Thursday, May 3, 2012

'Tis the Season - Fleas!

Let me start by saying that it's always the season for fleas! Here in Maryland, it's rarely cold enough, long enough to really kill off fleas, and if fleas are in your HOME, well, it's never going to be cold enough to freeze 'em! Anyone that has ever had a flea problem knows just how difficult and expensive they are to get rid of.

It is vitally important that the living area of the infested pet is treated. This includes any area your pet might be, inside the home and out. It's a ton of work! But even if the pet comes home completely flea free, those fleas will hop right back on! And if they don't start eating Fluffy because he's now protected by a flea preventative (like Frontline or Advantage), those blood suckers are going to hop on you. 

*not actually fleas*

You may notice your cat itching and scratching. They may lick or chew on themselves. Or you may even see the fleas on them. Some animals don't seem especially bothered by fleas, but some are allergic to them and will suffer from flea bite dermatitis or flea allergy dermatitis, to be more correct. The above picture is actually stud tail (another problem for another day) but it looks enough like fleas for me to post. Somehow I have a lack of flea pictures for you. Probably because I bathe as soon as I see fleas! I'm not wasting time taking pictures! Fleas usually look like little tiny specks of pepper in your cat's coat. It can be easy to see on the rump, just in front of their tail. Flea dirt refers to flea excrement and is easy to spot if you're looking for it. 

You can't tell, but this cat was suffering from 
a major flea infestation.
Feeling much better after a Capstar
and a medicated bath!

Here's my advice on dealing with fleas. First, KILL THE FLEAS. Sounds so simple, right? How to do it? While you  can use flea shampoos, I wouldn't waste my time. Why? Well, for one, you can't use it on the cat's head. This is to prevent damaging the eye and other delicate mucus membranes. Flea shampoos use chemicals to kill fleas. Those chemicals can hurt your cat as well. Natural flea shampoos contain essential oils to kill the fleas, but most of those oils are toxic to cats, such as Tea Tree (Melaleuca) oil, citrus oil, peppermint oil and lavender oil. Flea shampoo will not provide any lasting protection. Once it's rinsed off, it's flea killing properties are done.  Dish soap is not safe to use, even to kill fleas! I know there's a recipe floating around, but guys, CATS ARE NOT DISHES. Do not use dish soap on them!

So flea baths are out. Flea dips? Hellooooo toxicity! Professionals no longer use flea dips because they're incredibly toxic and dangerous. Both to pet and person alike. Just thinking about it damages my nerve endings. No flea dips. No way, no how.

If flea shampoo is useless and flea dips are antiquated death traps, how DO you get rid of the fleas? I like a 3 step attack. Step One, Flea Death. Administer Capstar. It's a pill that will kill any flea on your pet in about 30 minutes. Seriously. It's inexpensive and it works. 

Alright, fleas are dead, what next? Step Two, grooming. Just because flea shampoo is pointless, doesn't mean that a good bath isn't. Your cat has had fleas feasting on him, has been itchy and scratching himself and his skin is ouchy. Plus, that coat is now FULL of dead fleas. Yuck. Also, that coat is full of flea dirt...i.e. flea poop. Gross! Your cat will benefit from a good bath to remove the poop and corpses. I always do a good soak in my favorite medicated shampoo. Finish with a blow dry and comb out and kitty is going to feel good as new!

Finish up with Step Three, PREVENTION. Kitty needs to get on a regular, consistent flea preventative. Frontline, Advantage for Cats and Revolution for example. DO NOT USE DOG PRODUCTS ON CATS. EVER, EVER EVER. They can/will kill or severely sicken your cat. Cat products only! Also, while over the counter products found at your local pet supply may save you some money, they almost always don't work, cause unpleasant reactions, and don't work. I've seen it. It's not worth it. Buying flea preventative at the vet is more expensive, but it's worth it. Most (all?) will guarantee the safety and effectiveness of their products when purchased through a licensed veterinarian. Some products seem to be less effective in certain areas, so talk to your vet and find out which one is going to work best for you.

Now that your cat is flea free and on a preventative, what else? The main part of prevention is  on going maintenance of the home and yard your cat has access to. If kitty is an indoor cat, probably just treating your home is sufficient. If kitty is indoor/outdoor, or you share your home with a dog, you may also need to treat your yard too. Because the flea is incredibly adept at surviving, they're incredibly hard to get rid of. Consistent treatment, about every 2 weeks - depending on treatment type, for several months is a necessary commitment. Just treating once isn't going to cut it. 

The number 1 reason I see 'repeat offenders' is that the owners will not properly treat their home. And yes, I see a good number of pets that are always suffering from a flea infestation. It's heartbreaking how much these animals suffer. Needlessly suffer. 

How cute is she?!
Boarding your cat may be the safest way
to treat your home.

Here's a bunch of links I found that may be useful. Lots of great information!

As a cat groomer, I want to add a few extras. 

Never use a product unless it says on the label it is safe for cats. 

Never use a dog product on your cat.

If you do, contact your vet IMMEDIATELY. 

A major concern in battling fleas is the internal build up of toxic chemicals. This is a big reason I avoid flea shampoos. Cats are really delicate creatures and their systems can't tolerate a lot. Using a lot of chemicals in a short amount of time can lead to a fatal build up. When dealing with fleas you need to hit them hard and fast, using as few products as possible. 

Most flea preventatives need to be used no sooner than 3 days after a bath, or 3 days before it. Because these products adhere to the body oils, applying immediately before or after a bath cause them to not work. I've been told (by their sales rep) that Revolution can be applied within 30 minutes of bathing.

Most quality shampoos do not remove flea preventatives if used outside of the 3 day before/after time frame. 

Do not use a flea shampoo 'whether they need it or not'. There is NO reason to apply toxic chemicals to your cat, unless your cat has fleas on him at that time. Fleas aren't killed by sunshine and unicorns. They're killed by chemicals. Unnecessary application of chemicals is not good for your cat. (Yes, even if it's labelled as 'cat safe'.)

Seeing fleas on a black cat can be tricky.
Parting the hair or using a flea comb can help.
Try checking the belly or groin area, where the hair may be thinner.

Fleas suck. There's no other way to put it. If you're battling fleas you have my sympathy. They're hard to get rid of. Remember that if you stick with a consistent treatment plan you can get rid of them. If you don't treat your home as well as your pet, fleas probably are going to continue to plague you and your pet. 

Please remember that this is an example of how caring is not sharing. Fleas are contagious, and by bringing a cat with an active flea problem to the groomer, you're putting their facility and their other customers at risk. Groomers have to go through an awful lot of extra cleaning to prevent the spread of fleas. You would be furious if your cat came home with fleas, right? Just imagine how we feel when Fluffy brings fleas into our work area! If you know or suspect your cat has fleas, please inform the groomer before bringing the cat into the building! Some groomers simply refuse any pet with fleas. Some need advanced notice so they can schedule their day to avoid exposing other customer's pets to fleas. 

Simon wishes you luck.
He's getting the heck outta here!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing so much information.. I found that simply improving my dogs' health by changing their diet got rid of our flea/tick problem. Fleas on cats