

This week we will discuss some ways to identify a flea infestation.

The key is identification of the problem. This can range from seeing more frequent scratching to seeing bloody water in the bathtub. All dogs and cats scratch. Most pet owners can tell the difference between usual scratching, and abnormally frequent scratching. Fleas are not the only cause of frequent scratching, but they should be high on the list. If you think your pet is scratching too much then get on their level and examine the area being scratched. This may mean putting cats and small dogs on a table or getting down on the floor with Labradors and Danes. It may also require using a flashlight to provide better lighting.

Once you get in a good position and have plenty of light, brush your pet’s hair against the grain. You should see their skin by doing this. Look for anything that runs from the light and back to an area covered by hair. Also, look for flea debris. Flea debris is dehydrated blood that is a waste product leftover after the flea feeds. It looks like specks of dirt. Another way to find a flea infestation is to bathe your pet. Fleas become more visible in the wet hair. If there is flea debris present, it will mix with the water and look like blood. This bathing method works well. The fleas you see on your pet may only be five percent of the fleas in your environment. Clearing an infestation means using some environmental control as well, which can be as simple as treating all your pets for fleas, not just the ones you find fleas on. Also flea eggs can delay hatching until the environment is right. If you have flea eggs in your house and go on vacation, they may all hatch soon after you return. That can make for an uncomfortable homecoming!

There are several good flea control products on the market that last for a month. Talk to your veterinarian about which one will work for you and your pets.