4 Steps To Protect Your Pets by Declaring War on Fleas

Spring is here and so are the fleas. Dogs and cats everywhere will begin to be tormented by these dreaded pests. Responsible pet owners everywhere will begin their battle against these horrible parasites. Afterall, responsible pet care includes protecting your dogs and cats against fleas.

Surely you have all seen them.  Those horrible tiny black creatures that scurry through your pets fur, drinking their blood, and causing them to itch so bad that they scratch furiously trying to get some relief. If you have ever had a horrible flea infestation, you may have also gotten bitten by these voracious little pests.  Perhaps you have watched them leap off your dog or cat onto your carpet and marveled at how far they could jump.  Would you believe that a flea can jump over a foot in one leap?

The Ctenocephalides felis is the most common flea which feeds on cats, dogs, and humans. Think about this–an average flea can bite a cat or dog more than 400 times in one day.  In addition to the bites and itching, flea bites can cause rashes and allergic dermatitus causing hair loss. Another harmful effect that fleas can cause is to transmit tapeworms to pets, and their bites may cause anemia in young, old, or animals who are not in good health.

Climate has a lot to do with when you begin to notice the reappearance of fleas as their numbers decrease during the cold months. They can be found year round in Southern California and in some of the Gulf Coast states. The peak season is usually between May and September for the rest of the country. An extremely warm Spring or late Autumn can extend the season.

Today’s technology has given us the weapons to fight flea infestation. You will need to use a  multi step approach to flea control to break the complete flea cycle including an ongoing flea prevention program. This requires that you implement a four step process that begins with pet care and treatment, pet area sanitation, treatment of the environment, and continuing follow up.

Let me begin with a caution. Never use flea and tick products designed for dogs on your cat, or vice versa.

Step One: Comb, Bathe, and Treat

Begin this multi step process by eliminating as many fleas from your pet by combing and bathing. Using a flea comb, comb carefully throughout the entire body of the cat or dog. Before you begin, prepare a jar or bowl of diluted bleach nearby, and as you collect fleas on the comb, shake them into the jar. The fleas will die quickly. The special fine-tooth pet combs trap fleas for easy disposal and can be purchased from most pet stores. Make a regular habit of flea-combing your pet while you watch TV or talk on the phone. Depending on the degree of infestation and the time of year, this might be daily (at the onset of the flea season), weekly, or monthly. Comb gently but be as thorough and cover as many areas as your pet will allow especially around the head, neck, back, and hindquarters.

You may want to cover your lap with a towel that you use with your pets to catch extra clumps of hair and flea dirt and to wipe the comb off as you work. When you’re finished, flush the bleach water and fleas down the toilet.

Next, you will want to bathe your cat or dog. A household with multiple pets will need to do them all or the infestation will just bounce around from one pet to another. A bath will drown most remaining fleas. You will want to use a good “flea” shampoo or a “flea dip” for this purpose. There are different products for dogs and cats. For a cat, you may get away with just using a mild cat or baby shampoo. There are many good natural flea-control shampoos formulated for both cats and dogs.

After bathing, applying a good topical flea control product will work as an adult flea treatment and continue to kill the live fleas by affecting the nerve receptors of the flea. These topical products are usually applied to the dog or cat’s skin at the back of the neck, and are collected in the hair follicles from which the product is slowly released. Topical flea control products are relatively safe, effective, and easy to use, provided you closely follow the label instructions. Two of the better known ones are Advantage and Frontline.

Step Two: Radicate Fleas in Pet Areas

The next step in the process is to sanitize the area where the pet lives. Begin by washing all of the bedding thoroughly.  Launder your pet’s bedding in hot, soapy water and dry on maximum heat as the dryer heat will kill all stages of flea life, including the eggs. Because the flea eggs are very slippery and easily fall off bedding or blankets, be sure to carefully roll bedclothes up to keep all the flea eggs contained on the way to the washing machine. On a continuing basis, you may want to wash your pet’s bedding in hot, soapy water at least once a week.

Step Three:  Treatment of Environment

In addition, you will want to vacuum your carpet. It is also recommended that you steam-clean your carpet.  This will kill any remaining eggs the vacuum might have missed. If you steam clean your carpets at the onset of flea season (or whenever you begin your flea-control program), you will find that steam cleaning is very effective in killing flea eggs.

As a part of the continuing flea control program, vacuum your carpeting daily and dispose of the used vacuum bags.Thoroughly vacuum and clean floors and furniture at least once a week to pick up flea eggs, larvae, and pupae. Concentrate on areas where your pet sleeps and use an attachment to reach into crevices and corners and under heavy furniture. Immediately dispose of the bag or its contents because it can provide a warm, moist, food-filled environment for developing eggs and larvae. Don’t forget to mop vinyl floors and clean any wooden floors.  Fortunately the hard surfaces do not act as a magnet to fleas the way carpeting does. 

As an added precaution especially if you are having a particularly bad infestation, you may want to  use a whole-house insect bomb which specifically targets fleas. It is critical to remove all food dishes and live animals, including birds during this process. You may consider hiring a professional for this job, but make sure he knows you have pets, and will use a pet-safe product. You will also want to hire a professional  to treat outdoors areas.

Here are some other hints for reducing the fleas outside.

Water and mow your lawn regularly. Short grass allows sunlight to penetrate and warm the soil, which kills larvae. Watering drowns the developing fleas.

Encourage ants and other larvae-eating insects. They love to eat flea eggs and larvae. This is another reason not to use pesticides that kill all the insects in your yard.

It may also be a good idea to pay special attention to your pet’s favorite sleeping spot in the yard. Eliminate fleas in bare-earth sleeping spots by occasionally covering the spot with a heavy black plastic sheet on a hot, sunny day. Rake up any dead leaves and other debris first. The heat that builds up under the plastic does an excellent job of killing fleas and larvae. Of course, this is not appropriate to use where you want to preserve live grass or plants.

Apply agricultural lime on grassy or moist areas. This helps to dry out the fleas. Rake up any dead leaves and grassy debris first.

Step Four: Follow Up Treatments

Now comes the bad news. By now you realize that all of this requires a lot of work. No matter how many adult fleas you manage to kill, numerous future fleas are developing in the environment simultaneously. You will have to continue the follow up treatments outlined in Step Three until you no longer see any signs of flea infestation. Fortunately, their numbers do decrease as you apply this multi step process and your job gets easier.

This is one of those times when I wish I could say that I am not an expert on this matter, but unfortunately I have had to use all of the steps I have recommended. 

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Samurai Fight Scene

Samurai Fight Scene from Zatoichi by Takeshi Kitano. In this scene Gennosuke Hattori defeats his rival Clan.

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