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Why Your Dog or Cat May Have Fleas, Even if You Never See Them

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Here is a typical story.

You go to your vet because your dog is itchy and maybe they look like this little guy:

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Or your cat looks something like this:

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You go in and the vet asks if you’ve ever seen any fleas in your house, or if you’re currently on flea medications and you say “No.”

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The vet or technician goes through the hair with a flea comb, don’t find any evidence of fleas, but then the vet still says with confidence,  “I recommend treating for fleas”

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…but, why would you do this?  Your animal has NEVER had fleas and flea medications are expensive.  Is this one of those things you heard about on 20/20 where the vet is trying to upsell you?

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Do you need to start looking for a new vet?

I would say, very most likely not.  Just because your animal has ZERO fleas and no flea dirt on exam, if you live in an area where there are fleas, this needs to be ruled out as the culprit.

If you are not convinced your veterinarian is telling the truth, get a second opinion and talk to a veterinary dermatologist.  The FIRST thing they will always have you do is make sure the dog or cat is on flea control.

“Where is the logic in this?” One might think.  “Aren’t there other things that make your dog itchy?”

Of course there are, but there are a lot of things that make people itchy too, but just like if you saw this on someone’s skin and it was summer in a place with a lot of mosquitos.

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Even if that person swears they’ve never seen a mosquito, you’d probably tell them they need to use bug repellent before they quarantine themselves for some strange disease.

Unfortunately, it looks different most of the time and can look anything from simply like an itchy pet like this:

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To something much more severe and obvious:

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and everything in between.

The bottom line is, if your dog is itching and you are not already on flea medications, you should consider it seriously before you get a reaction that looks like the more severe cases and it needs to go to a vet.  A vet visit may be unavoidable,  but don’t be surprised if flea medications end up being the remedy.  Even if you’ve never seen a flea on your pet.

It’s also important to note that your pet may also need some antibiotics to treat an opportunistic bacterial infection and something to settle down the inflammation caused by the reaction to the fleas, as is likely the case for the more severe cases

…and for a bonus round:

“What if your cat lives on the 4th floor of a condo and NEVER goes outside?” you might ask.

This doesn’t exclude you unfortunately.   Flea eggs can stay alive in the carpet for up to a year and just lay dormant until an animal or person walks along and causes vibration, increased carbon dioxide, or heat.   All of which can cause the dormant eggs to hatch and infect your pet:

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(I’ve always found this fact a bit unsettling)

One flea mother can also lay over 5000 flea eggs over there lifetime.  So if one flea gets into your carpet, hallway, and gets transported by another animal or even comes in on your clothes if you were hanging out with another animal that had fleas, it can easily have the window of opportunity to cause an infestation.

There was a cat that had never been outside, was on flea medications for several months before the owner stopped thinking that there was no reason to continue since the flea medications were pointless.  Several months later, tape worms were discovered in the digestive tract during an exploratory abdominal surgery for a string foreign body that was complicated by the tapeworms.  Luckily the cat survived and was given the proper treatments, and is now consistently on flea medications.

So again, please consider your pet for fleas next time it is itchy.  Fleas are literally nasty blood sucking disease spreading parasites that have no business on your pets business.   Lucky for us

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Science has made it so we no longer have to suffer from these little nasties and you should definitely take advantage of it…and next time, please, don’t be so hard on the people trying to help your poor itchy pet by giving you the most likely explanation.  They really are just trying to keep your fuzzy friend happy and help them relieve that itch that won’t go away.

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