Experts offer advice for preventing and ridding homes of fleas

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Dr. Jennifer Cabral combs a 5-month-old pup, named Tailpipe, for fleas at North Fork Animal Hospital last week.

North Fork animal hospitals and pest management companies are gearing up for what’s expected to be a busy flea season, continuing a trend of recent years.

“Over the last couple of years we’re seeing more problems with fleas,” said Dr. Robert Pisciotta of North Fork Animal Hospital in Southold.

Dr. Robert Hanusch of Aquebogue Veterinary Hospital attributes the increase to July’s record rainfall, followed by high temperatures with high humidity — conditions he says allow the pests to flourish.

Flea season typically kicks off sometime in August and gets worse toward the end of the summer, continuing into the fall until the first frosts hit, the veterinarians said.

Although the season is just beginning, both Dr. Hanusch and Dr. Pisciotta said their staffs have already seen a number of pets with flea bites. They recommend preventive measures to keep pets from picking up fleas in the first place, because once they do, the pests may invade yards and homes as well.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Some fleas Dr. Cabral took off a dog last week.

The wingless, blood-sucking insects are barely 1/16 of an inch long, and use their six legs like springs to catapult themselves onto our furry friends – and also onto humans, according to the Cornell Cooperative Extension integrated pest management program. They are brown in color, but may also look black or have a red tint.

Owners who are proactive in taking preventive measure with pets should not have a problem, said David Arnzen of East End Pet Grooming in Southold. He said that among pets that have not yet been treated this year, the cases he’s seen have been “worse than normal.”

If a pet manages to pick up the jumping pests, homeowners should act quickly to avoid an infestation in their homes, said Brian Kelly at East End Tick Control.

“Female fleas can lay up to 50 eggs a day, and about 2,000 eggs total,” Mr. Kelly said. Those eggs will hatch in about two weeks, he added.

Homeowners who suspect there are fleas in their homes should walk across carpets wearing tall white socks and look for little black bugs jumping up. Fleas can spend 90 percent of their time off a pet and on carpeting or furniture, according to the CCE.

To find them on pets, separate the hair so that you can see the skin on the animals’ bellies and necks.

“Animals scratching like crazy is a sure sign,” Mr. Kelly added.

Ridding a house of fleas means keeping humidity low and vacuuming regularly with a beater attachment that gets down into carpets, according to the CCE.

“Vacuuming sucks up the eggs, pupae and larvae, reducing the potential of future adult flea populations,” Mr. Kelly said.

If you find your home is infested, he recommends what’s known as the three-pronged approach – ridding your pet, yard and home of fleas at the same time.

Fleas can also make it into a home and yard even if no pets are present; they do this through animals such as squirrels, feral cats and mice. They are also drawn to homes during prolonged periods of wet weather. Keeping the lawn trimmed can help to create a drier, less welcoming environment for fleas, according to the CCE.

After vacuuming and washing bedding, have the home and yard sprayed, and make sure to rid your pet of problem, too, Mr. Kelly said.

“If you miss one step – the fleas will be back,” he cautioned.

To prevent flea problems from starting, Dr. Hanusch recommends treating dogs with K9 Advantix every 30 days, along with an oral tablet, known as Capstar, about twice a week to kill any fleas already on a dog. With Capstar, however, the fleas will die only after a dog has been bitten.

Along with K9 Advantix, Dr. Pisciotta recommends using another oral tablet called Sentinel, a heartworm preventive that will stop the fleas’ reproduction cycle.

“It seems fleas are becoming resistant to products that used to work in the past,” Dr. Pisciotta said. Vets have seen less success with the product Frontline in recent years, he said, which is why K9 Advantix has become more popular.

For cats, the veterinarians recommend a topical like Frontline, stressing that K9 Advantix is only for use on dogs. Capstar tablets can also be given to cats kill fleas, and while felines cannot take Sentinel, there is an injectable medication known as Program that will also help stop flea reproduction, Dr. Pisciotta said.

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