Seeing three fleas on your dog this does not seem like much . . . but it may represent 300 fleas!

By Dr. Jeanne Haggerty-Arcay

Jeanne Haggerty-Arcay

No Morgan Hill pet owner wants pesky fleas jumping on them or their furry friends. Flea control medications have evolved tremendously during the past several decades.

Thirty years ago, a dog with a flea allergy was absolutely miserable and only steroids could provide relief. We are now fortunate enough to have access to many safe and effective products for both dogs and cats that are easy to use and relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of managing a flea infestation in the home.

But recently flea products have received a bad rap on social media and the Internet as being unsafe. Some people still believe that flea control is not necessary during the winter months.

Fleas are not only about itching. Fleas and flea allergies play a huge role in allergic dogs and cats. We see a tremendous number of both dogs and cats present with environmental allergies. Any number of fleas present will exacerbate other environmental or food allergies exponentially.

Veterinary dermatologists will report that we see one of every hundred fleas present at any given time on a pet. In practical terms, if you are seeing three fleas on your dog this does not seem like much . . . but it may represent 300 fleas!

Fleas also spread infectious diseases (especially in cats) and very commonly spread tapeworms in both dogs and cats. Skin inflammation set up by the flea sets the stage for secondary skin infections that become more visible to the pet owner but ensuring that fleas are controlled is essential in managing any skin infection or allergy.

Flea control products are widely used throughout the world. They are available in both oral and topical formulations and are generally very safe. We see very few adverse reactions (ill effects) from these products. Do they have the potential for side effects? Absolutely. As with any medication, flea preventatives have the potential for side effects. Oral medications can cause gastrointestinal (or stomach) upset and topical medications can cause a local skin reaction and/or hair loss.

Any of the medications can cause neurological side effects, including seizures, which is the side effect most widely read. Seizures from these medications can occur but are very rarely seen in the clinical setting and are only of concern in pets with a pre-existing neurological disorder or previous neurological side effects. Over-the-counter (OTC) topical medications for cats can also have severe and life-threatening neurological side effects.

The most important fact to remember about topical flea medications is that these products sold over-the-counter are regulated by the EPA, not the FDA. They are tested primarily for efficacy rather than safety. They are pesticides and are not always safe for any given pet. Talk to your veterinarian before choosing a topical OTC product — they are not all created equal. In contrast, oral products are manufactured by drug companies and undergo extensive safety testing as would any other drug.

With colder weather coming, we are feeling the change. But compared to other regions of the country our climate is very temperate. Our weather rarely gets and stays cold enough to prevent fleas from being an issue during the winter months. We routinely see pets present during December and January for flea infestations.

Flea control is a year-round necessity here to prevent fleas from inhabiting your home, which can take six to 12 months to clear.

Flea control products are safe, easy to use and prevent a host of diseases in our pets. Talk to your veterinarian to choose the most appropriate product and treatment schedule for your pet to keep these pesky bugs from being part of your household.