Flee the FLEAS (and disease) this Spring

by Preventative Care

Spring has sprung! The temperatures are warming in SoCal, so it’s time to talk FLEAS. If your pet is not on monthly flea control, then please start NOW. Fleas are rampant in our warm climate, and we see more of them during the Spring and Summer months. While fleas are offensive, and most people consider them just plain gross, there are serious health implications to fleas hitchhiking on our dogs and cats…including the BUBONIC PLAGUE…OK, that’s very, very rare.

The most common nuisances fleas inflict upon our pets is skin irritation and infection. Some dogs and cats are allergic to flea saliva. They develop a hypersensitivity reaction, then scratch (chew or lick), leading to red, inflamed skin with possible crusting, hair loss, and pustules (like pimples). The subsequent skin infection is due to self-trauma. You’ll typically see skin lesions on the caudal back, tail, thighs, and abdomen. It really only takes a few fleas to cause major problems, and often owners never report seeing the fleas.

Fleas also transmit the tapeworm Dipylidium caninum. Pets (and people) become infected when they swallow an infected flea. Since cats groom often, they commonly ingest fleas. You’ll see white “rice” like worms around the anus or on the stool. Tapeworms are easily treated with deworming medications.

Significant flea infestations can cause anemia (deficiency of red blood cells), especially in very young animals. About 1 ml (5 ml = 1 teaspoon) of blood can be consumed by 72 female fleas each day.

Cat Scratch Fever! The bacteria Bartonella henselae is ingested by fleas when they bite an infected cat (cats eat infected fleas and so on). Bacteria are passed in flea feces (a.k.a. flea dirt). If this cat scratches you, it can spread the bacteria. There are more than 20,000 cases of cat scratch disease reported annually (CDC). Bartonellosis occurs most frequently in children under 15. Dogs are usually infected by tick bites.

This is NOT to be confused with hemobartonellosis (a.k.a. hemotropic mycoplasmosis), which is a different microorganism transmitted by ticks but also sometimes fleas. This causes feline infectious anemia in cats. Dogs are rarely affected. There are no reported cases in people.

Back to THE PLAGUE… most of us have heard about the Black Death in the 14th century; fleas living on black rats followed the Silk Road and infected millions upon millions of humans with the bacterium Yersinia pestis. These days, the plague VERY rarely takes lives. There have been 42 cases of plague in California since 1970, and nine were fatal. People usually become infected from fleas that have fed off of infected wildlife (rodents species are resistant, so they’re carriers, e.g., rats, squirrels, etc.). The fleas that affect most of our dogs and cats are NOT common carriers of the plague.

Another very uncommon disease transmitted by fleas, but again, NOT the fleas we typically see on our pets is TYPHUS. The fleas that spread the bacterium Rickettsia typhi usually live on rats. But, if your cat hunts rats…need I say more? Only a few human cases are reported each year in the U.S.

It’s important to note that fleas likely contribute to a number of other diseases in our pets including feline asthma, rodent ulcers (a.k.a. eosinophilic granuloma complex), psychogenic hair loss (due to over-grooming), autoimmune disease, hot spots, ear infections, possibly inflammatory bowel disease, and acral lick dermatitis.

Fleas can also bite people, causing red, itchy bumps (papules). Human bites indicate environmental over-population of fleas. So, it’s definitely time to call an exterminator and treat your pets.

So, please place your dog or cat on a MONTHLY FLEA PREVENTATIVE. These products contain pesticides such as selemectin, dinotefuran, fipronil, fluralaner, spinosad, etc. Please note that these pesticides are safe for use in mammals; for instance, dinotefuran binds to the same insect receptor sites as acetylcholine (tremors, incoordination, and insect death). Dinotefuran does NOT bind to mammalian acetylcholine receptor sites. Do NOT use products containing permethrin on cats (it’s OK on dogs).

I like topical Revolution for cats; topical Vectra 3D (don’t use if you have cats) for dogs; oral Comfortis / Trifexis; oral Brevecto (new, lasts 3 months)… and more. Feel free to email me with questions regarding flea (and tick) control.

Check out my previous blog for more detailed flea product information: http://dogcatdoc.com/fighting-fleas/
And, the CDC has a website dedicated to all vector-borne diseases:  http://www.cdc.gov/ncezid/dvbd/