Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Update on Fleas

Fleas: This is one of my favorite topics. Nothing I come across on a daily basis is more misunderstood than these tiny little creatures of disease spreading vermin. That’s right I said “disease spreading”. They don’t just look bad on your dog and make pets itch, they pose a real hazard to humans. Although rare, fleas can pass The Plague (http://www.avma.org/reference/zoonosis/znplague.asp) and Cat Scratch Disease (http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/healthy/firstaid/bites/024.html ). Now before you get all worked up, that’s the bad news. The good news is that they are very easy to treat.

First, though, let me give you a little (very little) history. When I started in veterinary medicine, fleas were a huge pain. There were powders, sprays, foggers, foams, shampoos and all sorts of crazy stuff that was toxic. And they all smelled bad and tasted worse. Put some flea powder on an angry cat and see how much you ingest! People looked for anything to feed their pets to keep the little pests away. Then came Frontline. By the time I graduated veterinary school, we had Frontline. No more fleas! Now we have at least 3 products that (Frontline, Advantage and Revolution) that have been tested to be both same and effective on dogs and cats. So why am I writing this column? These products should sell themselves.

Well, the reason for this column was an article in USAToday, dated December 19, 2007 that reviewed a study that shows that fleas can be killed by vacuuming. This is wonderful news. I have been telling people for years now that you don’t need powders, sprays, house foggers. I firmly believed that just putting the Frontline on your dog or cat would do the trick, now I can tell them to speed the process up with their vacuum cleaner. As it turns out vacuuming will kill most of the adult fleas (95%) and all of the juveniles (100%) that the machine picks up. So put your pets’s Frontline on and vacuum the carpet.

Some of the questions I get:

I don’t want to put chemicals on my pet. How much garlic or Brewer’s yeast can I use?

Brewer’s Yeast may or may not work (yes: Vet Med and Small Animal Clinician 1983; 78(7): 1042; 51; no: AVMA 1983; 183(2): 212-4), so no one knows the right amount. In my experience, most of the people who use this are also doing other things: bathing the dog, vacuuming, washing the bedding, etc.

Garlic is another story. I could find no studies either way on fleas. However there is evidence that garlic can be harmful. (Am J Vet Res 2000 Nov;61(11):1446-50; Hematologic changes associated with the appearance of eccentrocytes after intragastric administration of garlic extract to dogs) Once again, the people who use this are usually doing other things.

Frontline is too expensive. Isn’t the stuff in the store just as good?

Yes, the stuff in the store is cheaper and somewhat effective. However, I see cases all summer long of dogs and cats that are poisoned by overdoses of these medicines, even at the doses recommended on the label. There is even evidence that cats can be affected by pyrthroid products placed on another animal. I believe people should use these products at their own risk and spend the money they save on pet insurance because they'll need it.

I’ve used Frontline, Advantage, Revolution, etc. and it doesn’t work.

OK, I know that’s not a question, but there are multiple studies that show that these products have not lost their effectiveness. There are many possible explanations for apparent failure of a product. It’s possible you are putting it on wrong. It’s possible there are so many fleas in the environment that the product may become overwhelmed (remember each time a flea takes a bite of the product that’s less product on the dog!). It’s also possible that particular product doesn’t work on your dog, try another. I have put Frontline on THOUSANDS of dogs in shelter situations and I have never seen a failure.

No comments: