Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Remember Fleas?


Pet Column for the week of March 23, 1998


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Theresa A. Fuess, Ph.D.
Information Specialist

Remember the old days, just barely a year ago, when fleas survived all the foggers and dips
and sprays and shampoos and flea collars we could find to fight them with? The flea won
many battles, but it is losing the war. "Thank goodness and new weaponssuch as Program,
Advantage, and Frontlinethose days are over," says Dr. Allan Paul, small animal Extension
veterinarian at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine at Urbana.

Program, also known as the "flea pill," works by inhibiting chitin (a substance important for
the development of fleas, but unused by mammals). "Program is very safe and very
effective," says Dr. Paul. "Since this product inhibits the developmental stages of the flea, it
keeps adult fleas from producing viable offspring. The adults fleas, however, are
unaffected."

Advantage and Frontline kill adult fleas on contact, before they have a chance to
reproduce. Both of these products are applied to the skin and reside in the tissue layers just
underneath your pet's skin. They differ in their method of action. Frontline gives the added
benefit of tick control.

"These products must be administered according to directions every 30 days," says Dr.
Paul. "To be most effective, all animals in a household must be treated, whether they go
outside or not. Also, no matter what product you choose to use, it is important to keep in
mind that cats are more sensitive to insecticides than dogs and only products that are
specifically labeled as safe for cats should be used on cats," says Dr. Paul.

Pets allergic to fleas are actually allergic to flea saliva. In these animals flea bites cause a
serious reaction, which causes loss of hair and scratching until the skin is raw. Pets that
don't suffer from this allergy can still be adversely affected by fleas. Fleas can cause anemia
in young or sick pets and can also transmit a species of tapeworm if the host dog or cat
swallows a carrier flea.

If a pet doesn't scratch, does that mean it doesn't have fleas? "No. Owners should check
for flea fecal matter or 'flea dirt'," says Dr. Paul. "Flea dirt looks like comma-shaped flecks
of dirt and is found most often at the base of a pet's tail. If it is really flea dirt, the 'dirt' will
turn red when placed on a moist cotton ball because of the blood it contains.

"Even with the new flea products, it is still a good idea to reduce the number of fleas in the
environment by vacuuming carpets. Flea eggs and larvae live in carpets until an attractive
pet comes along. One pass with a vacuum can remove 50 percent of the flea eggs there. Be
sure to throw out the vacuum bags before the eggs hatch, though!"

For more information on animal health, contact your local veterinarian.