Bugging out: Flea infestations said worse than ever
Remember the old adage, "If you lie down with dogs, you'll get up with fleas"? Well, this year Charlottesville pet owners are learning to take that literally. According to several veterinarians, groomers, and dog and cat owners, the nasty little bugs that nest in animals' fur, drink their blood, and turn happy homes into hives of horror have been worse this year than at any time in recent memory.
"I never saw anything like this," says Jim Stuart, whose indoor/outdoor cat brought fleas into the house where they multiplied and spread into every room. Stuart (no relation to this reporter) is a lifelong pet owner who says that in the past he's been able to kill fleas quickly with over-the-counter treatments. Not this time.
"We set off bombs, used every flea thing known to man, and they kept coming back," he says.
At Old Dominion Animal Hospital, the phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from flea-bitten pet owners desperate for help.
"People are saying, 'What do I do?'" says Old Dominion receptionist Lisa Hulse.
"It's been terrible this year," exclaims Gleanna Tompkins at Pampered Pets (where this reporter took her own dog for one of seven flea treatments).
Making matters worse is that the standard flea treatments– Frontline and flea baths– don't seem to be working to halt the painful, itchy circus.
"They seem to have mutated," Stuart notes, describing fleas crawling all over his cat– even atop her new flea collar.
Is it possible that a new superbreed of fleas has sprung up? Veterinarian Mike Fietz at Georgetown Veterinary Hospital says yes.
"I'm hearing occasional reports that the flea products aren't working," he says. Fleas developing resistance is "not out of the question," Fietz says, but he won't believe that's the case until he sees research to back up the claim. More likely, he says, is that there are simply more fleas, and their sheer numbers are "overriding" the usual treatments.
The owner of Holistic Pest Solutions, John Ashcraft, likewise doubts fleas have developed resistance.
"There has been no data," he says, "and no researchers have found that to be the case."
Ashcraft also doubts the flea problem is worse than in other years, but he acknowledges there may be pockets throughout the area seeing a flea surge. And he agrees that getting rid of a flea infestation is among the most difficult pest control problems.
The most important thing anyone struggling to rid their home of fleas can do, he says, is to prep the space before treating it. That means picking up all clutter, washing all bedding and fabrics a pet may have slept on, and vacuuming thoroughly before spraying.
For anyone attempting to treat their pets and their home on their own, Old Dominion's Lisa Hulse has advice.
"You have to be very tenacious," she says. "Treat the animals, treat the home. And you need to do it two, three, four months in a row.
"Fleas," she adds, "are not fun."