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ODA offers seasonal advice on flea control

Pet owners seeking remedies or prevention techniques have several good choices

With the dog days of summer coming up, the Oregon Department of Agriculture is offering advice to pet owners who can take several steps themselves in providing relief from fleas. An array of pesticide products on the market are among the tools that can be used to effectively control fleas, but they come with the usual caution of needing to be handled properly.

“This is the time of year flea activity heats up with the weather,” says Rose Kachadoorian of ODA’s Pesticides Program. “Animals congregate and can transfer the fleas to each other.”

So far this summer, Oregonians have avoided the blazing heat that sometimes exacerbates the skin irritation of pets that comes with flea bites. But that could change in August, and pet owners will need to be ready to take some action.

The first order of business is to verify the issue.

“Make sure your pet has a flea problem,” says Kachadoorian. “They may be scratching themselves, but it could be a food allergy or pollen. Work with your veterinarian to establish whether or not the problem is caused by fleas.”

If the answer is yes, pet owners can improve the conditions that lead to flea infestations. Prevention tactics are usually best started in the spring. However, there is still plenty that pet owners can do now. A thorough cleaning and vacuuming of the house– especially where pets sleep– is a good start.

“I would vacuum my house at least every other day, if not every day, to suck up fleas and their eggs,” says Kachadoorian. “Also wash the pet’s bedding once a week with hot, soapy water.”

The most fastidious cleaning job in the world might not be enough if your pet already has fleas. Persistence in cleaning and early treatment is the key.

There are a number of adult flea control products available on the market, including spot-on topical products that are usually applied monthly. Some of the spot-on products also contain growth regulators that inhibit the development of immature flea life stages. Pets can also be given tablets orally containing these insect growth regulators. Flea collars and ultrasonic devices have had limited success, according to Kachadoorian. Again, a conversation with your veterinarian is an important step to take.

“Most of these products usually work very well,” says Kachadoorian. “They are so much more effective than what we used to do to treat pets, which was putting a dust or spray on the animal or giving them a flea bath.”

One thing to keep in mind– most of these products are considered to be a pesticide. The care and caution required in using these flea control products is really important because, if used incorrectly, the pet could have a bad reaction.

“You need to read that pesticide label very carefully and make sure you apply the product properly as instructed by the label,” says Kachadoorian.

For example, a product’s label may say that is to be used only on dogs. Some products are not toxic to dogs but may be lethal to cats. Also, there may be instructions on the weight of the animal being treated. For example, the label may indicate the product is to be used only on animals weighing more than 10 pounds.

“There have been instances of people trying to save money by purchasing a product meant for a Great Dane– a large animal– and then splitting that product up to treat smaller animals,” says Kachadoorian. “Often, the dosage isn’t right and pets can develop medical problems or worse.”

The US Environmental Protection Agency, which has responsibility for pesticide label language, has changed several labels in recent years to make the instructions more clear to users. Specifically, some labels were not explicit in designating which products should be used on dogs and which ones should be used on cats. Now, for some products, there is a display of the appropriate animal and weight range right on the package.

ODA recently adopted temporary restrictions on certain pesticide products containing the active ingredient dinotefuran because of its implication in the death of bumble bees. However, several flea and tick control products containing dinotefuran are still available for use and are considered safe for pets.

Pet owners always have the option of using the services of a pest control company to control a flea problem in the house or yard. A good number of them are very reputable, others are not. What should the pet owner look for in selecting a professional to do the job?

“I would call up a company and find out what they are suggesting first,” says Kachadoorian. “If they say they will come in and just spray the inside of your house or your yard and that should take care of the problem, I would seriously hang up the phone and call somebody else because it is far more complicated than that.”

Kachadoorian says homeowners should be told by the pest company to vacuum, wash the bedding, and treat the animal before the company ever comes out. Those companies that recommend an outdoor treatment as the ultimate solution may be offering services you don’t need or that won’t be most effective.

“Check with ODA to see if the company is properly licensed,” says Kachadoorian. “I would also find out how long they have been in the business. Do some reading on flea control before you even call them. Then start asking them questions. If you end up knowing more than they do, call somebody else.”

For those who want to take flea matters into their own hands, Kachadoorian emphasizes the importance of taking a holistic approach.

“Keep checking your pet, vacuum a lot, launder the bedding. If you need to use a flea control product, use it in conjunction with all of these other practices. And definitely work with your veterinarian on product selection. Vets are great resources for the treatment of fleas.”

Good judgment and measured action will bode well for both you and your pet the rest of the summer.

For more information, contact Rose Kachadoorian at (503) 986-4651.

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