Fleas and ticks sadly are a part of life for most dogs during warm weather months. Fleas are tiny wingless insects with an extremely hard outer shell that makes them difficult to kill, and, being exceptionally prolific, they can multiply to thousands in a short time. The tireless flea can jump 10,000 times without stopping; its flat body allows it to move easily through fur, and its powerful legs come with “rakes”, which help it hang on to the hair of its host. During the winter months, fleas are usually dormant, residing in well-protected hideaways that resist cold weather, but once things start looking sunnier, they emerge from their resting places, eagerly looking for any warm-blooded creature that happens by. Once fleas finds a tasty dog, they have a two-part mission—to suck blood and lay eggs. The dog enables them to survive and reproduce.

Mark Twain is credited with saying that “it’s a good thing for a dog to have a flea or two—it keeps his mind off being a dog.” The fact is that If you find a flea( or two) on your dog, you can be sure that there are many more, and fleas make any dog’s life miserable and can quickly cause a long lasting infestation in your home, creating a nightmare for both two legs and four legs.

What purpose do they have? You can’t swat them like a fly; you can’t squish them like a cockroach…they just bite and jump away, so why do they exist? What purpose do they have? As Sarah Kane asks, “Was there ever a dog that praised his fleas?” Obviously the answer is NO, and there has never been a human who praised fleas either. VCA Animal Hospital estimates that a dog with 25 fleas gets bitten 600 times a day, causing major discomfort, but fleas also cause skin allergies and anemia and potentially transmit tapeworms.

The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that flea-related diseases account for more than a third of the total cases they treat in small companion animals, and urge responsible caregivers to use flea (and tick) preventatives BEFORE they have a problem. For some reason, many caregivers seem to react to fleas AFTER the fact. They tend to treat pets when they see fleas, and then stop if they no longer see fleas, which results in a frustrating ongoing cycle of re-infestation. Flea larvae burrow into cool, dark places like carpeting and crevices along walls where they feed on adult flea feces and other organic debris, and since flea pupa can remain dormant for more than a year, prevention is definitely better than cure.

An array of commercial products is available to rid your dog of fleas, or prevent them from taking up residence in the first place, but consult your vet about easy-to- use preventative treatments and remedies. Millions of people purchase over-the-counter products believing they couldn’t be sold unless they were proven to be safe. Not so: they are often in-effective, and sometimes toxic. Talk to your veterinarian about a safe, effective plan of attack, and once the choice is made, be consistent in its application. If you forget a scheduled treatment, your dog is at risk. Keep a reminder system on your refrigerator. Or phone. Implementation of some relatively easy strategies can protect everyone in your household, both human and animal, from these nasty parasites.

“The flea, though he may kill none, he does all the harm he can.” John Donne