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Is there such a thing as “super fleas”?

Three weeks after treatment with Walmart’s version of Frontline, branded PetArmor, we’re invaded by fleas.  Seriously invaded to the point that it is possible that I’m going to get crazy trying to now flea treat the entire house.  They are everywhere, despite no carpets, despite trying to wash and treat the dogs’ bedding.

Fleas greet us when we come home with a Conga line.

I know they have to be “Super Fleas”, but everyone keeps telling me that becoming a bit delusional.  I say it’s post traumatic stress disorder from coping with the dancing bugs from the Super Flea convention.  The dogs are scratching and chewing, one has chewed holes into herself.  I’m grossed out, and yet the fleas seem to be multiplying faster than I can apply toxic stuff to our tile floors, around furniture, and anywhere else I suspect fleas are hiding.

They are winning.

So…tomorrow, they get flea treated again.  Hopefully, this will buy them some relief as I try to eliminate the flocks of fleas from our mutual abode.  Weeks like this, I miss Arizona, where fleas were seldom seen.  The Gulf Coast seems to have a neon sign out for all of the fleeing hoards of fleas from colder climates to seek their refuge here in our balmy winter weather we’ve had this year.

It’s also meaning that the big guns are going to come out.  We’re going to the feed store to get something with some serious bug killing power, even if it means vacating the house for an entire day before returning and airing it out.  We can’t live like this.  It’s miserable for man and beast.  Fortunately, we also have a weekend of plans coming up, making it easy to be out of the house for that entire day with minimal extra effort.

It still means spring cleaning, essentially.  Sweep, removing anything that can be removed, washing rugs, dog beds, etc., and spraying each and every nook and cranny carefully, as we back our way out.  With closed doors and about eight hours to dry and commit genocide on our invading hoard…we’ll return, open windows, and let it air out for a day or two.

In mild climates with plenty of vegetation and humidity, fleas can quickly become a serious problem, and that’s without your pet ever leaving the comfort and safety of your own yard.  No one ever as a “flea free” zone outdoors–everything from squirrels to birds can leave them behind to hop onto your pet as it passes by.  They are remarkably spry at their hopping too, as well as taking up temporary refuge on everything from cement walkways to blades of grass or tree bark before choosing their next meal.

That means staying on top of the problem, especially with pets allergic to the flea bites.  This is a common allergy, and many pets will quickly chew on themselves until they have open sores.

The days of the “flea and tick dip” are gone.  Dipping your pet into insecticide isn’t nice for them or you, and everyone is thankful that it isn’t a necessary or advisable treatment anymore.  Powders are also not particularly effective, and having a pet walking around and covered in a toxic powder isn’t exactly being environmentally or health friendly for anyone.

Your best bets for flea treatment come from your veterinarian.  Frontline, PetArmor, Advantage, etc. are monthly over-the-counter flea preventatives.  They are directly applied to the pet’s skin, beneath the hair, and absorbed into their bodies.  While some people have concerns about the use of such chemicals in this manner, the potential risks from the chemical exposure, when compared to the obvious risks of flea infestations, are much smaller.  (In addition to their blood sucking habits, they also transmit intestinal parasites.)

Available at your veterinarian, there is a monthly pill that is another option, known as “Comfortis”.  It’s also expensive, available by prescription only, but not much higher than the Frontline treatment, and seems to be more effective than the topical treatments in heavily infested areas.  To get rid of the fleas when you do have an infestation, “Capstar” is also available from your veterinarian, and is a 24 hour pill to kill the fleas currently calling your pet home.  Many veterinarians will recommend administering the Capstar when applying the topical to an infested pet for immediate relief from the fleas.

For non toxic control of fleas, some people like flea traps.  There are a number of variations of the trap, but most use some entrapment method, whether water or sticky papers, along with a light.  The light attracts the fleas, and they then become trapped in the water or on the sticky paper, allowing the owner to dispose of them.

What is YOUR biggest issues with flea control?  Have any answers?

Post a comment and let me know!

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The electronic bark collar-a solution to a problem

The electronic bark collar was never something I anticipated using myself.  I had never owned a dog with a nuisance barking habit before.  Sissy, our feist, is not a young dog, but upon moving into a location where she could SEE things moving (she is losing her sight, so she does not see well)  meant she had to bark her alarm.  Unfortunately, not only does she have a shrill bark, but her alarm period is about 15 minutes.  Between the sights and sounds to cause her alarm and the period of her alarm barking…she barked non stop virtually all day long.

It didn’t stop when we were walking on leash either.  If anything, it was worse.  She was definitely a nuisance barker, and we had to do something fast, as our current location is temporary and no one welcomes a nuisance barker.  We didn’t want to be in a situation where we couldn’t live with our beloved little Sissy.

Uncertain, I found a very cheap anti-bark collar on Ebay, direct from…you guessed it…China or Hong Kong.  I bought it, spending less than $10 including shipping.  I wasn’t anticipating a quality collar, and I got about what I had anticipated receiving.  It’s not reliable and doesn’t go off with each barking session.

