Creature Feature: No fleas, please

3 Aug

BY RHONDA OWEN
    We’ve been having a problem with fleas on our indoor/outdoor cats. Will treating the lawn get rid of our problem?
    Fleas in your yard aren’t the real problem — fleas don’t live in sunny areas but breed in shade under shrubs, trees and porches.
    The American Animal Hospital Association says treating your cat for fleas is the most effective way of dealing with them but if you decide to treat areas outside your home, follow the safety directions on the package and focus only on areas where your pets sleep or run. Ask you veterinarian about products that are safe for pets. You may also want to consult with or hire a professional exterminator.
    Inside your house, the assocation suggests using an insecticide in crevices, plus washing your pet’s bedding and vacuuming the floor regularly. But be judicious about where you apply insecticides in your home and keep them away from your cats. As you know, cats groom themselves by licking their so whatever gets on their fur goes into their mouths.
    The key element to combatting fleas is using a flea preventive such as a spray or monthly topical product on your cat. Take care to get an anti-flea product labeled specifically for use on cats. Avoid anything that’s labeled “for dogs only” because these products contain permethrin, a chemical that can be toxic to cats. Some outdoor insecticides also contain permethrin, so read labels before buying anything.
    In fact, veterinarians recommend using products that are clearly labeled “for cats only.” Revolution and Frontline both have products that are safe for cats, but it’s best to ask your vet for a recommendation before buying anything.
    The June issue of Catnip, a publication of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, addresses misconceptions about dealing with fleas. Among them is that one application of a flea product will get wipe out a flea infestation.
    The reality is that you have to treat every animal in the household for three consecutive months to eliminate fleas.
    Another misconception is that  “flea season” occurs during during the spring and summer months. Actually, fleas are more active in September, October and November whether it’s in the colder northern states or on the Gulf Coast. So pet owners are encouraged to not quit using flea preventives when summer ends.
    Catnip’s veterinary experts say natural flea remedies such as mixing garlic and yeast into a pet’s food don’t work. Also ineffective are electronic flea collars.
    Flea collars in general have only minimal effect, according to vetmedicine.com. They might kill adult fleas in the area of the head and neck, but not on the rest of the body. That means the collars have no effect on the flea’s favorite hangout — the base of your pet’s tail. Flea collars are most useful when vacuuming the floor. Just put them in the vacuum bag and they should kill any fleas sucked up.
    Powders and sprays that are applied to a cat’s fur kill adult fleas and are effective for one or two days. However, topical preventives applied to the skin between an animal’s shoulder blades are effective for a full month. Some not only kill adult fleas but also affect flea larvae to interrupt the reproductive cycle.

Originally published June 22, 2011. Creature Feature appears weekly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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