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Veterinary Forum August 2009 (Vol 26, No 8)

Clinical Report — Products and education kill fleas

by Sophia Yin, DVM, MS (Animal Science)

    Many flea products have come onto the market in the past 15 years, and it can be confusing to decide which ones to administer. Despite complaints from clients that some products may not be effective, choosing one does not have to be difficult, says Michael Dryden, PhD, a veterinary parasitologist at Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. "The products are highly effective," he explains. "We have tons of supporting data. The problem lies with owners who don't follow instructions."

    Dryden knows this better than most. He has been visiting owners' flea-infested homes to study the efficacy of flea products for almost 20 years. He and his veterinary students have traveled to Tampa, Fla., to collect data for clinical trials. "Florida is the flea capital of North America because it is warm and humid and the yards are mostly sand," he says. "Sand holds moisture well, and flea larvae can easily move through it."

    During Dryden's latest trip, he found that even with modern products nothing has changed. "We saw bad flea infestations and a lack of owner compliance," he says.

    Dryden's students counted fleas on participating pets and placed flea traps — devices with a light that blinks at a certain frequency to attract newly emerging fleas around the home. If no fleas are found inside, the infestation is coming from the environment outside. The pets are then treated for flea infestation and the pet and home are rechecked weekly for 60 days. Infestations are controlled on every pet that is treated, Dryden says.

    "We were in more than 30 homes during the last trip and will be in 90 altogether before the study is complete," he adds. "All of the owners say that the products aren't working, but in almost every home we found that compliance, not the drug, was the issue."

    The compliance problem

    One common compliance problem is that people fail to treat all the dogs and cats that come in contact with their own. Dryden describes one example from his recent trip where the owner's cat interacted with the neighbor's flea-infested cat. "The neighbor's cat comes up to the front porch every day and walks around in the shrubs and bushes, dropping 30 to 40 eggs per flea per day," he says. "It's a continuous source of reinfestation."

    A second simple problem is that people do not treat flea infestations long enough. "When an animal is flea infested, it can take 2 to 3 months to get the problem under control," Dryden says. Modern products kill adult fleas and/or prevent maturation of the eggs on the pet, but the eggs already in the environment will still hatch and develop into adults if the environment is not treated.

    Even if the environment is treated to speed the treatment process, Dryden says there are too many sources of fleas in the natural world. "Stray dogs, cats and opossums drop flea eggs into the environment, so people must consistently treat every pet during the flea season. Some of the homes we visited did not have carpets, but we caught one to two fleas per trap because the shaded microhabitats in the yards were infested. People do not realize that it is a major problem. Even if the indoor pets are treated several times, the animals can go into the infested yard and bring in new fleas."

    What should veterinarians do?

    Dryden stressed that veterinarians have to educate the client. "The day that a veterinarian can simply sell a flea product, smile and move on are gone," he says. "Veterinarians must provide education. Owners need to be educated and recommendations need to be reinforced each year. The intermittent approach to the products will never be effective."

    NEXT: Dental Dilemma — Biting Be Gone

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