How to put these pesky parasites out of your pet's misery
By Kim Campbell Thornton
If it's not already flea season where you live, it soon will be. Unless you live at an altitude above 5,000 feet or in an area with low humidity and hot, dry temperatures, you'll have to deal with fleas on your dog or cat. Your veterinarian likely has already recommended a good flea-control program, but if you haven't started it yet, now is the time, before the tiny yet vicious vampires send your dog or cat into a frenzy of scratching and biting.
Fleas are wingless insects that feed on blood. When a flea's saliva is injected into a pet's skin, the substances it contains cause severe itching. A pet with flea allergy dermatitis is not just itchy; his skin can be red or crusty, he may have bare patches where he has bitten or scratched himself raw and his skin may smell bad.
Even worse, fleas spread disease. They transmit tapeworms to animals, who can then pass them on to humans, usually children. They are also carriers of bubonic plague. Think that's a medieval disease? It's extremely rare, but it does exist today, and it's carried by fleas.
Just because you don't see fleas doesn't mean they're not there. In fact, fleas spend most of their time in the environment, not on your animal. But even if you don't see fleas on your pet, one dead giveaway is flea dirt -- small black specks you may notice as you groom your dog or cat.
The good news is that flea control is way easier now than it was in the past. It wasn't that long ago that pet owners spent hours flea-combing, spraying, dipping and powdering pets and treating their homes and yards in a frantic attempt to keep the bloodsuckers at bay.
Flea-control products can be topical (applied to the skin) or oral (taken by mouth). Some protect against other parasites, such as ticks or heartworms. They may contain insect growth regulators, which prevent flea larvae from developing to maturity.
Topical products kill adult fleas within hours. They are usually water-resistant, but if you bathe your pet often or he goes swimming every day, they may not be the best choice. Be sure to wear gloves when applying topical products and to use only the amount directed -- more is not better.
Oral products require a prescription from your veterinarian. They are usually chewable, making them easy to give. Mark the calendar so you don't forget when you gave the pill and when you need to give it again.
The product that will work best for your pet depends on your location and your pet's lifestyle. If your cat goes outdoors, your dog goes swimming frequently or your pet has a high risk of tick exposure, your veterinarian will recommend products appropriate for those scenarios.
Most important, never give your cat a flea-control product made for dogs. The formulations made for dogs can kill cats, so read labels carefully before using them on pets.
You can also take steps to control fleas in the environment, not just on your pets. Steam-clean carpets and furniture to kill larvae and eggs, and vacuum frequently. Wash pet bedding weekly, using the hot-water cycle. Keep your yard trimmed, and get rid of leaves or other plant debris in shady areas to reduce hiding places for fleas.
The latest flea-control products are fast-acting and effective, but if you have a flea infestation -- or even if you have only a few -- it's still going to take some time before your pets will be fully flea-free. It could take as long as three to four months from the time you begin treatment until you see results.
Big cats, house cats
share many qualities
Q: I'm writing a report for school, and I was hoping you could tell me some of the ways that wild cats and domestic cats are similar. -- via Facebook
A: What a great topic! The ways that domestic cats mirror the behavior of wild cats are fascinating to me as well as to many scientists.
Except for size, the little lion lounging in your den isn't all that different from his wild cousins. All cats share certain characteristics: They eat meat, they are active primarily in the evening and early morning, they have highly developed senses of sight and hearing and, with the exception of lions, most of them prefer to live alone.
All cats like to be up high. Your cat at home probably enjoys lounging on the kitchen counter (when your mom's not looking) or up on top of his ceiling-height scratching post. Cats like to be able to see what's going on while they stay out of reach of danger. Lions and leopards lounge in trees for the same reasons.
Big cats and domestic cats both like to sleep a lot, as much as 20 hours per day. They can be active, or at least awake, in the daytime, but with the exception of cheetahs, who are more active during the day, they prefer to stalk their prey in the dark.
All cats also capture and kill prey in basically the same way. They spring forward, using their front paws to grab and bring down their prey by sinking their claws into the rear, back or shoulder. A precise bite between the cervical vertebrae kills smaller animals instantly. Larger prey is suffocated when the cat's jaws clamp down on the throat or muzzle with sustained force. Kittens and cubs alike practice the stalk, catch and kill techniques until they're pounce-perfect. -- Kim Campbell Thornton
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Tame tabby? Not as much
as you might think
-- Are cats really domesticated? In an April 30 article by Alicia Ault on Smithsonian.com, Wes Warren, Ph.D., says he prefers to call them "semi-domesticated." Cats have associated with people for only the past 5,000 to 10,000 years, and they are still capable of finding and killing their own food, unlike your average dog. And genetically, there's not much difference between the cat in your lap (Felis catus) and small wild cats (Felis silvestris). Warren, an associate professor of genetics at The Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis, says the main difference is that domestic cats have genes that make them more willing to approach and interact with humans. But just as you probably suspected, your cat lives with you on his terms, not yours.
-- A temporary shortage of Immiticide, the drug used to treat heartworm disease by killing adult heartworms, is making it difficult for veterinarians in Florida and elsewhere to treat dogs with heartworm infestations in a timely manner. According to a report by Jennifer Fiala for the VIN News Service, a Merial spokeswoman says the back order will be brief, no more than a few weeks. She attributed the short supply to a miscalculation of the amount that would be needed.
-- Life is merrier with a toy fox terrier, say fans of this miniaturized version of the smooth fox terrier. The made-in-America toy breed has been around for the better part of a century, primarily as little working dogs on farms, whose job it was to clear rats and other small vermin from barns and granaries. The toy fox blends terrier exuberance, noisiness and territoriality with the small size and lap-loving traits of toy breeds. He loves to play fetch, nap in a lap and, being sensitive to cold temperatures, sleep under the covers at night. -- Kim Campbell Thornton
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.
CAPTIONS AND CREDITS
Caption 01: Your veterinarian can recommend a flea-control program that will kill eggs, larvae and adult fleas. Position: Main Story
Caption 02: Tameness means an animal needs and accepts the care of humans. Cats can take it or leave it. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 1