Updated: Jun 2
You found a flea! Now what?? It’s important not to panic. Fleas are very common especially in the coastal areas. They love our sandy soil and tropical climate. They also love our pets! Unfortunately, many of our pets are allergic to fleas so when they get a flea bite, they become very itchy. We often see them scratch and lick way before we see the fleas. This is called a flea allergy. Certain dog and cats are allergic to the flea’s saliva so when they are bitten by a flea, they are reacting to the saliva of the flea bite. This allergy explains why you can have 2 dogs in the same house, and both will have fleas but only 1 of them will be itchy.
For those dogs suffering from flea allergies, many of them will have a specific pattern of itchiness. They tend to be irritated from the waist down (this includes their back, back of their legs, inside of their thighs, tail and stomach). It is very important to keep them on a monthly flea preventative. Unfortunately, fleas tend to be tough so most over the counter flea preventatives are not effective against our flea population. I think they have tools and superpowers. Instead, we have found that only prescription oral flea preventatives are effective in our coastal areas. It’s also important for our furry friends to stay on flea prevention year-round because of our temperate winters. It does not stay cold long enough in the Southeast to kill our super strong fleas.
Of course, we cannot forget about our feline friends. If you have cats in the house that are not on any flea prevention, they are usually a big source of fleas - even if they have never set a paw outside! We bring in fleas on our socks, pants, etc to our poor kitty friends. If you have a dog, the fleas can hitch a ride on both you and your dog. Now they have entered your home, bypassed your security system, and are headed straight for kitty. Kitty is not wearing any flea prevention because he is “indoor only”. The fleas are very excited because they can hang out on kitty and reproduce in your house, and you will not be the wiser…Until the flea population reaches a tipping point. This is when you will either see fleas on you, kitty, or the dog. Remember to ensure all dogs and cats are on prescription flea prevention every month. If we only treat 1 pet in the house, the others are serving as a source of fleas.
The other thing to remember is that your flea preventatives are only maximally effective if you are also controlling the fleas in your environment!
Both canines and felines must be on a monthly flea prevention to eliminate the flea problem (even if they are indoor only.) The guidelines listed below concentrate on how to treat both your pets and your environment.
Treating Your Cat for Fleas:
There are many over the counter (non-prescription) flea products on the market. As previously stated, they are not very effective in the Southeast. Also, they do not contain heartworm prevention and heartworms are extremely prevalent in our area. When our owners have a flea infestation, we will recommend Advantage II which can be purchased online without a prescription. However, this does not prevent heartworms and our owners are also using a prescription flea prevention from us at the same time. We have them alternate every 2 weeks between Advantage II and a prescription flea prevention that contains heartworm prevention. However, we only want our owners giving this medication once a month. Therefore, they give the heartworm + flea prevention and then 2 weeks later, they can apply the Advantage II which will again treat the fleas. We do NOT want them to apply the prescription flea/heartworm medication every 2 weeks since we do NOT want to give the heartworm prevention every 2 weeks. Please consult your veterinarian before giving your pet any medications.
We have owners keep up with this protocol for the next few months, so they do not get any new fleas in the house. However, any product you use, prescription or non-prescription, can only work to a certain point but will be overwhelmed if the environment has a heavy flea burden. These products are great but cannot keep up with the emergence of new fleas unless you are also treating the environment. We know the super strong fleas are in your house and yard because any live fleas you see on your pets only represent about 5% of the actual flea population living in your environment.
Treating Your Dog for Fleas:
Keeping your dog on a monthly flea and heartworm prevention is necessary year-round most areas of the country. Most prescription flea and tick products will kill any live fleas on doggies within a few hours of administration and helps prevent fleas for about 30 days. However, any prescription product we use on them can only work to a certain point but will be overwhelmed if the environment has a heavy flea burden. These products are great but cannot keep up with the emergence of new fleas unless you are also treating the environment.
Seresto collars can also be effective for both dogs and cats that will not take oral flea medications or have allergies to topical flea medications. Note that these collars do not contain heartworm prevention.
Treating Your Environment for Fleas:
After application of flea control products to your environment, baby fleas (pupae) will continue to emerge and develop into adult fleas, mostly because it is hard to kill the pupae. This is a tough cycle to break which is why it takes at least 3 months of constantly treating the environment and the pets to get rid of the problem. Live fleas that we see on them today come from eggs that were laid a few weeks ago which is why we want to break the cycle now so it does not continue, and we can catch up since there are likely flea eggs and pupae (baby fleas) living in the carpets and upholstery which will hatch in the coming weeks.
You can try products such as Flea Busters powder or Knockout treatment spray on the rugs and upholstery. Do NOT apply directly onto the pets but you can spray the furniture, under the sofa, on carpets and any bedding that they sleep on. You can also use it in the yard.
Wash all bedding in hot water, especially any that they sleep on at least once a week to help reduce these numbers. It is important to be diligent about vacuuming all rugs and upholstery.
It is recommended to vacuum at least every other day and throw out the bag each time because the fleas will reproduce inside the bag. If you have a bag-less vacuum, make sure to throw the garbage bag outside after vacuuming.
Some clients will have an exterminator come out and spray/bomb the house and yard for fleas. The yard also serves as a big source of fleas. You bring these in on your pant legs, socks, etc when you enter the house.
If you suspect you have a flea allergic pet, contact your veterinarian to discuss the appropriate flea product for both your pet and your environment. Your pet and your legs will thank you!
These products are simply suggestions. Please contact your veterinarian to see if these products are appropriate for you pets and that they are healthy enough. This does not serve as medical advice.
Disclosure: there are some affiliate links above and I may receive commissions for purchases made through links in this post. However these are all products I personally recommend. I will not put anything on this site that I haven't verified, researched and/or personally used.