Fleas love your pets almost as much as you love them – they feed off your pet’s blood and, once they have found a tasty food source, they move in and start reproducing. They climb onto your pet on neighbourhood walks, play dates, get carried into your yard by other animals or even hitch a ride on humans and jump over to pets when the opportunity arises.
How to tell if your dog has fleas
As previously mentioned, fleas feed off your pet’s blood and this feeding causes your dog to itch. You will notice your pet scratching, biting or licking a lot and losing hair, especially near the tail base. If you run your fingers through your pet’s hair you will find flea dirt (small black granules) or even the critters themselves darting through the hair. They leave red bumps or scabs where they bit your pet to feed off it. You may even notice your pet’s behaviour changing – your pet may become restless or even seem nervous due to the constant itching and scratching.
Once you find fleas on your pet, you can assume that your home has now become their home as well. Thus, to eliminate them for good, you will have to rid both your pet and the environment of fleas and discourage the fleas from coming back.
How to treat your pet
Firstly, treat all the animals in your household for fleas as all of them will be infested. There are several products available over the counter and choosing the correct one for your pet can be daunting – your vet or the staff will be happy to help you with this. There are tablets that can be given to your dog as a treat – these work from the inside out to kill fleas and they are effective for 1 to 3 months, depending on which product you use. Flea collars are effective for up to 8 months, provided they stay on your pet for so long! Spot-on preparations are applied directly onto your pet’s skin and spread over your pet’s entire body to kill off all the fleas. Certain shampoos and sprays are also designed to kill off fleas.
Before you run to the vet shop, pop your pet onto your bathroom scale, or, if you don’t have one, take your pet along to the vet so he or she can be weighed there. All the flea treatments are dosed according to the weight of the animal and it is very important that your pet receives the correct dose – under dosing your pet makes the product less effective (essentially wasting your money and effort) and overdosing your pet can cause ill effects. If your pet is still a puppy or a kitten, make sure that he or she is old enough to be treated with the product as most of them are only regarded as safe for use after a certain age.
The tablets are generally very tasty and many dogs will gobble them up, thinking it’s a treat. If your dog picks up on your bluff you can try hiding it in his food but make sure to check that the tablet has been eaten afterwards. The last option is to open your dog’s mouth and shove the tablet down his throat.
If you opt for a collar, follow the packaging instructions when putting it on. If your pet manages to get it off it can be replaced straight away; do not let your pet chew the collar.
Similarly, follow the packaging instructions when applying a spot-on treatment. Bathing and swimming can interfere with the efficacy of spot-on treatments – the package insert will tell you when and how often your pet can be bathed or allowed to swim.
Remember that all these treatments are essentially pesticides – read the package inserts carefully before using the products, keep them away from children and wash your hands after using them. Always weigh your pet before buying a treatment so that you can make sure he or she receives the correct dose. The package insert will tell you how long the treatment is effective for and how frequently it must be used – stick to these time periods so you don’t end up overdosing your pet. Never use dog products on your cat and vice versa – some dog products contain substances that are poisonous to cats. Finally, do not use more than one treatment at the same time – it can be potentially harmful to your pet.
Brush your pet with a flea comb at least once a week to remove stragglers and dead fleas. Most local vet shops stock flea combs.
Make sure to keep the flea treatments up-to-date year-round. South African winters are not cold enough for fleas to die off so lapsing in your flea control at any time of the year poses the risk of the pesky critters coming back and you have to go through the entire process of eliminating them from scratch.
How to treat the environment
It is important to understand that the adult fleas you see on your pet are only 5% of the entire infestation – the other 95% are the eggs, larvae and pupae hiding around your house and yard. The adult fleas lay eggs on your pet’s coat, which then fall off onto your furniture, carpets, bedding and yard as your pets go about with their daily lives. Fleas like to hide where your pet spends most of its time and they prefer dark, cool environments, such as baseboards, upholstery and crevices.
Start by cleaning your house very thoroughly – think spring cleaning or in-laws-coming-to-visit cleaning. Vacuum all the floors, carpets, furniture, pet beds, nooks, crannies and crevices in your house and immediately empty your vacuum in the outside dustbin – you don’t want to give the fleas time to crawl back out. Steam clean carpets and spray flea spray onto all the areas that have been cleaned.
Machine wash all the pet beds, including covers, in hot water. Do the same for all the family bedding, bathroom rugs, towels, throw blankets and cushions. Also, tackle all the places where your pets like to sleep or lounge. Dry anything that can go into a hot dryer for 15-20 minutes.
Fog your home – buy a fogger that is effective against all flea life stages and follow the package instructions. Treat your yard with appropriate treatment and follow the package instructions. You can even consider calling in an exterminator company.
Accept the fact that it can take up to three months, or even more, of hard work to get rid of fleas for good -some unhatched eggs will, despite your best efforts, survive and hatch to start the life cycle again. Repeat the vacuuming, spraying and fogging regularly and thoroughly and wash pet bedding every week. Keep all your pets up-to-date on their flea treatments at all times and clean your car regularly – you never know how many flea passengers you may have.