Dr. Evelyn Vega inspects four-year-old Staffordshire Terrier, Winston for fleas at Happy Pets Veterinary Center in Valencia. Dan Watson/The Signal

Flea watch 2019: Protect your pets

Fleas aren’t super common in the Santa Clarita Valley, but due to recent record rainfall, that could all change in 2019.

“Usually I see maybe three pets a year that come in with fleas, but since we’ve been getting more rain here, I’ve seen more and more come in with fleas during the summer,” said Evelyn Vega, veterinarian and owner of Happy Pets Veterinary Clinic in Valencia.

Dr. Evelyn Vega inspects four-year-old Staffordshire Terrier, Winston for fleas at Happy Pets Veterinary Center in Valencia. Dan Watson/The Signal

That’s because increased rain creates more vegetation, which means more plants to protect flea larvae from direct sunlight, allowing them to mature from pupae to adult fleas.

Since most of her cat clients are kept indoors, it’s dogs who typically get fleas, at a ratio of 9-to-1.  

As fleas are prolific, with females able to produce 40 to 50 flea eggs per day — a couple of fleas can quickly become a problem both on your pet and around the home.

Quite commonly found on wildlife, fleas feast on their hosts’ blood for nutrition. A few fleas may cause discomfort and itching for your pet, while more can create increased health risks, such as allergies and anemia.

Dr. Evelyn Vega uses a flea comb on four-year-old Staffordshire Terrier, Winston for fleas at Happy Pets Veterinary Center in Valencia. Dan Watson/The Signal

“Some pets are allergic to flea saliva, which causes them to create hot spots as they chew themselves,” Vega said. “Flea allergy dermatitis is a condition where pets chew around their tail along the sacrum, so they tend to be bald in this area with scabs and redness from the chewing.”

Antibiotics are needed for the skin infection created by flea allergy dermatitis.

More serious conditions such as tapeworms can also be caused by fleas. This is caused when a pet eats an infected flea. Haemobartonellosis can be transmitted by fleas, affecting red blood cells, which can lead to anemia and in severe cases, death.

Flea disease risks aren’t limited to pets. Humans can become exposed to bubonic plague, cat scratch fever, and typhus as a result of flea infestation.

So, what can you do to protect your pets and your home? There are number of products to keep your world as flea-free as possible:

  • Topical products that can be applied or oral pills that can be given monthly.  
  • Flea collars that can last up to 8 months.  
  • Flea shampoos, which help decrease the flea burden on the pet once on a regular bathing schedule.

If you’re worried about negative effects from flea products, Vega has re-assuring news.

“The old days of harsh flea dips are long gone,” she said.

Today’s flea protection includes shampoos that contain tea tree oil and other products made with essential oils. Pet owners just have to be extra careful with the latter, as some essential oils can be toxic if overused, especially to cats.

Dr. Evelyn Vega administers a Revolution, once-a-month flea medication to four-year-old Staffordshire Terrier, Winston at Happy Pets Veterinary Center in Valencia. Dan Watson/The Signal

For those who are suffering with a current flea infestation, there is also help and hope.

At Happy Pets, Vega shows clients with this problem a triangle, with the top 10 percent representing fleas on your pets and the rest representing fleas in the environment.

“In order to manage fleas, the environment needs to be treated. I recommend clients contact a pest control company to treat the outside environment,” Vega said. “For indoors, you’ll want to wash your pet’s bedding and thoroughly vacuum the flooring and any furniture your pet likes to be on.”

She also has a pro tip: Add a new flea collar to your vacuum bag to kill the fleas there.

A variety of flea medications available at Happy Pets Veterinary Center in Valencia. Dan Watson/The Signal

“There are so many flea and tick products available on the market today, that no pets should have a flea problem,” Vega said.

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