Fleas don't just cause itchy discomfort for you and your pets. Although rare, they also present health risks for humans, such as typhus and cat scratch disease, and untreated pets can suffer blood loss and acquire Lyme disease, heartworm, and tapeworm by swallowing infected fleas. Ivermectin, the popular albeit controversial coronavirus pandemic drug, keeps these diseases under control among the animal population. If you notice your dog looking fatigued or like it's dragging its behind across the floor, and you spot cysts or creepy crawlies on its skin, you've got your job cut out for you.
Fleas are little jumpers. They thrive in warm weather but hate the sunlight, and dry air reduces their numbers. It takes a couple of weeks for eggs to transform into adults, and they can live for around three months. They find hosts, suck their blood, and reproduce prolifically during this time—a female lays 2000 eggs during her short life. An affected pet will constantly be scratching itchy bites. Rust-colored fleas are tiny but visible. They're light-averse, so you'll see them moving around furry areas and inner thighs, or you might notice their waste which looks like flecks of pepper. To confirm the presence of fleas, place one of these specks on a wet tissue and check if it looks like blood.
A bath will help you eliminate the fleas on your dog, but it's just one element of solving a flea problem. You'll have to address root causes as far as possible and put your dog on a preventative if your vet deems it safe. And a flea bath may only be necessary if there's an infestation. Gather what you need, including towels, eye lubricant, and gloves, so you can apply the product without irritating your hands. Your flea shampoo should contain pyrethrin, a harmless and effective ingredient, and the water should be lukewarm. You don't have to use flea shampoo; mild dish soap can kill fleas too. Dipping a fine tooth flea comb in a dish soap solution helps the pests adhere to the comb, and you can then finish them off by dunking the comb in hot water. Your vet can tell you whether daily baths are necessary in extreme cases.
Mentally prepare yourself for the mission at hand. It can take months to entirely rid yourself of a flea problem, but you've got this. You don't need to worry about your pet bedding, mats, or toys overheating, so use hot water and pet-safe laundry detergent. Sprinkle table salt on your rugs and leave it on for a day or two before vacuuming, or steam clean if the infestation is severe. Pay attention to cracks in the floor and vacuum curtains and cars too. Use an affordable flea collar in the vacuum bag or discard the contents discerningly.
The most effective home remedy is a spritz of an apple cider vinegar solution on your dog's coat. Try boiling rosemary and water for another more medicinal-smelling solution. Like many humans, fleas don't like these scents or the smell of garlic. You can crush a clove of garlic and sprinkle a little into breakfast. If your dog eats up, put the rest into subsequent meals. Or give your dog's meals the salt bae drama with a teaspoon of nutritional yeast.
Combing after a bath can be gratifying—you'll see dead fleas on the comb's teeth. Use the flea comb daily on your dog's coat until you're sure the bane of your existence has left your pooch and premises alone. Make a point to check your dog's skin. Look around the neck, belly, and base of the tail, and give feet a quick once over too. Be on the lookout for ticks as well. Once a week, groom your dog's hair with a brush dipped in a 1:3 apple cider vinegar solution as a proactive measure.
Apply a non-toxic flea treatment to your yard and fix your white, beige, or blue picket fence to keep mangy dogs, stray or feral cats, and wildlife such as raccoons away from your dog's play area. Diatomaceous earth or beneficial nematodes are solid options that won't hurt household members, including your plants.
Various oral and topical treatments and prescription medications are on the market targeting fleas at different life cycle stages. They work rapidly, and many last for months. Whichever products you get your paws on, follow the dosage and other instructions to a T. Don't combine a powder, dip, and spray, as chemical interactions can overwhelm a small dog's system.
Yes. Flea numbers are high in the southeastern United States, and your efforts might not seem to be paying off. The fleas are not resistant—you need time to nip them at all stages. If your flea product doesn't contain the active ingredient permethrin, switch to a topical that does. And be particular about getting monthly treatments timeously. Pets with long hair require special attention so the product can be absorbed instead of washed off.
Fleas don't typically qualify as a medical emergency, but certain behaviors and signs should concern you. Weight loss is worrying, as are pale gums or hints of tapeworm in poop. When your dog or cat intensifies grooming in response to fleas, it's not an issue and can even help if they aren't chewing, scratching, or losing hair to the point of self-harm and infection. Perhaps your pet is pregnant or ill, and some products are unsuitable. If your fur baby's skin looks unusually red, scabby, or flaky, an allergy may be to blame, and a flea bath may worsen symptoms. Or maybe your dog is feeling itchy for reasons that have nothing to do with fleas. Your vet can take away some of the guesswork.
Sorting out a flea quandary is an experience you won't want to repeat anytime soon. Check your dog daily after walks outside— fleas hang around on long grass and other animals, and swift treatment will serve lil' buddy well. Keep your pet's food indoors, and remember, just because a product is safe for dogs doesn't mean it's safe for cats.
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