Denial is a long river, they say. None longer than when applied to the case of the ectoparasites among us. Whether we’re talking lice on a kid’s head or fleas on a cat, many parentally invested parties refuse to believe.

Apparently, the humiliation experienced by caretakers of flea-challenged animals is as alive and well for some as the critters they deny.

To paraphrase Dr. Michael Obenski, a fellow VMD and columnist: When an owner swears up and down their scratching dog has NO fleas, you can bet your practice you’ll find some

Never were truer words least from my point of view as a South Florida veterinarian where the fleas are bigger than ticks and the infestations are thick and resistant. Hate those buggers...

So what’s a veterinarian to do? Here’s my approach:

1. Catch a flea or two...and fast. Display.

2. Scrape up the “flea dirt” on a comb, wet it, and explain that all that bloody-looking stuff  now smeared on a paper towel is...well, the flea’s feces. This tack usually earns me a colorful expression of profound disgust.

 3. Agree with them. Sure, she may not be itching because of the fleas. Then launch into a detailed explanation of allergies in pets and all the different (and expensive) ways there are to approach these...or you can simply try to get rid of the fleas and see how it goes...

This three-step method is a surefire way to get the pet some relief without insulting or goading an owner into buying our flea products. The goal is NOT to’s merely to raise awareness of a problem they deny exists.

Owners of indoor animals are more likely to suffer this form of ectoparasitic denial. They’re less likely to look for the bugs themselves. And they can be frustratingly difficult to convince. But a little simple coaxing through my three steps almost always seals the deal.

What do you do?