I Don’t Have Fleas!

D. E. Larsen, DVM

The clouds were gathering in the sky, and everyone was hopeful that fall would finally be here. It had been a long summer. 

We were winding down for the day, and Sandy and I planned to take the kids to a movie. We had just switched the phone at the clinic over to the answering service when Sally came through the door with her Rottweiler pup.

“Doctor Larsen, I hope you have time to look at Brutus,” Sally said. “He is chewing a hole in his rump, and I have no idea what’s going on with him, but it looks bad.”

I looked over the counter at Brutus, a young Rottweiler. “Looks like fleas, Sally,” I said. “Do you want to try a shampoo and see if that works?”

“Doctor, this can’t be fleas. Brutus is never around other dogs,” Sally said. “And I don’t have fleas in the house. The other dogs look fine, and none of us ever have a flea bite. Besides, all the dogs have flea collars.”

“Okay, I will take a few minutes and look Brutus over, but we have plans this evening,” I said. “This might be a short visit.”

We took Brutus into an exam room, and I lifted him onto the table. He had an obvious sore on his tail-head where he had been chewing on himself. I parted the hair, and the fleas scattered.

I pulled Brutus close to me and held him while I pulled his legs off the table and laid him on his side. Then rolling him on his back, Brutus looked at me with his head held off the table. He wasn’t sure he liked what was going on.

“Now, Sally, watch his belly close,” I said as I scratched Brutus so he would relax and spread his hind legs.

Many fleas scattered, seeking cover in longer hair.

“Oh, my God, where did all of those come from?” Sally exclaimed.

“Sally, it is late August in the Willamette Valley,” I said. “Fleas are everywhere, and you can’t avoid them.”

“But he has a flea collar,” Sally said.

“Yes, that is better than nothing, but not much better,” I said. “Those flea collars do a good job controlling fleas around the head and neck. On a dog like Brutus, the little cloud of protection is about three feet behind him most of the time. I doubt if he spends a lot of quiet time.”

“The box says they work,” Sally said. “It said they would give total flea protection for six months.”

“Yes, I know what the box says,” I said. “But the box is talking about Denver. That is probably where they did all the testing. They don’t understand what fleas are in Denver. They don’t have fleas there. When I was in vet school at Colorado State, in four years, I never saw a dog that looked like Brutus. I never saw a case of flea allergy dermatitis.”

“That’s terrible. How do they get away with that kind of marketing?” Sally asked.

“I am sure they have the paperwork to back up their statements on the box,” I said. “It is just that things are different here.”

“Can we take care of his problem?” Sally asked.

“Sure, but it takes a lot of work to get fleas under control this time of the year,” I said. “We are told that there are products on the horizon that will work better, but I will believe it when I see it.”

“Why don’t I have any flea bites?” Sally asked.

“Fleas only like special people,” I said. “When we have fleas in our house, only me and one daughter will have flea bites. Nobody else will know there is a problem. If you watch when you drive around town, you will see a few dogs with little or no hair on their back half. Those dogs all have flea allergies. The other dogs probably have fleas also but are not bothered.”

“What are we going to do to help poor Brutus?” Sally asked.

“For this sore, we will give him some prednisone for a few days, along with a course of antibiotics,” I said. “For the fleas, I will send you home with a good shampoo, followed by some flea spray. Then, if you really want to get things under control, you need to use a flea bomb in the house and a yard spray for the outside. And then, hope for an early winter.” 

“I  really don’t want to do the flea bomb thing,” Sally said. “I had a friend that did all of that a couple of years ago. It seemed to take care of her problem, but it was a real hassle.”

“Some of these shampoos do a pretty good job at giving a week of protection,” I said. “It might work to just plan on giving Brutus a bath every Saturday morning for a while. We can always get more aggressive later if it doesn’t work.”

“Yes, that sounds good to me,” Sally said. “Just fix me up with the medication and the shampoo, and you can still make your plans for the evening.”

Sally and Brutus when out the door with a large bottle of shampoo, flea spray, and medication. 

As soon as Sally left, Sandy locked the front door.

“I bet she will be back next week or maybe in two weeks,” I said. “Giving Brutus a bath will probably be more of a chore than she thinks.

“Let’s get out of here before someone else catches us,” Sandy said. “If we don’t get to this Star Wars movie early, we won’t get a seat.”

Photo by Rachel Leibelt.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

3 thoughts on “I Don’t Have Fleas!

  1. When I got Merlin he had fleas, too. And yes, Revolution (here sold as StrongHold) does the trick: Fleas and earmites stand no chance. Prescription only, Selamectin treats also heartworms, sarcoptic mange, and certain types of ticks in dogs. It prevents heartworms, fleas, earmites, hookworms, and roundworms in cats. Not approved for humans. Main rivals are ivermectin or milbermycin oxime for heartworms and the stuff in Frontline and others against fleas. Worked a treat for Merlin and Kessy stayed fleafree. I was so happy to have Revolution for my cats. So yeah, some progress was made, though this was not developed before 2000.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All the new flea control products changed the game. In the 1970s and 1980s, flea control in western Oregon was impossible except for the most diligent pet owner. I had clients who would put flea collars around the waist of their children at night, and I had one client from New Zealand, who told of wearing flea collars around their ankles in New Zealand (sounds like another story).

      Liked by 1 person

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