Many veterinarians and technicians have told me that today's veterinarian-recommended flea control products may not be controlling some flea infestations as well as in the past. Practitioners have asked whether resistance could be a cause. Although resistance is theoretically possible, no data have substantiated resistance in cat fleas as a cause of modern product failures. It is more likely that product failures result from factors other than resistance, such as ecological fluctuations and natural disasters, client compliance issues, lack of client education, lack of understanding of product performance attributes, naturally occurring differences in flea susceptibility, and changing perceptions because of product introductions.
Whatever the cause, flea control problems are occurring, and veterinarians must provide their patients with relief from flea infestations. In this article, I present information concerning the client education and compliance factors often responsible for persistent flea infestations and suggest ways to help you identify these factors and eradicate flea control problems.
OBTAIN A COMPLETE HISTORY AND CONDUCT A THOROUGH EXAMINATION
Flea control starts with a thorough history (Table 1) and a physical examination to look for fleas, flea feces, tapeworm segments, and evidence of pruritus or dermatitis. Your findings will assist you in determining the severity of the infestation, allow assessment of clinical disease associated with the flea infestation, and assist you in designing an overall control program.
Table 1: Getting a Good History: Flea Control Questions to Ask
SET REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
Few pet owners thoroughly understand how flea products work. They may have false perceptions about the speed of kill, residual activity, and repellency as well as how flea infestations are controlled. As a result, clients may come to us, sometimes quite unhappy, saying that a certain product we sold or recommended is not working. Given a lack of knowledge of flea biology and of how flea products work, our clients may have product performance expectations that cannot be met.
So the first step in battling fleas may simply be setting proper client expectations. Select the best flea product to meet a client's and pet's needs; advise pet owners about additional control measures, if needed; explain and demonstrate correct product administration; and, most critical, tell clients what to expect once a pet leaves your practice and goes back to its flea-infested home.
UNDERSTAND AND COMMUNICATE THREE GOALS
It is important to understand the goals of a flea control program.1
• Relieve the pet's discomfort by killing fleas on the pet, which are biting and feeding.
• Eliminate the infestation on the premises since somewhere in the home or shaded areas of the yard flea eggs, larvae, and pupae are continuing to develop into adult fleas that reinfest pets. This aspect of flea control is likely the most difficult.
• Prevent future flea infestations.
Goal # 1 Get rid of existing fleas on the pet
To achieve the first goal of flea control, proper administration of a flea product is essential for the rapid and prolonged residual ability to kill fleas. Explain and demonstrate the correct administration technique to pet owners, and remember that it varies by product. Also inform owners that the entire dose needs to be given to the pet and that veterinarian-recommended products will kill all fleas on the pet, but it may take four hours, or even as long as 36 hours, before all the existing fleas are dead.