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Warm, wet summer means more fleas on pets

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
September 20, 2010
— It was another rainy summer in Rock County. So, what’s new?

Fleas, as it turns out.


While rain totals have skewed heavy in the last several years in Janesville, this summer was different. It was rainy—and unusually hot.


Michael Hotchkiss, a veterinarian at Janesville Veterinary Clinic, said the muggy conditions this summer paved the way for an abundance of fleas.


“They really like hot, humid weather, and that pretty much chalks up all summer,” Hotchkiss said.


According to Gazette weather records, rainfall totals in June, July and August were at 16.73 inches, making this year the eighth-wettest summer since 1948. In July alone, rainfall totaled 7.4 inches. That’s more than 3 inches above normal.


And in July and August, daytime highs hovered in the mid 80s, two degrees above normal.


Those blood-sucking fleas have responded.


Stephanie Wittig, assistant manager at Mounds Pet Food Warehouse in Janesville, said people start stocking up on anti-flea products in early summer, once it gets warm and fleas hatch out, becoming active.


“Every summer, people always say, ‘It’s worse this year than last year,’” Wittig said.


This year, she believes it.


Not only has Mounds sold more flea and tick products than usual, Wittig said sales this summer of tapeworm medication for pets have spiked.


“When you’re selling more tapeworm medication, that can be an indication that there is a greater number of fleas,” Wittig said.


Tapeworms are a common intestinal parasite in animals and are carried by fleas. Pets can get the worms by ingesting infected fleas or flea larvae.


Hotchkiss said he’s seen a spike in “oddball flea cases,” such as indoor cats suddenly becoming flea-infested.


He said that’s likely a result of an increased number of fleas hitching a ride in on people’s shoes and clothing while they’re outside or in other, flea-infested homes.


It’s a numbers game, and the more fleas you bring in from outside, the better chance your house pet has of getting infested, he said.


Ken Williams, a veterinarian at Blackhawk Veterinary Hospital, said area veterinarians will learn for sure in coming weeks whether the summer’s heat and humidity brought a groundswell of fleas.


That’s because people often stop applying flea preventative treatments to pets too early in the year, before fleas go dormant.


“When you’ve got an itchy pet in November, you aren’t really thinking about it being a flea problem. But think again,” Williams said.


To know if your pet is infested with fleas, Williams said, look for the telltale sign: itchy, reddened skin near the base of its tail.


According to the Humane Society, to control fleas on your pets you should frequently mow areas of the lawn where your dog spends time, wash pet bedding weekly, and wash your pet with a pesticide-free pet shampoo.


The group also recommends keeping cats indoors and using monthly flea treatments on your pets.



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