Devoted to More Wags and Purrs.

Must Be the Season of the Itch


Our pets suffered a double whammy in the last few months. The extra cold spell this winter has led to even more blooms on the already prolific florida foliage. More blooms means more pollen, and more pollen means more scratching for our pets suffering from atopy, or an allergy to substances in the environment. Unfortunately, the cold seemed only to slightly delay Florida’s massive flea population, which is now in full force as well.


Dogs suffering atopy often bite and chew at their feet, which the part of their body in contact with the pollen laden ground when they go outside. Many dogs suffering from flea bites bite and scratch around their back end and tail. The classic “hot spots,” which are areas of moist skin infection, are often flea related. Cats suffering from fleas often have miliary dermatitis, which are multiple pin-prick scabs around the neck and the base of the tail. Not all of our pets will follow this stereotypical pattern, as each allergic pet as the potential to be a little different, but looking for these patterns give us a good starting point.


Diagnosing the flea allergic pet can be especially frustrating, because the most allergic, and consequently most itchy, pets may never have an actual flea found on them. These dogs and cats have a huge reaction from a single flea bite, and are very aware of how severe their reaction will be. If these pets feel anything like a flea on them, they will become frantic trying to get it off, and can often be fairly successful. These pets many be itching constantly and even damaging themselves, but you will never find a live flea on them. This is similar to people with allergies; if someone was severely allergic to ant bites, even thinking they feel an ant crawling on them would make them desperate to get the insect off.


Treating fleas requires a multi-pronged approach. There are now many different topical and oral flea medications for pets that kill fleas including Advantage, Frontline, Capstar, Comfortis, Vectra, Promeris, Revolution and others. These medications all work in different ways, and may vary in effectiveness depending on your individual pet and his or her environment, Additionally, there are medications that prevent flea reproduction, such as Program or Sentinel, or the sprays with active ingredients such as Nylar and Methopreme. Using both a medication that kills fleas as well as something the halts reproduction is known as Integrated Pest management, or IPM.


There has been much discussion recently about whether fleas are becoming resistant to individual medications; whether this is happening or not, we should assume that all flea medicines will have a failure rate, even if it is very low. A medication that kills 99.9% of fleas sounds great until a squirrel, opossum or stray cat drops 2000 flea eggs in your yard; then killing only 99.9% allows for surviving fleas, and the life cycle of these pests to continue. IPM sterilizes any surviving fleas, stopping the problem before the infestation reaches your house or yard.


While IPM may stop an infestation, for the super-flea-allergic pet, even a single flea bite may be too much. You should talk to your veterinarian about using medications more often than labeled, are even using more than one type of flea medicine. Some medicines don’t mix, so get professional advice before attempting this.


Living in the sub-tropical weather of Florida has its advantages, but we also have to deal with a large number of parasites and pests, including fleas. If your pet has not had to deal with these little monsters yet, count yourself lucky and be vigilant. For most Florida pet owners, it is not a matter of if, but rather when.


Michael J. Rumore, D.V.M.

Lake Seminole Animal Hospital