But…

It worked.  She doesn’t bark in extended periods of time anymore.  There is a warning tone that she actually pays attention to, unlike our attempts to shut her up.  Maybe the reason she pays attention to that warning tone is because on occasion, it is followed up with a jolt.  We can’t adjust the jolt or make it consistently respond, but it is often enough that we know it’s getting her attention.  Yes, I feel guilty when she yips in pain in response to the jolt, but I also know that she continues to bark even when my hand was holding her mouth closed–she was the most devout barker I had ever seen.  She needed serious correction to get her attention.

The cheap battery that came with the collar lasted about a month, and who knows how much of a charge it had in it.  We bought a replacement battery from Radio Shack that set us back nearly $20–far more than the original and collar had cost, even with shipping.  Replacing the collar and battery was necessary however, as a few days with a nearly dead battery had Sissy nearly to her previous level of barking.  Obviously, the collar is going to be a part of her attire for an extended period of time.

What else has it done?  She’s become a bigger pleasure to take with us, as she doesn’t wear out her welcome with continual barking immediately.  She behaves better, since she’s not focused on producing that steady stream of yaps.  She gets to go with us, rather than having to always stay home because of her incessant barking habit.  Other people may not LOVE her like we do, but she sure is much more likable to them now.

We may make a transition to a standard electronic correction collar, so that we can eventually teach her to respond to our verbal commands to hush, rather than merely responding to that electronic tone.  In addition to the barking, using an electronic correction collar may be more effective at curbing her aggression towards other dogs, a life long problem since she’s got security issues, and feels that other dogs may be going to “steal” our attention and affection.

Do I anticipate ever being able to let Red and Sissy hang out together again?  No, I don’t think there is a collar in the world with enough of a non-fatal zap ability that I’d feel safe letting them together again.  Red is aging and more cranky with age, and Sissy’s attempts to gain the throne as “Empress of the Universe” don’t go over well with her, resulting in progressively more severe response from Red at each attempt.  Since the last event resulted in serious injury to Sissy, who has more determination than intelligence when selecting her opponents, we’ve deemed it necessary to maintain our “separate but equal” policy in our lives.  The two dogs are never allowed to be together, even on leash, without a physical barrier or distance between them.  We’re relieved that the aggression from both of them has become a rare event, which makes for a peaceful life for all of us, as the days when the spats occurred with a crate between them were nerve wracking for all of us.

Consulting with trainers, animal communicators and even the veterinarian didn’t offer solutions.  I was told repeatedly that one of the dogs needed to be re-homed, a solution that wasn’t acceptable.  After five years together, it was like being told to give up one of your children!  Instead, we have opted for this separate but equal policy, putting Red outside for Sissy to have some time loose in the house, even if Sissy vastly prefers to hang out in her crate with its bed and nice safe door.  Red largely ignores Sissy, even turning her head away as she passes by her crate, as a result of frequent challenges in the past that always resulted in Red being “in trouble” while Sissy appeared to be the victim of bullying–until the day Sissy got caught doing her little trick!  Red’s turning of the head is so incredibly melodramatic that it is actually funny, but she is pointedly avoiding looking at Sissy, as though that means that she will not be challenged and therefore get in trouble for aggravating the other dog.

Tackling Sissy’s barking problem has given us greater peace.  We’re happier, she seems less stressed now that she’s no longer spending so much time barking (and being told to PLEASE SHUT UP NOW!)  We enjoy her presence more, which means she gets more attention.  She’s more welcome at group events, where previously she would end up banished to her crate often and early, so that people could carry on a conversation without having to shout over a barking dog.  Other people pay attention to her too, which means she feels more valued and validated.  I’m thrilled, because for a change, I’m not the “bad guy.”  She does not perceive me as punishing her, so there is none of the blame game happening.  That’s great for our relationship too!  Happy families are families that enjoy each other’s company…and we’re a happy family again.

Electronic anti-bark collars aren’t always a solution.  I’ve seen them fail miserably in the past, hence my lack of enthusiasm for them.  I would have thought that this collar’s lack of reliable performance would have made it ineffective, but in reality, it’s almost as though it has made it MORE effective for some reason.  (Don’t ask me to explain the psychological quirks of Sissy–she’s a hard nut to crack!)

We knew the first day that she was paying attention to the collar, although at first she wasn’t sure what on earth that pain was all about.  It took several days before she began associating the warning tone, the pain, and the act of barking at all.  We have to consistently USE the collar too.  In addition, the prongs for the shock delivery must contact the skin or there will be no effect at all.

In tough cases like Sissy, that shock was an important attention getting device, even more so than a deterrent for the behavior.  In traditional methods for “hushing” her, the problem was we couldn’t get her attention long enough for her to respond to a command.  The shock definitely gets her attention!  I anticipate the collar being a long term addition to our routine, as it will likely take up to a year to determine if she’s been broken of the barking habit.  She may require it permanently as an accessory–she IS a feist!

