Ask the Vet with Dr. Marty Becker

Dr. Marty BeckerDr. Marty Becker

Q. I have two dogs (Geronimo, 6, and Gracie, 4) and a cat (Frankie, 9). They are all active and in good health, but there is one recurring problem that we just can’t seem to kick: Fleas! We are very diligent about giving each pet a monthly preventative. And as soon as we find a flea on one of our animals (and let’s face it, by the time we find a flea the problem is usually not just on one of them), we go through the cycle of flea baths, flea sprays, flea combs, and washing every possible surface and piece of bedding we can. And still, a few days or months go by and we’ve got fleas again! We live in a warm climate with lots of vegetation, and our pets spend a good amount of time outdoors—are we just destined to be dealing with this forever?

A. Not at all. I suspect what’s going on is that you’re indeed cycling through various flea-control strategies, without ever actually breaking the life cycle of the fleas in your home. You need to start fresh, with a “shock-and-awe” approach to flea-control, and before you do, you need to talk to your veterinarian.

You probably don’t need flea baths (a plain bath with ordinary pet shampoo is pretty much as effective at washing fleas and flea eggs off your pet and down the drain), or flea sprays, which add a lot of chemicals you likewise don’t need to add to your environment. And flea combs catch adults, not immature fleas, leaving the next generation ready to pounce.

Instead of struggling with ineffective methods, get your vet’s advice on the flea control products that are working well in your area. Some new ones have come on to the market in recent years. While your vet will have her own opinions on what’s best for your individual pet, I like to recommend Revolution, Vectra 3D, or Trifexis—all available from your veterinarian, and all very effective against fleas and other parasites.

Once you have your pets on effective flea control, it’s time to attack the pests where they live when they’re not biting your pets—or you! Take up every pet bed and run it through the washer and dryer. If they won’t fit in your home machines, take them to the large commercial ones at your neighborhood laundromat, or toss them out and replace them with washable beds.

Then get your vacuum going. Vacuum every last inch of floor and furniture where your pets like to sleep, and make sure you get into the crevices as well. You can also get some diatomaceous earth and work it into your carpet as well as any gaps in the floors or under the cushions. This product works to kill flea larvae by drying them out. It’s non-toxic to pets and people, and is a good addition to your flea-control arsenal. After you’re done, don’t forget to toss the vacuum bag in the trash to get the eggs out of your home for good.

If you continue to use the product your veterinarian recommends and keep up with at least weekly vacuuming of pet areas and washing of pet bedding, you’re likely not going to see fleas anymore.

Don’t stop with the baths for your dogs. Although you won’t need those baths for flea-control, bathing weekly (or even more often) with shampoo recommended by your veterinarian will keep your pets more huggable, their skin less prone to allergy outbreaks, and everyone’s allergies in check.

ABOUT the Vet
Dr. Marty Becker is the author of the book, Your Cat: The Owner’s Manual: Hundreds of Secrets, Surprises, and Solutions for Raising a Happy, Healthy Cat (Grand Central Life & Style). For 16 years, Dr. Becker has been the popular veterinary contributor to ABC-TV’s Good Morning America. Currently he is a member of Core Team Oz on The Dr. Oz Show and is the veterinary spokesman for Vetstreet.com. His latest book, Your Dog: The Owner’s Manual, is now available in paperback.

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