Thursday, September 6, 2007

Fall is Flea Season

People always ask me about flea control products in the spring. While I encourage my clients to plan for flea prevention, rather than waiting to treat an infestation, spring is not the big flea season around here. In SW Ohio, late summer and fall is prime-time for Ctenocephalides felis, the cat flea, the most common flea of both dogs and cats. (Parasite problems vary geographically. Some areas of the country may have no fleas at all, while in other areas, flea season may be all year round. Consult your local vet.)

Flea Fact: Fleas don't fly, they jump.
A flea can jump up to 150 times its body length.

The flea life cycle, which can be as short as 16 days when conditions are optimum, consists of adult fleas, living and feeding on the pet, and eggs, larvae and pupae, which are found in the environment. In your home, this means they may be found in the carpet, the cracks and crevices of the floors, along the baseboards, and so on. Outdoors, immature fleas live in moist soil, sand, or mulch, under the deck or bush where your pets rest, in crawl spaces, etc.

Flea Fact: Adult fleas feed exclusively on blood.

Only 5% of the flea population exists as adult fleas on your pet. The pupal stage accounts for 10%, 35% are in the larval stage, and the flea eggs are a whopping 50% of the total number of fleas in your environment. That means for every 5 fleas you see, there are 95 more immature and developing fleas that you can't see. Anything you do to the pet, like a flea bath, that doesn't address the big picture is doomed to fail.

Flea Fact: The female flea begins laying eggs 24 hours
after takes her first blood meal from your pet.

Flea control must deal with all stages of the flea's life cycle. The pupal stage is a particular problem, since no topical products can penetrate its protective outer layer. This is why you can give a dog a flea bath and find fleas on him the next day. While the shampoo may have killed all the fleas on the dog at the time, newly emerged adult fleas hop right back on him the moment he is dry.

Flea Fact: A female flea can lay 40-50 eggs per day,
or 2000 eggs over her lifetime.

Your best resource for safe and effective flea control products is your veterinarian and his/her support staff. (You knew I was going to say that, right?) They know you and your pets and can make the best recommendations for your situation. And, even if you might be able to find the same products for a little less on the 'Net, think about those hard-working people spending hours every week a
dvising and educating their clients (at no charge, I might add) only to have their time and knowledge taken for granted when someone says, "I can buy that cheaper on-line." Despite feeling rejected, that person will put the same effort into helping the next client and the next and the next. So, buy your flea control products from your vet's office. Not only are you paying the salary of the person who helped you, but also the manufacturers' guarantee may not be honored when you purchase that item from a catalog or Internet pharmacy.

Flea Fact: The average life span of a flea is 2-3 months.

Here is a review of some of the flea products available through your veterinarian. (Not all vets carry all products. Your vet has selected the product(s) that s/he feels are the most effective.)


CapStar is an oral flea-killing product with limited use. It is extremely safe and has a rapid action. Once administered, CapStar begins killing fleas within 30 minutes. Over 90% of the fleas are gone within 4 hours (dogs) to 6 hours (cats.) CapStar can be given to pregnant and nursing dogs and cats, and to puppies and kittens who are at least 4 weeks old and 2 pounds. Because of its short duration of action, CapStar cannot be relied on as a sole means of flea control. I tend to use it as an emergency treatment in a pet who has a lot of fleas, or as a "rescue" remedy for pets on a monthly flea product if the owner sees an occasional flea. Another good use is for pets who come back from boarding, doggy day care, or the dog park, places where they may have been at increased risk for fleas. Pop a CapStar pill into your dog before putting him in the car, and you will be assured you don't bring any fleas into the house.

Flea Fact: Fleas can bite up to 400 times per day.


Advantage is for flea control only. It comes in both dog and cat versions, and for several different weight ranges. Apply it topically, once a month, as directed. This is a good place to mention that you should stick with the appropriate package for your pet. Many pet owners (and some vets, I am afraid to say) think it is OK to buy the "large dog size" package and divide it among several smaller pets. I think this is a bad idea. Not only are you risking potential toxicity if you overdose the product, but this habit may mean you fail to control fleas if you underdose. It is false economy to use these products incorrectly.

Flea Fact: Fleas cause anemia by sucking blood.
Small pets can die from flea-bite anemia.


Advantix is for flea and tick control. It is also labeled for the control of mosquitoes and biting flies. It is applied monthly in the same way as Advantage. Because it contains permethrin, a potentially deadly toxin for cats, Advantix is for DOGS ONLY. Just coming in contact with a recently treated dog puts cats at risk for permethrin toxicity, I advise not using Advantix if your dogs and cats are best buddies. My cats frequently cuddle up to or groom my dogs - I won't have Advantix in my house. For non-cat loving dogs, especially for dogs who have a problem with ticks or with biting flies attacking their ear tips, Advantix is a good product.

