Flea Treatment 101

Flea season’s coming – are you prepared for battle?

Fleas don’t stand a chance against the arsenal of potions, sprays, pills and collars aimed their way these days. However, they can still win the war if you don’t use your weapons wisely.

There are two basic categories of flea prevention available in Canada. The type that kills adult fleas is, for obvious reasons, the most popular. After all, if you are seeing fleas, dead is best. However, the other category of product may be all you need. It stops the pests from reproducing. Where there isn’t already a flea problem, using one of these “insect growth regulators” is usually adequate and generally the least expensive option. It also seems more responsible to use the smallest gun that does the job. Overuse of pesticides has caused humans a lot of grief and is one reason many over-the-counter flea treatments don’t work. Preventives should usually be started in spring.

But flea prevention is something you do when there isn’t an existing problem, just one to be avoided. If there are already fleas in the house, a product that reliably kills adults will need to be applied to every animal in the home for at least three months. Spraying the house as well isn’t always necessary, but it’s more pleasant for the pets when there is a heavy infestation. A premise spray helps kill off the various flea life stages sooner, meaning fewer bites for everyone.

The big guns that kill adults are available in a variety of forms. Many Canadian pet owners will be familiar with Advantage, Advantix and Revolution, the spot-on formulations that are applied once monthly. Available through veterinarians, they are generally very safe and extremely reliable when used properly. This means applying to the skin in the right areas, at the right intervals and paying heed if the product is known to wash off with swimming or bathing.

Relatively new to Canada, Comfortis is a pill that is given once monthly to kill and prevent fleas in dogs. For some squirmy pets, it’s just easier to give an oral medication than a spot-on. Although pilling cats is rarely an easy go, a feline version of Comfortis has just reached the U.S. market. There is also a tablet called Capstar that kills adult fleas in 30 minutes. It’s great for a quick knock down and vets often use it in hospitalized patients to keep fleas out of the clinic, but control of household infestations can be complicated with Capstar.

All of these products are considered to be nearly 100 per cent effective when used properly. Failures may be due to improper application or re-infestation of a house from outside sources. If you have purchased one of these products from your veterinarian and still have fleas after following instructions, report the problem because something isn’t right. Over-the-counter pesticides carry no such guarantees and can be toxic as well as ineffective. Call your vet clinic for advice on what to choose.
With a good product and proper instructions, there’s no reason to have fleas in your house these days.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital – Trenton/Quinte West, Ontario
March 2013