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Getting the jump on fleas.

In my travels across the country, I have participated in many TV and radio call-in programs. Although I have received many questions about the exotic and dangerous diseases that can effect pets, I've found that the No. 1 concern of pet owners from New York to Miami, from Baltimore to San Diego, is fleas.

Never have more ingenious methods been designed either to "do fleas in" or to make them leave home--yet these pests live on. By developing resistance to commonly used insecticides, they continue to cause irritation and misery to pets and people almost everywhere.

Fleas cause irritation by biting the skin in order to suck out blood. The flea saliva contains a chemical that causes an allergic reaction and results in itching and reddened skin. Flea-bite dermatitis is the most common cause of canine allergy. Fleas can also transmit tapeworms.

Clinical signs of flea infestation include scratching, restlessness and hair loss. A diagnosis is made upon finding fleas or black flecks of "flea dirt" around the tail, rump and underline of the dog or cat. Fleas spend most of their lives off an animal rather than on it; adult fleas are more susceptible to treatment with pesticides than the immature fleas, which tend to live in the animal's surroundings.

An interesting method of attacking the flea problem is ultrasound. Ultrasonic medallions designed to be worn on a dog's or a cat's collar create sound waves that are supposed to drive fleas out of their happy homes. Conflicting reports have emerged about the effectiveness of these ultrasonic devices. Certainly they have not yet emerged as the hoped-for remedy.

For people who prefer more "natural" methods of flea removal, herbal flea collars are now available. And garlic is a home remedy supported by many pet owners. Fed to a pet, it is said to cause a skin odor that fleas don't like. Unfortunately, many people don't like the odor either. My own theory is that fleas naturally disappear from the house when the dog has been banished to the back 40.

The feeding of brewer's yeast with B-complex vitamin supplements has been promoted as a natural flea repellent. A recent scientific article supports the use of brewer's yeast as a deterrent to flea infestation.

Flea collars or medallions were once touted as the "answer." They do help in many instances, although today's fleas seem to be developing resistance to many of the insecticides used in the collars. Pets can be allergic to the insecticide, so expose a new flea collar to air for a day or two before putting it on your pet. Do not use a dog collar on a cat. Avoid the use of flea collars in very young, old or nursing animals. Avoid getting collars wet and do not use them with other insecticides.

Other remedies--shampoos, soaps, sprays, powders and dips--have been used for years. An adaptation of powder treatment is the Flea Bag for cats; you insert the cat into the bag and shake. Dips are perhaps the most effective of the treatments. However, cats can be extremely sensitive to dips; check with your veterinarian first. Avoid getting dip in your pet's eyes, nose, ears, mouth or genitals.

Oral medications (tablets or liquid) can kill fleas. These drugs should not be used with other insecticides or in greyhounds, pregnant or stressed animals.

Because fleas spend 95 percent of their time off your pet, it makes sense to spend a large portion of your war against fleas on the environment. Attack all fronts (house, yard, pet) at once. Severe flea infestation may warrant employing a professional exterminator to treat the house and yard while your veterinarian concentrates on exterminating the fleas on your pet.

If you are into "do it yourself," an insecticide powder or concentrate can be mixed with water and sprayed on the yard. Inside your home, sweep all carpets thoroughly and dispose of the vacuum bag. Replace or wash your pet's bedding. Use a spray or "flea bomb" aerosol fogger in the house; use according to direction. A pre-emergent fogger will kill adult and immature fleas.

Fleas like warm, humid weather, so good flea detection should start in the spring. Attention to grooming your pet should reveal the first evidence of the pest.

Questions for the Vet Dear Dr. White:

I have a cat whose eyes became completely dilated. After treatment with antibiotics they did recede somewhat but are still partly dilated all the time. Can you suggest any treatment? Mrs. L.E. Sleeper Hillsdale, Michigan Dear Mrs. Sleeper:

Certain diseases of cats, such as feline infectious peritonitis, feline leukemia and toxoplasmosis, can manifest clinical signs similar to what you describe. Also, protein deficiency of cats produces signs such as dilated pupils and blindness. Cats have a very high protein requirement available only in animal protein sources and, when fed diets such as dry dog food, can develop an amino-acid deficiency.

Of course, if the cat is responding to antibiotics, the probable cause is an infection. I am sure that your veterinarian will make recommendations if this therapy is not successful. H.E.W. Dear Dr. White:

I have a 14-year-old mixed collie, whom I love very much. But I have some problems with her. She has lost most of her hair, even though I have tried many medications to make it grow back. During the winter, I bathe her twice a week with a wet cloth. Then I apply Sulfodine to her coat. It seems to help.

I think that she has rheumatism, because she has trouble climbing the stairs to my second-floor apartment. Also, this last year, she began leaving some wet spots in her bed. This happens for two or three days, and then stops for two or three weeks.

She does not really seem to be sick, though. She has a great appetite. She even plays outside in the summer. I know she is getting old, but she is still a wonderful watchdog.

Is there is anything I can do? Please let me know, because I love her very much. Helena Ouellette Newport, Rhode Island Dear Mrs. Ouellette:

I can tell from your letter that your dog is very important to you.

I could make suggestions about specific conditions, but I want to emphasize that your dog should be treated by a veterinarian. A dog of 14 usually has many chronic conditions that might be aided by proper veterinary care.

Good grooming, vitamin E, zinc and fatty-acid supplements might be indicated by your veterinarian.

Difficulty climbing stairs is often a clue that the problem might be arthritis and hip dysplasia. If the dog is heavy, losing weight would help. Corticosteroids may be prescribed by your veterinarian.

Urination in the house might be due to several conditions, such as hormone deficiency or bladder infection. Again, this problem should be checked by your veterinarian.
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Author:White, H. Ellen
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jul 1, 1984
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