Veterinarian - San Diego
1540 Morena Boulevard
San Diego, CA 92110



By Heather Beeson of Morena Pet Hospital
May 24, 2013
Category: Pet Care


Did you know that fleas are the most common external parasite of companion animals? Or that flea allergy dermatitis is one of the most common skin diseases of dogs and cats?

If you’ve ever dealt with a flea infestation, you know that the fleas don’t just affect your pet, but also your household!  This is why flea control has always been a challenge for veterinarians and pet owners because the adult fleas cause the clinical signs, yet the majority of the flea population (eggs, larvae, and pupae) is to be found off the pet in and around the home (think carpeting, curtains, even Fluffy’s favorite cushion).

What’s worse is that warm weather brings the fleas out of hiding, and San Diego, although one of the more pet-friendly cities in the nation, is also very inviting to flea populations, which tend to be a year-round threat here. 

What can pet owners do?

The best measure to take is PREVENTION! Even if your pets are indoor-only, it only takes one flea to get tracked inside and wreck havoc on you, your pet, and your home. Fleas have a tendency to thrive, sometimes for months and can lay as many as 50 eggs a day. 

Here are some tips to help us pet owners turn the tide against the flea population:

  • Vacuum, Vacuum, Vacuum! Be sure to examine areas where your cat or dog spends the most time.  If you have noticed live fleas or flea larvae in your carpeting, we recommend using Fleabuster powder application prior to vacuuming. (Note: Fleabuster powder can be added to vacuum bag also to help kill any live fleas you vacuum up). Be sure to treat under beds and furniture as well.
  • Wash, Wash, Wash! Be sure to wash all pet bedding regularly.
  • Brush, Brush, Brush! Examine your pet’s coat and implement a daily brushing routine.  Not only will this be better for your pet’s coat quality and your human-animal bond, but also it can help you to identify pest problems before they become infestations.
  • Apply a monthly topical or give a monthly oral preventative.  The ideal flea control program utilizes products that target the various stages of the flea life cycle, not only the adult fleas on the pet. Our doctors and staff here at Morena Pet Hospital can help you make the best choice for flea prevention.  Recently, some new products have been added to our flea control arsenal. These appear to be highly efficacious, long lasting and have a very low potential of harmful side effects.  [Our current favorite products include Comfortis, Revolution, Vectra, and Trifexis. An old favorite, Sentinel, is once again available as well].  Trifexis and Sentinel are both oral medications that control fleas and prevent heartworm and intestinal parasitism.  Comfortis, available for dogs and cats, is an oral flea preventative. Vectra and Revolution are topical preventatives that control fleas, ticks, etc. in dogs and cats.
  • Don’t forget that it is equally as important to treat your yard as thoroughly as your house. Be sure to concentrate on shady areas, where fleas live.  If using an insecticide, please follow application instructions and keep pets away from treated areas for the proper length of time.  We carry a safe yard/kennel spray or fogger called Siphotrol.  A more natural, non-toxic approach is to use nematodes, microscopic worms that kill flea larvae.  Products are available at local plant nurseries, home repair stores, and there are companies that will come and treat the environment for you (such as Fleabusters).  Just make sure any products used are pet-friendly and non-toxic!

If left untreated?

Complications can arise if your pets are not effectively treated for fleas.  Fleas attach themselves to their host (your poor unsuspecting cat or dog).  According to the ASPCA, fleas can consume about 15 times their own body weight in blood.  If not treated, over time this significant amount of blood loss can cause anemia.  Symptoms include pale gums, cold body temperature, and listlessness and can be life-threatening.  The blood loss resulting in severe anemia is most likely to occur in very young, old, small, or immunocompromised pets although it can occur in any pet.  Anemia can become so severe that pets may require blood transfusions, along with intensive supportive care.

Other associated problems include flea allergy dermatitis, which can cause intense itching and discomfort and often leads to secondary bacterial infections.  Signs include hair loss, irritated skin, scabs, and hot spots.

Pets can also develop infestation with tapeworms, which are rice-like segments that result when the pet ingests fleas carrying the tapeworm larva.  Tapeworms are usually first recognized from the passing of segments of tapeworms in the stool. However, other symptoms may include hunger, dizziness, fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, and vomiting.  

Fleas can also act as a vector for disease.  Fleas transmit not only a variety of viral and bacterial diseases as well as blood-born parasites, including (but not limited to) Bubonic plague, Bartonella, and Typhus, any of which can result in serious disease or death in both humans and other animals.  Secondary to bouts of anemia, in addition to the diseases noted, may include long-term kidney damage.

If you find traces of flea infestation or any of the above symptoms, be sure to contact your veterinarian for advice on ways to best manage the problem.

Annual Wellness Recommendations

Our current recommendations include having your pet on heartworm prevention year- round with annual heartworm testing, flea control year-round, and having a stool sample checked once to twice a year, or more often if indicated, for intestinal worms and parasites.

Please refer to our Pet Care Library for more information on fleas, heartworms, and parasites, such as the flea life cycle, heartworm disease, and how pets (and people!) get worms.


Flea, Heartworm, and Pet Parasites. Morena Pet Hospital.

Fleas. ASPCA. 2013.