Today I welcome our guest, Karen “Doc” Halligan, Director of Veterinary Services at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Los Angeles (spcaLA). Here she will answer some of our most important questions about fleas and ticks.

Q: Are some breeds of dogs more susceptible to getting fleas than others?

DH: All dogs are equally susceptible to getting fleas but smaller dogs are at risk of developing a life threatening anemia because of their size so a flea infestation can be more dangerous for them. Certain dogs do have allergic reactions to fleas, which is called Flea Allergy Dermatitis and it is the most common allergic skin disease of dogs and cats. Animals that have flea allergy can develop a severe allergic reaction to a protein in the saliva of certain fleas that is left behind from fleabites. This condition causes severe itching, rash, and more. In dogs, it leads to hair loss and infection, usually on the rear legs or at the base of the tail; cats get scabs around the head, neck, and body. Medical treatment is needed.

2. What parts of the country have the greatest incidence of fleas and tick problems, or is it equally prevalent?

DH: Fleas and ticks are prevalent throughout the country. The highest incidence of fleas and ticks occur in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Hawaii, but can be found almost anywhere. It’s important to remember that wildlife such as coyotes, foxes, bobcats, skunks, raccoons, opossums, and several rodent species, as well as other cats and dogs, can bring fleas and ticks into your yard. Pets and people can bring fleas into your home. More information on the geographic distribution of ticks can be found on the Center For Disease Control and Prevention website.

3. Are topical monthly flea and tick preventative treatments safe for pets?

DH: Fipronil-based products have been used safely on pets since 1997. As a responsible pet owner, you should always consult your veterinarian before starting your beloved pet on any type of medication. PetArmor™ Plus is a great solution for prevention and control of fleas and ticks, not to mention it costs significantly less than Frontline. The product has the number one veterinary-recommended active ingredients, in the same concentrations as the leading veterinary flea and tick brand.

4. What is the best thing we can do to keep our pets free of fleas and ticks?

DH: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and this is never truer than with fleas and ticks. The problem is that many pet owners wait until they see these creatures, have an infestation, or, worse, their pet becomes sick. And remember that ticks carry a number of diseases that can also be transmitted to people including Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. The cost to treat illnesses related to fleas and ticks can be expensive, not to mention the unthinkable suffering of your pet. This is why prevention is so important. Because the length and severity of flea and tick season varies across the country and changes from year to year depending on the temperature fluctuations and humidity, I recommend using a high quality, safe and effective treatment such as PetArmor Plus every 30 days on all pets in the household all year long. At the very least, you should start flea and tick prevention in the spring before your pets get bitten and to head off an infestation because summer will be just around the corner. When using preventative medication, always read instructions prior to usage and never use on debilitated, very young, sick, or elderly animals without directions from your vet. Never use dog products on cats and vice versa.

Doc’s words of wisdom:
It’s important to realize that only 5% of the total flea population is in the form of adult fleas on your pet. The other 95% is in various stages: 50% eggs, 35% larvae, and 10% pupae that are not readily visible to the naked eye but are in your carpet, furniture, bedding, lawn, and anywhere else your pet walks or lies down. Learning more about fleas and their life cycle will help you understand why they become so prolific in such a short period of time and how to avoid an infestation. Although fleas thrive at 65 to 80 degrees F with humidity levels at approximately 80%, they have been known to survive indoors during the winter, even in cold climates. Fleas also travel—as much as one mile in an hour. They will hop inside through an open door or window and are often small enough to come through a window screen. Once inside your home, there’s no place a flea can’t go. Fleas can be miserable for you and your pet, and not just from the bites. They can bring about a host of serious problems such as: Flea Anemia, Tapeworms, and Flea Allergy Dermatitis. So the key to controlling fleas is to interrupt their life cycle at an immature stage so they don’t develop into adults. Again all pets in the household must be treated.

Doc Halligan is a a widely recognized national authority on animals. She has appeared on Regis and Kelly, the Today Show, the Mike and Juliet Show, iVillage Live, Fox and Friends, Animal Rescue 911, Dog Tales, Dogs 101 and Cats 101 and is a judge on Animal Planet’s hit reality show “Groomer Has It”. She is also regular contributor to PARADE magazine. Doc Halligan is the author of ” What Every Pet Owner Should Know: Prescriptions for Happy, Healthy Cats and Dogs (HarperCollins, 2007).

She is currently the Director of Veterinary Services at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Los Angeles (spcaLA), where she oversees the health and well being of all the shelter animals and routinely performs surgical procedures and other medical treatments. Doc has donated hundreds of hours of volunteer time to various animal-rescue groups and entertainment nonprofit.