Prevention is easier than battling fleas

According to Wikipedia, adult fleas are about 1/8-inch long and are able to leap a distance of some 50 times their body length to attach to an animal. (Adobe stock)
Manci Cosmin-Ovidiu/Cosmin Manci -

Fleas are active in the fall, especially when temperatures are warm as was the case earlier this month. These small, parasitic, blood-sucking insects are looking for a host animal where they can spend the winter – and that just might be your dog or cat.

Area veterinarians offer preventatives which work through chemicals that kill biting fleas as well as their larvae and eggs. An animal with fleas needs to be on these products for a minimum of four months to stop the cycle of fleas reproducing.

Medications include topical applications, such as Frontline, and chewables, like Nexguard and Bravecto. Most advise having pets on the preventatives all year.

The consensus among veterinarians is that natural products are a waste of money because they don’t work.

If a companion animal has a flea infestation, vacuuming floors and washing pet bedding every day in hot water, then drying on a high heat is recommended. There are also chemical sprays that can be used on carpets, pet bedding and the yard.


“Prevention is key with fleas since approximately 90 percent of fleas live in the environment, and once a flea infestation occurs, you have to treat all animals in the house as well as the environment,” Dr. Amanda Bergin of Town and Country Animal Clinic said.

“You have to treat the animal for at least three months, often longer, to get rid of them,” Dr. Alan Olander of Country Cat Clinic in Nevis said. “Some of the products have a growth regulator in them, usually methoprene, that inhibits flea egg and larval growth in the environment. It basically keeps fleas from reproducing. Most of the fleas are in the egg, larval, or pupal stages in the environment which you don't see. The fleas you see are just the tip of the iceberg. So, the best thing is to keep at it with one of the products.”

Even indoor pets can get fleas

Cecelia Michaels and her husband, Randy, own Lickin’ Good Whole Pet Foods in Park Rapids. Cecelia said their cat, Bear, almost died from a flea infestation when they were living in an apartment in a city in California even though he never went outside.

“Fleas can come in on your pants or your shoes,” she said. “They just latch on. They can get into the yard on rabbits or mice. The carpet in our apartment in California was infested with fleas. It’s the larvae that are hanging on to everything that re-hatch. Finally, we moved to Minnesota. It took four days, and within that time of being away from the fleas, Bear was healing. His fur was coming back in. If he had stayed there, we would have had to put him down. He was that bad off.”

The couple moved to the Park Rapids area five years ago. “I was surprised to find out there were fleas here,” she said. “No one really talked about it. It seems like it’s gotten worse every year since I’ve been here. They are usually the worst in September going into October.”

Michaels said her dogs and cats go outside in the wooded area near their home.


She uses a natural spray, called Wondercide, which has cedar and other essential oils.

“They were on Shark Tank and showed it kills fleas,” she said.

For her dog, she also uses a Seresto collar to provide protection against both fleas and ticks. “Some people don’t want to use chemicals, but up here the ticks and fleas are so bad that I knew I was going to have to do something different because I would have to spray her every day with Wondercide and it just was too hard,” she said. “Out in the woods, I needed something stronger.”

Advice from groomers

Stephanie Keranan works at Dogs Paw in Park Rapids. “We see fleas more often in the winter because people don’t think they need to do the treatments any more,” she said. “But fleas are still trying to find somewhere warm. They’re climbing on squirrels and rabbits, and if your dog goes near those animals, they’re probably going to pick up those fleas. Mice can have fleas, too, so if your cat catches a mouse the fleas could go onto them. It might not even be direct contact. A dog walking by an infested rabbit hole might have fleas jump on them.”

A spot treatment, called Fiproguard, that goes between the dog’s shoulder blades is their best selling product for fleas and ticks. “It’s over the counter and very similar to Frontline,” she said. “It works just as well but is a bit more cost effective. Our staff also like Wondercide Flea and Tick natural spray which protects from flies and mosquitoes as well.”

Keranen said this type of product should be purchased locally rather on Amazon. “If you buy stuff online, it isn’t necessarily regulated to make sure you’re getting the right product,” she said. “I’ve had people buy preventatives online and their dogs end up infested with fleas and ticks because the package looks the same but isn’t using the same ingredients. You don’t know for sure what you’re getting. I recommend you buy from a local store with a distributor from a pet company or from their veterinarian.”

Some clients prefer to use essential oils rather for prevention rather than chemicals. “Lemongrass and peppermint oils and cedarwood are pretty effective repellents,” she said. “There are also natural flea and tick collars with geraniol and peppermint. We’ve had good reporting that they work but if your dog is in the water a lot they won’t last as long.”

Georgia Peterson is the owner of K9’s Grooming and Daycamp in Park Rapids. She said if a dog has fleas owners should let their groomer know ahead of time so they can take proper precautions.


“We need to make sure there is no contact with other dogs until they are given a flea bath,” she said. “The best thing the owner can do after the bath is get their dog into a veterinarian and on a preventative medicine and do a bomb or carpet powder to get the fleas out of the house if there is an infestation.”

Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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