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Control the fleas, control the disease

By: Dr. Ann Lesch-Hollis Special to The News Messenger
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Myth No. 1: “I don’t have fleas in my yard.” Myth No. 2: My dog/cat doesn’t get fleas. I would see them!” Myth No. 3: “My dog doesn’t go outside (except to potty).” Myth No. 4: “I only use flea products in the summer because we don’t have fleas in the winter.” Myth No. 5: “My dog/cat never goes outside (but the other cat/dog does).” Myth No. 6:“I use a flea collar/flea bath/flea powder. That is good enough.” And yet, in the Sacramento area, the No. 1 allergen responsible for repeated ear infections, chewing on feet and seasonal hot spots in dogs, is from the bite of a flea. Not 20 fleas. A single flea. All year around with the mild, Sacramento climate. Dropped into your yard by the random squirrel, rodent or stray cat. In cats, evidence of flea allergy dermatitis will manifest as excessive grooming, hair loss and/or small scabs on the skin. Not to mention all the icky flea dirt. Flea dirt? That would be dried flea poop that actually “bleeds” when placed on a wet surface because fleas like to feed on blood. Oh, did we mention the diseases that fleas transmit in a variety of ways? Fleas are the intermediate host for tapeworms in the cat and dog. If you treat pets for tapeworms and don’t use a regular flea product, the tapeworms will come back. Control the fleas; control the disease. Coming in contact with fleas and flea dirt while grooming, cats can contract a disease called Bartonella, and they, in turn, can transmit it to humans. It is commonly known as cat scratch fever. It can be transmitted to humans through a cat scratch or bite from a pet that is exposed to fleas. Control the fleas; control the disease. A potentially fatal blood parasite for cats is transmitted by flea bites. It will present as severe anemia. Control the fleas; control the disease. Plague. Yes, that nasty disease that tried to wipe out Europe in the Middle Ages. It is still here and present and transmitted to our pets through fleas. According to an abstract for an article, “Flea-Associated Zoonotic Disease of Cat in the USA: bartonellosis, rickettsioses, and plague,” TRENDS Parisitol, April 2010, “Cat Scratch Fever, flea-borne typhus, and plague are three flea-associated zoonoses (infections that cross species) of cats of concern in the United States. Although flea concentrations may be heaviest in coastal and temperate climates, fleas and flea-borne disease agents can occur anywhere in the United States. Understanding flea-borne pathogens and the associated risks for owners and veterinarians are important to reduce the likelihood of zoonotic (transmitted from pets to people) infection.” What that means to the general public is that if you control the fleas, you control the disease. Fleas do not discriminate. If our pets are carrying one or two fleas indoor after a walk to visit to the backyard, the flea population in the carpet and bedding will bite any warm mammal. That includes us! Owners will state that they never see flea bites on themselves. Unless you have sensitivity to the flea bite allergen carried in the saliva, you may never see a bite on yourself. Those that are sensitive will usually see an itchy, raised, red pimple. The Sacramento and foothills area have fleas all year around due to our temperate climate. We tend to see explosive population growth after rains, during warm periods, or after an earthquake (think popcorn effect). Effective control is achieved by using a monthly product on pets in the household. Check with your local veterinarians to get references for those products considered most effective. Not all flea products are equal. As expensive as some of them are, it is worthwhile to get current information about what is available and effective. Dr. Ann Lesch-Hollis is owner of Sterling Pointe Veterinary Clinic, 745 S. Highway 65, Suite 10. Phone number is 859-MEOW (6369).