By Vanessa Vandersande DVM
As a veterinarian, pattern recognition is important. An owner presenting a young, large breed dog that has suddenly started limping on a rear leg often has a knee ligament rupture. A bearded dragon who isn’t moving around much may have a broken bone from calcium deficiency. Recognizing these patterns makes my job a little easier, although I always endeavor to keep an open mind. But as my technician explained the presentation for my next case, I was confronted with a pattern I didn’t recognize at all.
“She says her cats spend all their time on the furniture. They avoid the floor entirely.” “Well that’s odd,” I responded, and hurried into the room to unravel this new mystery.
Mrs. Sandy quickly explained the problem. Boots and Monkey used to behave quite normally, but in the past week they seemed to venture to the floor only for litter box and food. Then they would jump back up on top of the washer, walk along the windowsill and settle on the back of the couch. It had taken her a few days to realize what was going on, but once she had, Mrs. Sandy was perplexed.
“Is your dog behaving oddly as well,” I asked? Maxie is mostly outside lately because of the beautiful weather we’ve been having, but when she comes in to eat, I don’t notice anything different.”
Perplexed, I started examining Monkey while I thought about the situation. It had to be a problem that was affecting both cats. They were both quite young, so arthritis seemed unlikely and didn’t really fit with the presentation. As I completed my exam, I asked my standard questions about diet, and then monthly preventative.
“Are you using anything to control fleas?”
“Oh no,” said Mrs. Sandy. “We never get fleas. I keep a clean house. Besides, we don’t have any carpeting.”
A lightbulb clicked on and I pulled my flea comb out of my pocket and combed vigorously around the base of Monkeys tail. I turned to Mrs. Sandy, who was aghast as I displayed a fine mesh of cat hair crusted with jumping fleas and flea dirt.
We are lucky in Santa Clarita that we are not troubled with fleas nearly as frequently as other geographical locations. When we do get flea problems however, they are fierce! Many people assume good housekeeping or indoor-only pets will prevent the flea situation and that certainly is helpful. But it only takes one female flea hitching a ride on a pant leg or the dog to cause an enormous problem.
The lucky thing is that the flea life cycle also provides us with a perfect way to get rid of an infestation. The flea life cycle is ninety days long. It starts with the female laying eggs, which fall off the pet and sprinkle over the floor. As the eggs hatch, baby fleas jump back onto the pet and start feeding.
Many excellent flea products are available and if the flea jumps back onto a treated pet that flea will be killed in hours, sometimes in minutes depending on the product used. Now we have to go after the eggs and we can kill them with a tool almost everyone has- the vacuum cleaner! A flea egg will hatch out in response to heat and carbon dioxide. People and animals emit heat and carbon dioxide, but fortunately vacuum cleaners do too. Studies have shown that 95% of fleas that are sucked up in the vacuum are killed immediately. It’s easy to see how vacuuming the entire floor every day for several days in a row would decimate the flea population very quickly.
Many flea products are available out there. Only your veterinarian can assess all of your pets needs and help you make the best and safest choice. Some medications sold over the counter last less than a week, which is not enough to stop the flea life cycle. Other products can cause serious side effects in certain species. Your veterinarian may partner with certain drug companies to offer a guarantee that if the product isn’t effective they will send a flea eradication company to your home to complete the job.
Proper flea control can mean a better life for you and your pet!