Flea Fact: Flea larvae feed on flea dirt.

Frontline (Plus)

Frontline, and Frontline Plus, are topical flea and tick products for dogs and cats. Just like Advantage, they are applied topically, once a month, and come in varying sizes to fit all pets. Frontline Plus differs from Frontline by the addition of an insect growth inhibitor, methoprene. This arrests the development of flea eggs and pupae, helping to control all stages of the flea life cycle. When Frontline was first released, the packaging said to apply it every 3 months for flea control. I feel that was too long, and may have led to some fleas becoming resistant to its effects. (Package directions have been changed to monthly application.) In my own dogs, I use Frontline topically in April, May, and June for ticks and early fleas, then switch to Advantage for flea control in the summer and fall. By rotating my products in this way, I hope to avoid resistance problems.

Flea Fact: "Flea dirt" is actually flea feces.
Flea feces consist of dried blood.


Revolution is a topical, once monthly, broad spectrum parasite product containing selemectrin. The dogs and cat versions have slightly different spectrums of parasite control. In dogs, Revolution protects against fleas, heartworms, ticks, and sarcoptic mange mites. In cats, Revolution is labeled for control of fleas, heartworms, ear mites and two intestinal worms. I use Revolution for my indoor/outdoor cats, and have been very happy with it.

Flea fact: Some pets are allergic to flea bites.

Advantage Multi

Advantage Multi is Bayer's answer to Revolution. It also comes in a dog and cat version, and controls fleas, heartworms, and intestinal worms. It is the newest product in this review, having just become available this year. The two disadvantages I see it that there is no tick control, and it only goes up to dogs weighing 88 lbs. I hope they will work on those points.

Flea Fact: Fleas can transmit tapeworms to your pet.


Sentinel is an oral, once a month parasite control product for dogs only. It is effective against heartworms and three intestinal worms, and also has some flea control effects. The lufenuron in Sentinel acts as an insect growth inhibitor, in a sense, as "flea birth control." You may still see fleas from time to time, since Sentinel does not kill or repel adult fleas. However, fleas that bite your pet lay eggs which do not develop. Sentinel works well to control the flea population in some dogs. I don't recommend it for dogs who live or visit high-flea risk areas, for dogs with flea-bite allergy, since they have to be bitten for the product to work. I also don't recommend it for people with a low-tolerance to fleas. I never want to see a flea, so I prefer topical products that kill and repel fleas, rather than waiting for Sentinel to work.

Do's and Don'ts: Use parasite control products recommended by and purchased from your veterinarian. Use a product labeled for your pet's species, and in the correct weigh range. Be mindful of the age limitations for each product. (Some are for pets over 4 weeks, others say 7 or 8 weeks.) Do not use multiple products on one pet, unless advised by your vet. Ask your vet for advice on bathing treated pets. Do not apply to ill, debilitated, pregnant or nursing pets without consulting your veterinarian. Contact your vet immediately if you see any adverse reactions. (While all these products are very safe, any pet can have an unusual reaction to any insecticide.)


KGMom said...

This is so very helpful.
Now, do you have any trick for applying the liquid to my dog's back. She HATES this--and tries to bite me when I apply it.
I know, I know--I need to go back, re-reaad your training posts, youthen my dog to puppy stage and start over!

KatDoc said...

Try this: Start with high-value treats, like liver treats or bits of hot dog or cheese, something she really likes. Take her to a designated place - the kitchen, the bathroom, the back porch, etc. - and get her to assume the position for application of your product; sitting, standing, laying down, whatever is convenient. Give her a command: "Place" or "Tube" or some other one-word designator, which we are going to use to mean, "I'm putting that stuff on." Command, assume position, treat, quit.
Next day, repeat.
Next day, repeat.
After she does this reliably, add in the motion of parting her fur as you would do when applying (so that you can see her skin.) Treat, quit.
Next day, repeat.
Next day, repeat.
One day, have an eyedropper or something similar with a couple of drops of water in your hand. When you part the hair, squirt on a drop of water and treat. SAY NOTHING! A tight, anixous, whining "It's OK, baby, it's OK, don't be afraid" voice won't help.
Next day, repeat.
Next day, repeat.
If your flea product has an alcohol base, change the plain water "dummy" dose to 1/2 water & 1/2 alcohol for a few days, then to pure alcohol.
On subsequent days, add more liquid, applying it in more places or in whatever manner you would use with the real stuff.
After you can put water (or alcohol) drops on her consistantly, without a fuss, use an old tube of flea stuff (that you saved from last month's dose or ask your vet for an empty tube) and use that to administer your daily dose of water or alcohol. (A bit of the odor will cling to the tube and transfer to your dummy dose.)

