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Flea problems multiply on pets during summer

MSU Extension Service

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- If the area is dark, damp and warm with pets nearby, chances are good there will be fleas, too.

Dr. John Tyler, small animal internal medicine veterinarian at Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, said fleas like these environments. Flea habitats include under porches, and in woodpiles, dog houses, piles of debris and similar areas.

"Mississippi is an ideal place for fleas. Up north, fleas are mainly a problem in the summer, but here they can be a problem year-round," Tyler said. "It never gets too hot for fleas."

That's bad news for the poor pets suffering from their bites, but there is relief.

"It's best to take a three-pronged approach to treating fleas. Treat indoors, outdoors and on the animal," Tyler said. "Some of the newer on-animal products are so effective they will eventually take care of the indoor and outdoor problems, but usually you should treat all three if you have a big flea problem."

Tyler said to the average dog, fleas are just an annoyance, but it becomes an infestation when their numbers get high enough. A flea infestation on young or small dogs can lead to life-threatening anemia. Other pets are allergic to fleas, and a bite will set off an allergic reaction in the animal that usually displays itself in extreme itchiness.

When fleas show up on a house pet, Tyler said they're probably indoors as well.

"Fleas seen on a dog are probably less than 1 percent of the population. The eggs, larvae and pupae stages make up about 98 to 99 percent of the flea population," Tyler said. "The vast majority of the fleas are likely in immature stages in the carpet, seams of sofas, cracks between floor boards and wherever the animals spends the most time."

There are several signs to look for to determine if a pet has a flea problem. Flea eggs on an animal look like grains of salt, while flea feces look like pepper. The most common type of tapeworm that dogs get is transmitted by fleas, so a diagnosis of this parasite usually indicates a flea problem. Dogs also can get hot spots caused when they scratch an itchy area until it becomes raw and often infected.

Cats have different symptoms of a flea problem, but the most common is excessive grooming. Tyler said cats can groom so much they create large bald spots on their groin or lower abdomen. Fleas can lead to smaller areas of hair loss and little serum crusts on the skin that looks like millet seeds. Cats also can get ulcers on their lips from flea problems.

To prevent problems, treat animals at the first sign of fleas and eliminate flea habitats when possible. Indoors, clean and vacuum carpets, under furniture and where the animal sleeps. Outdoors, remove piles of leaves and debris, and treat dark, damp areas where the animal spends time.

For more information, contact: Dr. John Tyler, (662) 325-3432

Released: June 25, 2001
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