When fighting fleas on pets, best defense is preventive treatments|[06/01/08]

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 1, 2008

By John CoccaroIt seems that each spring and early into the summer, the Extension Service office receives calls about flea problems on pets. Not only do heavy flea and tick infestations make pets miserable, they also can drive the pet’s owner nuts. Some pets even have severe allergies to flea bites.

Thankfully, there are a good number of “on-pet treatments” marketed today that really do a good job controlling fleas on both dogs and cats if used properly. Some of those products control ticks and there are even others available through your veterinarian that control heartworms and other internal parasites as an added bonus.

The main reason for my addressing flea problems this early in the season is that on-pet flea treatments are best used as preventive treatments. In other words, it is probably best to begin the treatments on the earlier side of the season rather than waiting until you have a full-blown flea problem before starting to do something. Heavy flea infestations can be somewhat problematic to deal with. Most of the flea treatments available are intended for monthly applications. The cost of on-pet flea and tick treatments varies with the active ingredient and size of the pet and ranges from about $8 to $17 per pet per month.

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Before deciding which on-pet flea treatments are right for your dog or cat, be sure the product is labeled for the kind of animal being treated, as some of the products are toxic to cats. Also, make sure the rate used is appropriate for the size of the animal. Many of these products come in different sized packages for the animals of a specific weight range. Some products, especially those that control heartworms or other internal parasites, require a prescription and may be purchased only through a veterinarian, but most are available ‘over the counter’ through local or internet suppliers.

As a pet owner, don’t assume you can get by using the same flea treatment product month after month and year after year. Fleas can become resistant to an insecticide if they are repeatedly exposed to the same product, so it is important to avoid prolonged, repeated use of the same on-pet flea treatment. For example, if you have used a product containing fipronil (Frontline Top Spot or Frontline Plus) for several months, it is a good idea to switch to a product containing some other active ingredient for a few months.

If you already have an active flea infestation, you still need to use one of the on-pet treatments to control adult fleas on the pet, but you also need to control immature fleas in all areas where they occur – in the home and/or yard. Pay particular attention to the areas where the animal rests, like under porches, under shrubs, in garages or in utility sheds.

When lawns become infested with fleas, broadcast insecticide treatments applied either as sprays or granules can reduce the incidence of bites on people who use the area, too.


John C. Coccaro is county Extension director. Write to him at 1100-C Grove St., Vicksburg, MS 39180 or call 601-636-5442. E-mail him at jcoccaro@ext.msstate.edu.