By the end of a month of daily practices, I'll bet you can apply the flea stuff with a lot less trouble. If you can do all the dummy steps without a fuss and she STILL freaks for the real thing, it is possible that she has a contact irritation from the actual product. (Ask your vet.)

It is equally possible that she "has your number." A client told me she couldn't apply a topical product to her dog, "Because she will bite me." I asked her to bring the dog in and let me try. I put the dog on my exam table and applied the stuff on the first try, by myself, with no holding, screaming, biting, or trouble of any kind. This dog had "trained" her owner not to apply the product by acting tough. Dogs are GREAT people trainers.


Liza Lee Miller said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! RUby just got her first fleas and I need to call my vet and get her some treatment. But, I used to know all the remedies inside and out but they've changed since I was active in dogs and I hate to sound like an idiot (Uhhhh, isn't there something that does all the parasates? Or did I just dream that?) You've saved me HOURS of research! Seriously, are you SURE you won't move to Santa Cruz? :)

Lynne said...

Is it OK to use a puppy product for our bunny? He's about 6 pounds and regularly goes outside for supervised romps and I did find a flea on him.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all this excellent information! Even though I don't have a flea problem now, I may have one in the future! Kathy

KGMom said...

Kathi--I have just read your training technique for getting my dog (or any dog) to accept topical apps. And I am laughing.
Yeah, there are times I think she has my number.
I am the one who says--NO--I am alpha dog, you are beta puppy. But I am not so sure. I try to stay in charge--and also try to not get bit.
I have walked away from her when we are out walking and she snarfs something. When I try to get her to drop it, she snarls. One day she snapped--so I just dropped her leash and walked away from her. I didn't look back. Finally, she came slinking over to me, and after a bit I "accepted" her apology.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, as usual for the helpful info, Kathy. :) My pups will appreciate it.

KatDoc said...


I'm not sure about bunnies and the new topical flea things. I used to recommend using a carbaryl-based flea powder that was labeled as being safe for kittens, and mixing it 50:50 with baby powder or corn starch to dilute the concentration. I also have advised pyrethrin-based flea sprays, applied LIGHTLY. Since the new topicals came out, it is harder to find those products.
I would ask a vet who does more exotic medicine than I do what is safe for fleas on bunnies. I would definitely avoid any of the products that contain permethrins (see the last Tox. Tues.) and would only consider using cat-safe products, but I don't know about dosage - maybe half the 10 lb cat size? This is just a guess. Ask a bunny vet before you try anything.


If you dog snarls and snaps when you tell her to "drop it," you have worse problems than puting on flea stuff. Subordinate dogs don't try to bite the boss. Be careful!


Lynne said...

Thank you for the info!

Anonymous said...

I have read other postings that say to bathe your dog with Dawn liquid detergent and let it sit for 5 minutes. The fea's are supposed to smother to death and all fall off. I don't mind trying it however I am concerned that I will be creating another problem such as dry skin. What is your opinion?

KatDoc said...


If you go back and re-read the post, you will see that only 5% of the flea population lives on the dog, and that treatments like baths that only kill the adult fleas but don't address the other 95% of the population won't help.

Dawn is not particularly dangerous for dogs, but remember that they use it to clean birds and marine mammals that have been caught in an oil spill. It will strip the natural oils off the dog's skin, too, and thus can be quite drying. I have used it in a mixture to bathe dogs who have been skunked, in order to help remove the oily residue. I can think of a lot better ways to treat fleas than "smothering" them in a Dawn bath.


KatDoc said...


I looked into the question about flea control for bunnies. The colleague I spoke to said he recommends Frontline Spray (NOT Frontline TopSpot, the topical spot-on product in a tube) or Mycodex Aquaspray, a water-based spray containing pyrethrins, for flea control in rabbits.


Anonymous said...

I have three kitties at home and noticed the other day that all three were chewing and scratching a LOT. So I went and picked up a box of the Sergants Flea drops for cats that are supposed to kill both fleas and flea eggs. Two of the cats are fine still itching a little but the third cat has lost some hair off his back near the tail and I examined him the other day and saw that he has a couple of sores back there that have scabbed over. Could he be allergic to the drops I got from Wal*Mart... or is that signs that the medicine didn't get the fleas? Since I administered that medicine about a week ago would it be ok to put Frontline or Advantage on him or should I wait? Just some questions I have before I panick too much and take him to the vet.