This week, Facebook told me it has been five years since I found Darwin running loose in the candy aisle at CVS. Five years!
In the years since, many things have changed: I’ve graduated from school, my husband and I have gone from engaged to married and we have adopted three more dogs, two of whom are deaf. The deaf dogs in particular have been a catalyst to many more changes, both personally and professionally. One of the biggest is that I now spend my days writing and advocating for deaf dogs, and not just the ones that lay at my feet, prodding me every few hours to step away from my desk, their noses nuzzling me out of my search engine and into the sunshine for fun and games- or at least poop duty.
But back to Darwin, my gift with pharmacy purchase…
I had stopped at CVS on my way home and found him running through the store with no collar, leash or person attached. So I bought a leash and fashioned it into a makeshift collar to get him home, where we spent weeks getting to know each other, walking, sitting at Starbucks, taking naps and watching Golden Girls. I was still in school, studying to be a veterinary technician, and he was the best study partner.
In addition to a tail wagging with boundless love, this sweet, young pup brought with him a flea infestation that took us more than a month to contain- the gift that keeps on giving indeed! I was in my final semesters of veterinary technician school and those fleas became an incredibly important experiential learning opportunity for me.
I learned first-hand about the nastiness of fleas, the diseases they spread and the extreme frustration that comes when trying to rid your home of thousands of hardy parasitic squatters that just don’t want to leave. I learned a lot about the life cycle of fleas, how various preventative products work and how fond those nasty little buggers are of couches, carpets, floors and beds.
The biggest takeaway for me was the importance of flea prevention. There are many approaches to flea prevention and even more products available to help you achieve your goal. In an upcoming post, I will talk about these- especially as they relate to deaf dogs who sometimes have very special needs in this area. But before you begin to think about how you are going to prevent fleas, it’s important to understand why you should have a plan in place. Sure, they’re just plain nasty, but there are important medical reasons to keep those fleas away.
Five Reasons Your Dog Hates Fleas and Why You Should Too
1. Flea Allergy Dermatitis: Some dogs are hypersensitive, or allergic, to flea saliva. In these cases, the dog will have a dramatic response to the flea saliva injected during a bite. Even a single flea can cause intense reactions for a sensitive dog prone to FAD.Since fleas like to gather in places where your dog’s teeth can’t reach them, such as the base of the tail, your dog experiences both flea bites and a high concentration of the allergenic compounds found in flea saliva- all in a localized area. Your dog is uncomfortable and very itchy. He will lick, bite and chew at the area, resulting in hair loss, irritated scaly skin that is often inflamed and covered with scabs. Hot spots frequently develop. For dogs with sensitivities to flea saliva, all it takes is one or two flea bites to start this spiral into extreme discomfort and painful reaction. Which leads us to…
2. Bacterial Skin Infections: When your dog licks, gnaws and chews at itchy and irritated skin, he creates open sores that often lead to secondary bacterial infections, also known as pyoderma. Not only is your dog uncomfortable because of the dozens of fleas feeding on his body- or worse yet, FAD- he now has a patches of red, swollen, scabby and calloused skin.
In these cases, your veterinarian will usually prescribe an antibiotic. Since your dog is likely to lick and consume any medicated ointment or cream you apply to the area, your veterinarian will most likely prescribe an oral antibiotic. Depending on your veterinarian and your particular circumstances, he or she may recommend culturing the area to determine the best antibiotic to treat your pooch’s pyoderma.
3. Tapeworms: Did you know that fleas transmit tapeworms? If you’ve never seen tapeworms, they too are gross. More often than not, it is pet parents who diagnose them first, not a veterinarian or veterinary technician. Those little pieces of rice that crawl around your dog’s feces are hard to miss!Though there are other ways to acquire tapeworms, ingesting an adult flea is one of the most common ways. When your dog is chewing and biting fleas, he is likely to swallow a few. Adult fleas frequently carry tapeworm larvae and, when your dog swallows that flea, the tapeworm larvae settle and develop in your dog’s small intestines. Every time your dog poops, you’ll be picking up piece of poop covered in nasty little bugs that almost resemble maggots. The good thing is that your veterinarian can treat tapeworms pretty easily; usually a few doses of an antiparasitic medication spread over a few weeks apart will do the trick. The better news is that consistent, effective flea prevention will also prevent most tapeworm infections!
4. Anemia: Fleas are pretty good at overpopulating themselves. Very good, in fact. Though they live in the environment, such as your yard, couch and carpeting, they spend a lot of time on your dog feeding. And what do they eat? Blood. Did you know that a single flea can consume 15 times its body weight in blood?One or two fleas quickly become a dozen or more and then a hundred, a thousand and so on. If left untreated, a flea infestation can lead to thousands of fleas hopping onto your dog, biting, feeding on a meal of blood then hopping off to lay more eggs. In extreme cases, some dogs can become anemic from all this blood loss. if this happens, not only do you have to rid your dog and environment of the fleas (along with potential bacterial and tapeworm infections), you now also have to treat him dog for anemia.
5. Haemobartonellosis, also known as Hemotrophic mycoplasmosis, is a bacterial infection of the red blood cells and guess what? It too is transmitted by both fleas and ticks. Haemobartonellosis frequently causes urinary tract infections, pneumonia and infertility of both sexes, with more severe symptoms noted in dogs that have had their spleen removed. Because of the cell structure, this bacteria is difficult to treat. Treatment may include include a long-course of antibiotics, steroids, hospitalization and possibly blood transfusions. Left untreated, haemobartonellosis can be fatal.
The good news is that effective flea and tick prevention can prevent haemobartonellosis, flea allergy dermatitis, pyoderma and anemia. It also helps you keep your dog and your home comfortable, clean and free of diseases.
The process of eliminating fleas from your home can be arduous, complicated and expensive. Though there are lots of ways to eliminate an infestation, some toxic, some not, it is always much easier and cost-effective to prevent them in the first place! When looking at the health issues associated with fleas and the cost of treating skin infections, anemia and worse, a conversation with your veterinarian and a few bucks of prevention is an investment that will keep your deaf dog happy and healthy- and that alone is worth my bottom dollar!
Do you consistently use flea prevention? If so, do you use prescription medication, something over-the-counter or do you prefer a more natural, holistic approach? I’d love to hear more about how you keep fleas away!