Winter is Coming — Don’t Let Fleas Ruin Your Holidays!

Cats, Dogs, Parasites

With the coming of the fall season I can expect cooler weather, foliage change, children in costumes, and an excessive amount of pumpkin-inspired beverages. Another seasonal change I have come to expect is the increasing number of my patients with flea symptoms.

A Rise in Cold Weather Flea Infestations

We often think that the warmer seasons would be the most common time for flea infestations but that is not what I experience in this area of the Mid-Eastern US. It is hard to say if this is an evolutionary trait of the fleas themselves, or if it correlates with people not being as compliant with flea medication in the late fall season.

Fleas are very good at hiding in the denser areas of the haircoat, so you won’t always see adult fleas hopping around on an animal with fleas. Instead, there are two main clinical signs I look out for to help identify fleas early in the infestation period.

Spotting the Signs of a Flea Infection

The most classical signs for fleas is increased scratching around the rump area. These patients will often have thinner hair on their rump from excessive chewing. If you see your pet favoring this area excessively then you could possibly be dealing with fleas.

Is Your Dog Dirty … Or Is it Covered in Flea Poop?

Another easily identifiable feature is the presence of flea feces in the hair coat. Flea feces can often be confused with just dirt and it is small black granular matter throughout the haircoat. An owner is most likely to identify this material while brushing their pet or petting them.

How to Tell the Difference

To distinguish that you are really dealing with flea dirt, I recommend collecting a small amount of the granular debris and wiping it against a wet paper towel. Flea feces with streak reddish-brown on the wet paper towel as an indication that it is digested blood from a flea. This is the most common way that I confirm the presence of fleas on the patients that I see.

Preventing an Off-Season Flea Infection

The best way to prevent a flea infection is by continuing your pet’s flea medication year-round. If you are very regimented with your monthly or every 12 weeks dosing of flea preventative then your risk of a flea infestation is very low.

Stay Vigilant Throughout the Winter

In practice, I find that less than 50% of my patients are on monthly flea medication which creates a large at-risk group. For owners who do not want to continue flea medication year-round, it’s crucial that they learn to recognize the signs of a flea infestation early. The longer fleas are able to breed unchecked without preventative measures being taken, the more difficult it will be to resolve the infestation.

Ideally, I recommend year-round flea control with the 12-week coverage preventative called Bravecto. Please contact us to get a prescription, or if you have concerns about a flea infestation with your pet.

— Dr. Beizavi

Essex Middle River Veterinary Center provides medical and surgical care for cats and dogs at our animal hospital and veterinary clinic in Essex, Maryland, just outside of Baltimore. Our services include preventive wellness care exams, vaccines, spays/neuters, and a variety of specialized care. Our state-of-the-art veterinary offices are conveniently located near I-695 where we see pets from Towson, Honeygo, White Marsh, and other neighboring Baltimore areas.

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