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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 26, 2006

Year-round prevention best cure for fleas

By Dr. Tracy Acosta
Knight Ridder News Service

External parasites are the bane of every pet and pet owner. Besides being irritating, fleas and ticks carry disease, some of which are transmittable to humans.

For pets, these parasites can cause physical problems ranging from severe skin problems to arthritis to lethargy and depression. They can even help transmit other parasites such as tapeworms to pets.

More than 50 percent of skin problems seen by veterinarians are flea-related. Keeping your pet parasite-free is a tenet of good health for pets and their human companions.

For those of us who live in the warm, humid South, flea prevention is a year-round event. In other parts of the country, the flea battle may be more of a seasonal frustration. However, it is critical to approach flea prevention with the three-prong attack. Pet owners must put forth a conscientious effort by treating the pet, the yard and the home.

The lack of year-round prevention and treatment is the No. 1 reason for failure and frustration by pet owners in the flea war. As we are well into that time of year, in which fleas rapidly reproduce, pet owners call daily to my hospital wondering what can be done.

Unfortunately, when pet owners are seeing that many fleas on their pets or in their home, they are way behind in truly getting a hold of the situation. This is because adult fleas are considered to be only the tip of the infestation iceberg representing about 5 percent of the total flea population.

The most common flea is Ctenocephalides felis, or simply known as the cat flea, although it certainly does not discriminate among the canine, feline or humans species. The cat flea is perfectly formed for its mission: to latch onto a warm body and suck its blood. The entomological equivalent of Superman, the flea is capable of jumping as high as 13 feet and consequently has no trouble leaping on to tall dogs in a single bound! Small dogs and cats are no challenge at all.

Fortunately, flea control and prevention is easier and safer than ever. The old-style, toxic products containing organophosphates, pyrethrins and permethrins can still be found over the counter, but today's most effective products for your pet are topical treatments available from your veterinarian. Remember, you want to get a product that is safe for your particular pet and dangerous only to the fleas. Examples of good and safe products for your pets include Frontline Spray, Frontline Plus, Capstar and Advantage.

All veterinarian-approved products offer a safety margin far superior to many over-the-counter products. This is the main reason why your veterinarian's office is a great place to get advice on products for the pet, the home and the yard that can be safely and effectively used on your pet.

Ticks belong to the arachnid family, which also includes spiders. Ticks may not be as widespread as fleas in a lot of areas, but they can bring serious problems in the form of diseases that can be transmitted to people as well as pets.

North America is home to several tick species including: the deer tick, the western black-legged tick, the Lone Star tick, the Rocky Mountain wood tick and the American dog tick. The diseases that ticks cause and transmit are unpleasant for both humans and pets, and serious cases can even be fatal, so do not take these bloodsuckers lightly. Some of the more well known diseases associated with ticks includes Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

If you find a tick, use tweezers to remove it. Never touch or crush a tick with your bare hands. You may want to save the tick in alcohol, so that if problems occur your veterinarian or human physician can make an accurate diagnosis if you or your pet later develops signs of illness. Some of the better products for dogs and cats today also do include tick prevention. The same applies for products used in the home and yard.

Prevention is the bottom line for these nasty parasites. So, do not hesitate to call in your veterinarian's and your professional exterminator's advice on preventing these pests from ruining your summertime.