Fight fleas with a visit to the vet

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Dog owners should recognize the need to include flea protection among their pet supplies. Valley News/Courtesy photo

TEMECULA – Dog owners know that fleas can fluster their furry friends. Fleas are tiny parasites that feed off the blood of their hosts, and the American Kennel Club said that there are more than 2,200 species of fleas in the world.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, the flea that infests dogs most frequently is the cat flea. There is such a thing as the dog flea, but the AKC said that dogs only rarely experience dog flea infestations.

Dog owners who have witnessed their dogs dealing with flea infestations likely noticed how irritated their dogs seemed while they were fighting the fleas. But the potential complications of flea bites are more serious than irritation. According to the AKC, flea infestation can lead to the skin disease flea allergy dermatitis, which occurs when a dog has an allergic reaction to flea saliva. In such instances, dogs may experience itchiness, irritation, hair loss, scaly skin and secondary skin infections.

Anemia is another potential complication of a flea infestation. Fleas can consume as much as 15 times their own body weight in blood in a single day. Such an extensive loss of blood can lead to anemia, a condition marked by a reduced number of red blood cells and/or hemoglobin circulating in the dog’s blood stream.

Fleas sometimes contain tapeworm eggs, which can lead to another side effect of flea infestations. Some dogs ingest fleas when biting itchy spots or when grooming. The AKC said that, if the fleas the dogs ingest contain the tapeworm parasite, the eggs move into the dog’s small intestines, ultimately hatching and maturing into adults.

Flea infestations can be treated and prevented. Dog owners should recognize the need to include flea protection among their pet supplies. The AKC noted the effectiveness of flea pills, a variety of which are now available. Flea pills are oral insecticides, and there are so many varieties because each has a different active ingredient that targets fleas in its own way. For example, the AKC said that some flea pills target adult fleas while others may inhibit a flea’s ability to lay eggs. The right product for a dog requires consultation with a veterinarian, who can determine which stage of the life cycle the fleas are in and prescribe flea pills designed to control fleas based on that stage.

The AKC said that, in addition to ensuring pet owners get the right product for their dog, consulting with a veterinarian also provides the opportunity to discuss potential side effects of a given medication and how that medication may interact with other drugs your dog may be taking. Such conversations can reassure dog owners they’re making the most informed decisions possible as they seek to treat their animals’ flea infestations.

Topical applications, flea collars and flea shampoos also can be used to treat flea infestations. Dog owners can use consultations with their vets to discuss the differences between oral and topical flea treatments.

Flea infestations can frustrate dogs, but dog owners should know that there are many ways to treat and prevent such infestations.