Working in the southeastern United States, I have heard many statements from pet owners regarding fleas and flea control. Unfortunately, some of these statements are based around an incorrect understanding of the cat flea.
As veterinarians, it is important to recognize some of the common misperceptions that pet parents have about fleas, as these myths make our job of educating a bit more challenging. To better understand why pet owners are confused about fleas and flea control, let’s take a deeper dive into three common misperceptions to help you better understand and communicate with your clients.
1. My pet didn’t have fleas until they arrived in your waiting room.
This common statement represents what I like to refer to as the “blame game.” Who is to blame for the fleas on this pet? Most clients think flea infestations come from fleas jumping off one pet onto another.
It’s actually rare for the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis) to jump off a pet. Once adult cat fleas begin mating, they prefer to stay on the host. That’s where all the action happens!
Fleas are considered permanent ectoparasites. Once they find a host and start reproducing, cat fleas stay on the host unless they’re removed by grooming or treated with insecticides.1 Therefore, the chances are slim your waiting room caused a pet to get fleas.
2. My pet cannot have fleas, because…
The “because” can be anything and everything, from “I haven’t seen fleas,” to “My pet lives indoors.” How many times have you heard this? This falls under the category of “flea-nial”— when an owner is in denial that their pet could ever get fleas. A client in flea-nial is one of the hardest to educate. Before they are even willing to be educated, you first must uncover the source of the fleas by becoming a detective.
Is their pet truly 100% indoors? Are there other animals, including visitors, that could be introducing fleas?
It becomes more complicated when you suspect fleas, but the pet is such a great groomer that even you don’t see them. This is especially true with cats. One study showed that cats who groomed themselves removed about 41% of the adult fleas after 2-3 weeks, compared to cats with Elizabethan collars.2
Finding the fleas and/or the flea excrement and showing the client may be helpful when trying to convince them that their pet has fleas. Sometimes, in cats that groom themselves excessively, you may be unable to see fleas. Empirically treating for fleas with several on-time monthly doses or utilizing a product, such as BRAVECTO® PLUS (fluralaner and moxidectin topical solution) for Cats, that last throughout the flea life cycle may allow you to diagnose fleas.3,4 As excessive grooming subsides with treatment, it will become clear to the owner that fleas were to blame.
3. I don’t need flea control because it is too cold for fleas.
While I rarely hear this misperception in Florida, my colleagues in colder areas of the country say they hear clients say this often. I would categorize this misperception as wishful thinking.
According to the experts, all life stages of the cat flea will die if the temperatures drop below 37.4°F for several days.1 Although this is true, adult fleas can continue to survive on untreated dogs and cats or on wildlife during the winter months. The immature stages can also survive in microhabitats in the home during the cold months.1 Since adult fleas can overwinter on their host and immature stages can survive in the home, regardless of the season, pets can get fleas.1 In fact, the experts at Companion Animal Parasite Council recommend that dogs receive year-round flea protection.5
Educating your clients about fleas and flea control is essential, but time can be the limiting factor. Most of the confusion about fleas can be handled by your staff knowing some of the important facts on the flea life cycle. Empowering veterinary nurses to be the primary parasite educators while setting realistic flea control expectations can streamline the education process and increase client satisfaction.
In addition, remember that limiting parasite products can do more than assist with inventory control. It helps strengthen your medical recommendations and makes it easier for your staff members to be the experts on the products you carry. What flea misperceptions are you hearing in your practice? Try some of these tips to quickly resolve your client’s flea-nial, the flea blame game, and flea wishful thinking.
IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION:
The most commonly reported adverse reactions include vomiting, hair loss, itching, diarrhea, lethargy, dry skin, elevated ALT, and hypersalivation. BRAVECTO PLUS has not been shown to be effective for 2 months in kittens less than 6 months of age. For topical use only. Avoid oral ingestion. The safety of BRAVECTO PLUS has not been established in breeding, pregnant and lactating cats. Fluralaner is a member of the isoxazoline class. This class has been associated with neurologic adverse reactions including tremors, ataxia, and seizures. Neurologic adverse reactions have been reported in cats receiving isoxazoline class drugs, even in cats without a history of neurologic disorders. Use with caution in cats with a history of neurologic disorders. Use with caution in cats that are heartworm positive. The effectiveness of BRAVECTO PLUS to prevent heartworm disease after bathing or water immersion has not been evaluated. See full prescribing information.
- Dryden MW. Merck Veterinary Manual. Fleas in dogs and cats. Accessed May 3, 2022. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/integumentary-system/fleas-and-flea-allergy-dermatitis/fleas-in-dogs-and-cats
- Wang C, Lee C-Y. The biology and ecology of cat fleas and advancements in their pest management: a review. Insects. 2017;8(4):118. doi: 10.3390/insects8040118
- Müller GC, Dryden MW, Revay RR, et al. Understanding attraction stimuli of the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis, in non-chemical control methods. Med.Vet. Entomol. 2011;25:413-420.
- Blagburn BL, Dryden MW. Biology, treatment, and control of flea and tick infestations. Vet Clin Small Anim. 2009;39:1173-1200.
- Fleas. Companion Animal Parasite Council Website. Published September 19, 2017. Accessed May 4, 2022. https://capcvet.org/guidelines/fleas/