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Fleas: How do we get rid of those itchy little buggers?
In our first article (Nov. 10) on fleas we described the life cycle of the flea. This is very important in choosing what type of prevention or treatment is best for you and your pet.
The good news is that with the newer medications you can treat your pet and the environment without having to expose yourself to noxious and potentially harmful chemicals. What I mean is that the days of bombing the house are over. How is this possible, you ask? Although a dog or cat flea may bite a human they have to go back to their species-specific host (a dog or cat) to finish their life cycle.
The most commonly used true preventive is called Lufenuron. Lufenuron is sold either by itself as Program, or in combination with the heartworm preventive milbemycin in Sentinel. Lufenuron is an oral medication taken once monthly and works by inhibiting a protein called chitin. Chitin is necessary for fleas to hatch out from the egg portion of the life cycle. This is important to understand because Lufenuron will not prevent your dog or cat from picking up new fleas. It will, however, prevent those new fleas from infesting your house. This medication is best for indoor-only pets or as a preventive during winter months when the weather is very cold and the risk of flea exposure decreases. This flea preventive is also good for households with young children where parents may be concerned with the children touching an area where a topical product has been applied and then potentially putting their hands in their mouths.
There are also oral treatments. The most commonly used product is called nitenpyram, or Capstar. This medication is taken orally and at prescribed doses is harmless to pets. It does, however, stimulate certain receptors of the flea's central nervous system causing the flea to seizure to death. Capstar is excellent for short-term usage (the medication clears the pet's system within 24 hours) in pets with larger flea burdens, and then a transition to an oral preventive or a topical medication is recommended. Also, this medication is to be used with caution. In debilitated patients (the very young, the very old and those that may be very anemic from a prolonged flea burden) the medication can cause the patient to start shaking as well.
Topical medications are usually classified as both treatment and preventive. These include Frontline Plus, Advantage, K9 Advantix, Revolution, Vectra, and Vectra 3D. The main ingredient in all of these medications is either something to affect the central nervous system of the flea (either causing paralysis or seizures and ultimately death), or a combination of that and a juvenile hormone analogue.
A juvenile hormone analogue is a medication that actually keeps the flea in the juvenile, or larval, state and can attack the flea at two stages of the life cycle. There are a couple of problems with the topicals: 1) Some of these topical medications contain either permethrins or pyrethrins. These classes of medication are harmless to dogs but toxic to cats. If you have dogs and cats in your household and they are affectionate with each other (like to play, rub or groom each other) ask your veterinarian which would be best for you. In addition, there are reports with some of the medications that have been on the market for a while (Frontline Plus, Advantage and K9 Advantix) of resistance and failure to prevent fleas.
This is a lot of information to absorb, so I hope that it does open the door for a conversation with your veterinarian at your next visit as to what flea preventive or treatment is best for you and your pet's situation.
I can't believe it's been another year with the Times Beacon Record Newspapers. Once again I would like to thank Ellen Barcel (leisure editor) and all of the staff at the newspaper, as well as wish everyone and their pets a happy and safe holiday season.
Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 14 years.