How to keep fleas off your pet, out of your home

Sam Dennis' 3-year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Hershel spends more time on the couch than in the dog park.

"He's very much of an indoor dog," Dennis says. "He's lazy; he likes to lay around. He wants to be in your lap."

Still, Dennis takes Hershel's flea prevention seriously, because his veterinarian Dr. John Younker of Common Companion Vet Co. in Atlanta's Inman Park neighborhood, says in Georgia, pet owners can't afford not to.

"Just because it's only a matter of time before your dog (or cat) is going to have fleas in Atlanta," Dr. Younker says.

Blame it on the warmer temperatures in the South.

Younker says fleas are a problem even in the winter months.

And, when fleas do move in, they move in.

"When you see the adult fleas, the ones you can see on the dog, that's only 5 percent of actual fleas that you have in your house," Younkers says.  "The remaining 95 percent of the fleas are the eggs, the larvae. They're in your carpet, your couches, any fabric that you have."

To check your pet for fleas, look in the area around the base of your pet's tail. 

"For some reason, fleas like to hang out there," Dr. Younker says.  "You kind of brush hair backward, going all the way up to the scalp. Look for a very tiny bugs about the size of a coffee ground. They will be moving around. And, they'll also make some dirt material.  We call it flea dirt."

If you find fleas, get busy.

"The first thing I would do is bathe them," Younker says.  "Get the fleas off them."

Next, get your pet on a monthly flea preventative.

There are over-the-counter topical oil-based pesticides and prescription oral medications for dogs.

Dr. Younker prefers the pills.

He says they have less room for mistakes.

"Sometimes, 1 in 4 incorrectly apply the medication to their pet’s skin," Younker says. "When you have an oral medication, you stick your hand out, they take it like a treat."

Cats who spend time outdoors should also need be on flea preventative.

Look for a product designed specifically for cats, as not all dog flea products are safe for cats.

The cat anti-flea products are all topical, and Younker says they work.

"Mostly, because cats are such fastidious groomers, they tend to manage themselves a little bit better than the dogs," Younker says.

Don't assume fleas are only a problem for dogs.

"If your cat goes outside, they definitely need to be on flea and tick prevention in Atlanta, because we have so many fleas, they can't keep up."

If you find fleas on your pet or in your home, do some deep cleaning.

Vacuum, wash all of your pet's bedding and vacuum again.

If the infestation is severe, you may need to call an exterminator.