Does seeing fleas on my pet mean the flea treatment is not working?
Fleas continue to be a major health risk for many pets, not just cats and dogs. Fleas cause many damaging diseases including flea bite dermatitis, tapeworms, anemia, bubonic plague, cat-scratch disease and bartonellosis.
Flea populations start with a bang when the weather turns warm and humid but can survive indoors over the winter. The population grows exponentially as the summer months continue until the early fall when the population peaks.
We are often asked if the various products that have been applied to prevent fleas are working when pet owners see fleas on their pet. The answer varies from case to case as well as with the product that was applied.
Currently, flea control products can be categorized into three main groups; topical liquids applied to the skin, oral medication that is swallowed, and collars placed around the neck.
Topical products usually include protection against ticks as well. This gives them a decided advantage. Oral products generally protect against fleas only and work very quickly. Collars, in general, do not work well although we are experimenting with a new product that has promise and may kill ticks and fleas for up to 6 months.
The answer to the question is that most of these products work well enough to control fleas well when used properly and early. Really nothing prevents fleas from hopping on the pet. They must be on the pet for a period of time before they die, depending on the product that can be minutes or several hours.
The life cycle of fleas tells that tale. Adult fleas stay on the pet and generally don’t leave the pet. One female flea can lay 50 eggs or more each day. That can amount to many eggs in a given area over a few days. The eggs hatch into a larva, the larva spins a cocoon which later pupates into a new adult flea. This cycle takes time. At any point in time only a small percent of the flea population consists of adults. Ninety plus percent is in the process of becoming adults. So, knowing the life cycle, let’s see how that affects the pet. A product is applied early in the cycle and the few fleas that the pet may have are killed and for a period of time usually 3 to 4 weeks no new fleas are seen. Then all of a sudden the life cycle matures and a bunch of new adult fleas are available to the pet. They hop on the pet and the pet owner sees these new fleas before the product can kill them. It is also at the end of the treatment period for some products and some of the strength is diminished so it takes a little longer to kill the fleas. The trick is to start early and use the product consistently. If you feel there is a population of fleas that the pet is continuing to pick up, you should treat the pet’s environment and that will hasten the elimination of the problem.
Be very careful you understand what you are applying to your pet. Never apply products to cats that are not approved for cats. They cannot handle all of the same chemicals that dogs can handle. Much of the over-the-counter products are actually more potentially harmful than products sold by veterinarians. Take the time to understand the product and please consult with us. We are here to help solve problems and keep your pet healthy.