SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Lifestyle

March 22, 2013

Dispelling myths about pesky fleas

Fleas are nasty parasites that are hard to eradicate. Thankfully, veterinary science has given us effective ways to control these pests, bringing relief to our dogs and cats. But what happens when people think the Internet or a local store has a better solution?

Anyone who suffered through an infestation of fleas last year knows these parasites are programmed for survival. In ideal conditions, fleas can complete their life cycle in just 12 days, adding 2,000 new offspring and increasing their population exponentially every two weeks. That means that two weeks after 1,000 female fleas are born, there may be 2 million fleas in the environment. It can take six to eight weeks of home and pet treatment to annihilate the parasites.

Fleas carried and spread the bubonic plague in the Middle Ages, and today, they are still capable of spreading the plague and a host of diseases such as cat scratch fever in cats and humans, tapeworm, feline infectious anemia (mycoplasma haemofelis), and a rickettsia disease transmissible to both humans and cats that causes fever, flu-like symptoms and a rash. Understanding how to control this life cycle and killing adult fleas helps your pet — and your home — remain flea-free.

Flea Myth #1: Fleas go away during winter months. Although a good part of the country sees a decrease in flea cases during colder months, fleas can survive by taking advantage of our human comforts. Fleas thrive at temperatures above 65 degrees, making our homes a perfect winter refuge. The cocoon stage can actually survive up to five months in cooler temperatures — allowing the next generation of fleas to hatch and attack our pets in the spring.

Flea Myth #2: Natural remedies like brewer’s yeast and garlic are safe and effective flea control methods. For many pet owners, avoiding man-made chemicals and “going green” is important. Garlic, for example, is purported to kill fleas, but the only study conducted showed no effect. Organic and natural remedy products are not only often ineffective at controlling fleas, but sometimes even cause illness in pets.

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