The little buggers aren't just a summer problem.
yellow dog scratching ears getty
Credit: More Than Words Photography by Alisa Brouwer/Getty

Nothing strikes fear in the heart of a pet owner like spotting a flea.

Although tiny in size, the little buggers can cause major problems for our pets. And unfortunately, if you see one flea, chances are you're about to meet his friends-females can lay up to 50 eggs per day.

The good news is that as annoying as they are, fleas are easily avoided if you take the necessary precautions. Here, Dr. Ari Zabell, a veterinarian with Banfield Pet Hospital, breaks down what you need to know to protect your pet from an itchy infestation.

Fleas Are Year-Round Pests

When the cooler weather arrives, many pet owners breathe a sigh of relief-fleas, after all, are usually considered a summer problem. But not so fast.

"It's a common misconception that fleas and ticks are only prevalent during certain seasons or times of year," says Zabell. "Although we see flea and tick infestations decrease in parts of the country during the winter months, we continue to see issues persist even in the coldest regions."

Even when temperatures fall too low for fleas to survive, they have a knack for seeking out more comfortable accommodations. While your frozen front lawn may not be hosting any fleas in February, your couch is plenty warm and cozy.

Fleas may also hitch a ride with those traveling from warmer climates. "Because many people travel from higher-temperature climates with their pets year-round, fleas, ticks, and other parasites have the opportunity for winter vacations of their own-on your pet and in your home," says Zabell. "For those in close proximity to their neighbors, especially in apartment buildings, it may not matter if you aren't hosting any high-risk visitors-your neighbors might be."

Infestation Signs & Symptoms

Fleas aren't just gross houseguests. For many pets, they're extremely uncomfortable.

As fleas bite, they inject saliva under the skin, causing an allergic reaction in some cats and dogs. Banfield's 2018 State of Pet Health Report found that flea-allergy dermatitis has been on the rise over the past 10 years, with a 12 percent increase in dogs and a 67 percent increase in cats.

Signs you're your pet is suffering include biting, scratching, hair loss, red or irritated skin, and poor sleep.

They Can Lead to More Serious Issues

Although a common problem, fleas are serious business. In addition to itchy, irritated skin, fleas can transmit tapeworms and other infectious diseases to both animals and humans, warns Zabell.

Because of this, it's important to pay a visit to your veterinarian if your pet has fleas as well as schedule routine wellness visits to prevent future issues. "We recommend twice-yearly comprehensive exams that include parasite screenings to look for fleas and any other visible external parasite or skin problem," says Zabell.

Prevention Is Key

Because fleas don't take time off, it's important to play defense year-round. When it comes to these ambitious pests, it's all about prevention, prevention, prevention.

"Preventive care is far more preferable to treatment! By the time you start to notice signs of flea infestation, your pet will already be suffering the effects of fleas, and you will already have flea eggs in your carpet and furniture," warns Zabell.

There are a number of preventives available, including oral medications and topical treatments. Always work with your veterinarian to determine which option is best for your dog or cat, and to determine the proper dosage. Although safe and effective when used correctly, some flea medications-especially those that also protect against ticks-can be toxic to certain pets.

Beware of Natural Remedies

From apple cider vinegar to brewer's yeast to rosemary water, there are a ton of "natural" flea remedies floating around the Internet and pet-store shelves. While some may be effective, they're not always the best way to protect your pet.

"In our experience, many all-natural and organic home remedies are ineffective," says Zabell. "Those that are effective in parasite prevention commonly contain similar ingredients to products without the all-natural labeling."

What's more, you can actually harm your pet with some of these supposedly safer products.

"Natural isn't always safe," says Zabell. "For instance, flea-control products advertising chrysanthemum oil and claiming to be safe and naturally effective actually contain pyrethrins, which are the same ingredients that can cause significant toxic reactions in cats and some dogs."

WATCH: Martha demonstrates how to check your pets for fleas in the video below.


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