Summer is in full swing, and along with the warmer weather comes the bane of a dog or cat owner’s existence: those pesky fleas! More than just annoying pests, they can cause serious health problems for your pet. Besides the expected skin reactions, heavy flea infestations can cause blood disorders and carry parasitic worms, which can result in the death of your beloved cat or dog. Flea prevention and treatment is necessary to keep your pet comfortable, healthy, and happy.
These insects don’t live on your pet but in the environment. Your cat or dog can become exposed to a flea-infested animal or grassy areas like the yard or public park. Family members may also inadvertently bring a flea home on their clothing or shoes. One flea can become a major problem if pet owners aren’t vigilant and ignore preventative measures.
Fleas will jump on any warm body to feed off of including yours. In the meantime, they are living and laying eggs in your pet’s bedding, your carpeting, upholstery, furniture, cracks in the floor, and around the baseboards. They can lay up to 600 eggs in their short lifetime, and the eggs reach maturity in about two weeks. A single flea can create a major infestation in a short time. Begin your flea prevention measures early in the spring to avoid a major flea problem!
Signs and Symptoms of Flea Infestations On Your Pet
A single flea can make life miserable for your pet! Some dogs and cats have allergic reactions to flea droppings, which intensifies their misery. You may not see fleas (small, black, moving specks) on your cat or dog but notice him biting and scratching, usually around his tail end. Check the skin around his tail area for tiny black dirt that turns red when blotted with a damp tissue. These are the flea droppings (excreted blood) left on your pet’s skin, and a definite sign that you need to address flea control before you have a full-blown infestation that can be tough to get rid of.
Good Grooming Practices For Flea Prevention
Grooming your pet regularly will help with flea prevention and notify you to early signs of infestation. Trimming the coat of long-haired cats and dogs will let you spot the fleas more quickly.
Feed your pet a healthy diet, and keep him in general good health. Proper diet is essential for healthy skin, which is less susceptible to itching and infection. Dry, itchy skin will encourage your pet to scratch and further inflame any existing skin problems caused by fleas.
Cats and dogs may benefit from being bathed with a mild shampoo that doesn’t contain insecticides. Many of the fleas will drown and fall off your dog or cat into the bath water. You can remove the rest with a flea comb if necessary. Don’t bathe your pet more than once a week, which can dry out the skin and cause itching.
Chemical flea control products should not be used on cats or dogs less than six or eight weeks old, depending on the product. The best flea control method for such young animals is to bathe them with baby shampoo and use a flea comb to remove the fleas.
Control Flea Infestations In Your Yard
You can buy flea-killing lawn chemicals for your yard, but before exposing your pets, family and environment to these toxic products, try these natural flea-control methods first:
A non-toxic way to control fleas in your yard is to keep the grass mowed, especially in areas with shade. Fleas don’t survive very well, in short, dry grass. Apply food-grade diatomaceous earth in warm, moist areas of the yard that your pet uses. This product is made of the crushed shells of fossilized sea creatures, and the dust contains tiny jagged edges that will cut the exterior shell of the flea, causing it to dehydrate and die.
Diatomaceous earth is safe for pets and humans to walk on, but avoid breathing in the dust or getting it in your eyes as you apply it. Wear a dust mask and goggles when spreading the diatomaceous earth on your lawn. You may need to dust again if there is a heavy rain within a month or two of the application since some of it will wash away. The flea infestation won’t return unless there is a new source, such as a flea-infested visitor or roaming neighborhood pets.
Plant ornamental shrubs, such as lavender, mint, and eucalyptus which have natural flea repellent properties. Eucalyptus may be hazardous to your pets if they chew on it, but lavender and mint are harmless.
Add a population of beneficial nematodes to the existing nematodes in your lawn soil. You can buy them from garden stores or online. These microscopic worms burrow into fleas and other insects as part of their life cycle, killing the host insect. Nematodes won’t harm your pets or family members whose body temperatures are too warm for them, and they won’t damage your ornamental plants or lawn grass.
Flea Prevention In Your Home
Vacuum, mop, and dust regularly to keep down debris that newly-hatched flea larvae will feed on. Take special care to focus around baseboards and cracks in the floor, favorite spots for fleas to lay their eggs. Don’t forget to run the vacuum over upholstery and drapes, and underneath furniture. Change your vacuum bag regularly, since fleas that are captured up may escape while the vacuum sits in the closet. Use a new bag each time you vacuum.
Keep your pet’s bedding clean. Use bedding that can be washed in hot water and dried at a high temperature to kill fleas and their eggs. Dust it with diatomaceous earth that will kill any fleas that happen to jump onto it.
Persistent cleaning will pay off in time if you are already fighting fleas. You should notice a marked improvement in an existing flea problem in three to four weeks. For serious infestations, it may be necessary to contact a pest control company to eradicate the problem.
Flea control can be difficult once you have a severe infestation. Taking steps to prevent that first flea from getting into your home or yard can save you time, money, and aggravation. Flea prevention is not something you do once, or even occasionally. It requires constant vigilance but pays off with a happier, healthier family companion!