By Jennifer Kvamme, DVM
If you are a dog owner who is dealing with a flea infestation for the first time, it is probably because you have been very careful about flea prevention. And yet despite your best efforts, your dog is now afflicted with these pesky insects.
Even if your dog stays close to home, fleas and ticks are canny creatures, and they have ways of making it into your home and onto your pets, even with preventions in place. All it takes is a few fleas to get established in your yard to set up a full-scale infestation of your yard, your pet, and your home.
Unfortunately, there is no way to keep every wild animal out of your yard -- not even with a tall fence. No yard is an island unto itself, and squirrels, raccoons, and other small rodents will find ways to get into your yard, carrying fleas and ticks along with them.
The more visitors you have to your yard, the greater the chance of an infestation arriving on the back of another animal. Feral cats roaming your property are also carriers of fleas and ticks. This is one reason not to encourage wild animals to come into your dog’s domain by leaving out offerings such as corn, nuts, and seeds. Even a bowl of water, left out for when your dog is outside, is an invitation for other animals to hang about.
You and your human visitors can also be unwitting carriers of fleas and ticks. Anyone coming into your home could be a carrier of fleas. They can be brought in from the person’s own home or pet without their knowledge.
If you like to spend time hiking in areas where fleas and ticks are prevalent, it’s easy for a few to hitch a ride on your pants leg, socks, shoes, etc. These parasites are well-adapted at finding ways to attach to potential hosts in order to find their next blood meal.
Outside the Home
Anytime your pet goes out into the world -- even if only for short walks around the block; play dates at the local dog park; a visit to the veterinarian; a stint at the boarding kennel; a trip to the groomer; a ride in the car; etc. -- she is being exposed to the opportunity for fleas and ticks to hop aboard.
You may be very careful about checking your dog for ticks after a good hike in the woods or a trip down to the lake, but ticks (and fleas) are good at hiding and they will find the furriest spots in the deepest crevices of your pet’s skin. Look especially close in the neck fur, in the abdomen, and in the arm "pits."
Because fleas and ticks are so good at what they do, you will need to be extra vigilant during the peak flea and tick season -- typically the warm weather months from spring through early autumn (in the southern states, flea and tick season can be all year long). If you notice just one or two insects on your dog, treat it seriously, before it becomes a full blown infestation.
If your dog is very young or old, or if she has any underlying health condition, visit your veterinarian for advice on the best preventive medications and the safest way to use them. Your doctor will be able to show you the proper way to apply these medications and recommend just the right dose for your dog’s age and weight. If you catch the problem quickly enough, you may be able to avoid chemical solutions and try natural solutions first.
One solution is anti-pest landscaping. For the outside, there are some plants that are known for their flea repelling characteristics, and it is worth it to try anti-pest landscaping. However, it is often easier and more effective to use chemical pesticides and repellants for yard and perimeter treatment, especially when dealing with an infestation that is already in full progress.
If you do already have a flea and tick problem, you might want use the tried and sure chemical remedies for this season, so that you can comfortably enjoy the rest of the season, saving the reliance on flea repelling landscaping for next spring. It’s much easier to start early, keeping parasites from getting a foothold, than it is to try to eradicate them after they have had a chance to breed and establish themselves in your home and on your dog.