Kathy Doty works with two of the six Belgian Malinois dogs she is training as service animals Wednesday at her home in Columbus. Doty says she switches between two different flea medications in an attempt to control the fleas that experts say have developed a tolerance from some of the medicines that are commonly used. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
July 10, 2014 11:04:29 AM
Summer is here, and so are the pests that come with it. If it seems that this year the flea problem is especially bad, it's probably a sign that the fleas are getting better at adapting to treatments, experts say.
According to Dr. Jerome Goddard, an entomologist who focuses on veterinary medicine at Mississippi State University, fleas have begun to adapt immunities to some long-established brands of flea treatments.
"That's a protection built in for them, and all creatures," Goddard said.
However, the medical community has adapted, too. New treatments to combat fleas have been developed, and these treatments might be worth investigating for pet owners, Goddard said.
At his veterinary practice in Columbus, Dr. Jim Dowdle said that some older brands of flea medications, such as Frontline, are proving ineffective in some cases.
Goddard said that new products, many based on the active ingredient spinosad, have proven more effective against modern fleas. Dowdle said that while he feels that there is no perfect drug, the spinosad-based medications are the best option for medical treatment right now.
"These are really safe and really effective now," Dowdle said.
Everett Pennington owns Bugs B Gone extermination service in Columbus. He is a busy man these days. Pennington said he gets calls every day during the summer, many of them from people wanting help to fight fleas. Pet owners who are treating their homes should treat their pets simultaneously to truly fight fleas, he said. It's not a one-time solution, either.
"It's very seldom that you can treat fleas one time," Pennington said.
That's because fleas reproduce at an alarming rate. Dowdle said that a female can lay up to 100 eggs in a single day. The eggs become larvae, and the larvae become pupae. In the pupae stage, the flea can emerge fully developed in as few as seven days; it can also lie dormant for up to 20 weeks. This is why veterinarians, entomologists and exterminators recommended a multi-faceted, continuous approach.
Medicines for animals generally kill only the adult fleas. Bugs B Gone uses growth regulators to keep fleas from hatching inside homes and in yards. Pennington and Goddard both said that frequently washing animal bedding and vacuuming are good ways to fight fleas in your home. Once vacuuming is complete, it is important to throw the bag away. Otherwise, it may become a massive flea incubator.
Fleas in Mississippi and the Eastern United States are more of a nuisance than a threat, Goddard stated. These fleas will certainly bother your pet, but do not carry infectious diseases on a major level as in other parts of the world.
Kathy Doty trains Belgian Malinois dogs for service work. She currently kennels six dogs, and she said that she has noticed the need to change up her medicines. She has gone back and forth from Comfortis, a spinosad-based medication, and Advantage to keep the fleas on their toes.
"During the peak of the season I feel it is good to swap up medication," Doty said.
At Cedarhill Animal Sanctuary in Lowndes County there are big cats and a large amount of domestic dogs and cats. Michelle Potter, who works at the sanctuary, said that they also switch medications constantly to fight off the adapting fleas.
"One month we use Advantage, one month we use Frontline," Potter said.
The sanctuary also employs some old school and natural methods to fight the fleas.
They feed the big cats brewer's yeast with garlic to fend off fleas, and during the high flea season they will put garlic powder into the food of their animals. She said this a technique that has been used for a long time.
"It's really the garlic that keeps them away," Potter said.
Brewer's yeast with garlic is available at pet shops and is fairly inexpensive. No matter the method, consistency and diligence are the keys to flea free pets and homes, experts insist.
Pennington said that if you buy a chemical to treat fleas on your own, it is important to only buy products labeled for that purpose. Following the directions on the product and giving it the full treatment, much as you do with a prescription drug, is critical to success.
"With any of these bugs, it's a war," Goddard said. "You're never going to have a magic bullet that kills all fleas."
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