Hi, Dr. Boyker here. I am going to admit something to you all. Last night, I did not get ANY sleep because one of my fur-babies, my golden retriever “Sandy”, was scratching ALL night long! I was so upset at her and so grumpy…until I had my morning coffee. I don’t know if you’ve been through this, but I would very much like this particular experience to never happen again; so I thought I’d make my next few blogs (a new series!) all about skin and itchiness.
Itching, or what we veterinarians call pruritus, is very commonly associated with a few conditions. First of all, ectoparasites. The most common cause of itching in the dog (and you may start feeling itchy as you read this) is FLEAS! Yes, those blood sucking little monsters are incredibly common in Southern California. But it’s winter right? Fleas are not around in the winter. WRONG! I don’t know if you looked outside today, but outside my window it’s a beautiful, sunny day. It is not too cold for the fleas; they are out and about and wanting to feed on our lovely cat and dog family members.
You might be thinking: I’ve looked and looked and my dog doesn’t have fleas. Or my cat is indoor only, there is no way she could pick up fleas. Well, I can’t even begin to count the numerous times I’ve heard this, and lo and behold, during the exam, we find fleas.
First of all, fleas are HARD to find. They are sneaky little guys who jump and move through your pet’s hair faster than you can imagine. They are physically designed to weave through the fur and be unfindable. They also set up house all over your home. Fleas can lay eggs deep down into the crevices of your home, lay dormant for MONTHS, and then hatch and be all over you, and your fur and non-fur family. Some people think because YOU don’t have flea bites, your pet doesn’t have fleas; well you are equivalent of diet food to a flea as they much prefer our cats and dogs. They love to accumulate in the areas where our pets rest and eat…at my house that even includes my bed. Ugh! And even if you have a house made of hardwood floors, handmade custom marble imported directly from Italy, or even if you live in something equivalent to Superman’s fortress of solitude, fleas can and will find their way there if you do not stop them. In fact, the same amount of fleas can live on hardwood floors as in carpeting. And what do they do when they get in? After feeding on your pet, the bites cause them to scratch scratch scratch all night long, and keep you awake at 2am.
And to address the indoor only thought….are YOU indoor only? Do you remain isolated inside a bubble house, never opening windows or doors, never coming or going with dirt on your shoes? Fleas commonly hang out on our local wildlife (squirrels, raccoons, and even coyotes in some areas) and they love to hang out in our backyards at night. You can carry them inside or even your other pets can carry them inside.
So, instead of wondering if you should start flea medications when we find fleas, you should. We also can find flea dirt (digested blood that fleas poop out); this is a sign we need to start monthly flea medication. Whether you prefer something topical or oral, your family veterinarian can help decide which would be the best for your lifestyle and your pet. Certain flea medications can also help control intestinal parasites, heartworms, and ticks. This monthly flea preventative helps prevent so many problems including the worst case scenario of having to move out, bomb the house, and vacuum vacuum vacuum until you cannot vacuum anymore. Monthly flea prevention is as essential to your pet’s health as their intestinal parasite checks (intestinal worms), vaccines, correct food and annual exam. We are not trying in any way to be insulting when we find fleas; we are only trying to keep these blood sucking little parasites away from your lovable fur-babies.