Unfortunately, many dogs such as Sissy end up in dog pounds and rescues around the country for the same reason–nuisance barking.  Not all cases of nuisance barking are caused by neglect or lack of training either.  Some dogs just feel a  need to announce everything they see and hear and smell via a bark (or two or three or a dozen.)  I had tried a lot of the traditional ways to deter her, and the only method that ever even worked to hush her was to simply isolate her so that she could not see anything that worried her.  Part of her barking may be due to her poor vision and approaching blindness–even if I’m just carrying something, I appear to be a “monster” when I walk towards her, causing her to bark in absolute panic until I speak to her.  At the same time, I suspect this barking issue is part of the reason that she was in four homes (that I know of–it might have been more) before I adopted her as an adult dog on death row.  (Sissy has some other issues, like a deep seated resentment of being corrected that she will retaliate for in a very cat-like fashion.)  In our previous home, she couldn’t see anything to alarm her and therefore didn’t bark.  Here, that’s not the case, just as it wasn’t the case when we had her camping, on walks, etc. in the past.  Now, we have come up with a workable approach that I wish I had employed long ago.

Don’t give up on your dog because of barking.  Keep looking for solutions, whether its traditional training, medication, an electronic collar, or whatever…there is something that will work, I’m sure of it!  Do check to make sure that they can hear (deaf dogs sometimes don’t hear themselves very well) and there is no reason for the barking.  Make sure they have enough attention, and aren’t barking just to get that brief moment of “shut up” as more attention than being ignored.  Most dogs only bark outside–by bringing them indoors, you are going to at least stop aggravating your neighbors, an important step in maintaining peace in the  neighborhood.  Sometimes, it’s the neighbors that are causing the barking too–with teasing, other pets, noises, odors, etc.  Years ago, I had one neighbor that turned out to be the reason behind a middle-0f-every-Saturday-night barking frenzy from a labrador I had–he was drunk and serenading the dog, who was going nuts trying to get at him as a potential threat to our home.  The solution?  Every Saturday night, he had to stay indoors and was walked on leash if he insisted on going out.  Peace returned to the neighborhood, and our serenading neighbor had to find a new audience with smaller teeth!

Paying attention on a budget

What are the best ways to ensure your pet’s health?

Pay attention!  Animals are essentially hard-wired to hide health problems, but for the observant pet owner, there are small hints that things may be going wrong.  Changes in behavior, especially in terms of eating habits, can signify serious problems.  Sleeping more can indicate other health problems.

Nutritional problems, as well as allergies/food intolerances show up often in the coat & skin.  Any sudden change is obviously a cue to pay attention.  Weight gains & losses can also be related to nutrition.  One useful tool in monitoring changes is to use photographs.

In this day & age of digital photography, it’s very easy to take many photographs.  Taking a monthly photograph at approximately the same distance & location and comparing them side by side can be a very useful tool.  Store them in a single file in your computer, labeled with the date, and it will be easier to track any changes.

Take note of changes, and to make it easier to let your veterinarian know, write them down and take the list of concerns & observations with you to the vet’s office for the appointment.  Just like when we visit the doctor, it is easy to forget details that you meant to mention (and that may be important clues for the veterinarian) while in the office.  A list makes up for that tendency.

Paying attention helps save money by catching problems early, before they become huge problems.  Often, minor issues such as the kinds related to the foods you are feeding your pet can be remedied before a veterinarian visit is required, but don’t wait too long!  If it is more than merely a food issue, it can escalate before you know it.

Comparing the photos regularly helps you know when that veterinarian visit is necessary, and can even help your veterinarian literally see what you are talking about–a great help in the diagnostic process.  It can quickly show changes in coat condition,weight, stance, and even be used to assess the seriousness of tumors and other growths that appear on our dogs, often minor disfigurements that appear with age.  Face it, our pets can’t talk and are hard wired to hide health problems, both of which make it much more difficult to diagnose problems.

Skipping veterinarian visits is not uncommon when our budgets are strained, it’s hard to justify a doctor visit for your pet when you can’t afford them for yourself either.  Don’t cut corners by avoiding vaccinations and annual exams on your pet!  These vaccinations can save your pet’s life and save you a lot of money compared to battling diseases such as distemper, parvo, etc.  Shop around for these vaccination and exam packages–there can often be a vast difference in prices even between clinics in the same general area.  It’s okay to price shop!

Doing the best we can for our pets is important, even when we are short on money.  Shopping around for vaccination packages is an excellent way to cut a corner without “doing without.”  Paying attention so that our visits to the veterinarian accomplish the most possible is another way to get the most out of our tight dollars, as accurate information can save you both time and money.

For your photographic record, try to position your pet in approximately the same position in the same location and get a profile view.  If there are areas of concern, taking a close up on a regular basis helps compare these particular spots too.  Making a habit of a top view regularly is also a good idea, and can show weight gain/loss dramatically.  Date each photo, and review them each month after you take your new set of photographs, but don’t look at them too frequently!  Examining them often will make it more difficult to truly see the changes over time.

Enjoy your pet!