Hot Spots and Fleas

I wrote this in 1995 about flea control. That was before we had Frontline and Advantage / Advantix, Program and Sentinel. The methods of Insect Growth Regulator and flea-parasitic nematodes are still ones that can be helpful if Frontline, Advantage, or other modern drug methods are not doing the job fully. Check with your vet for the latest.


"Take My Fleas, Please !!!"

by Pam Green (© 1995)

"Hot spots" is the slang name for flea bite allergy dermatitis. A hot spot begins with a flea bite, which provokes an allergic reaction from the dog's skin. The itching caused by the allergic reaction often provokes the dog to bite and scratch at the site, causing damage to the skin. The abraded skin then becomes infected. Long hair and further licking or chewing by the dog are very conducive to further development of infection, causing more pain, etc. The blood exuded probably also attracts more fleas and more flea bites. A vicious circle.

The first key to dealing with the problem is therefore to keep home and dog as flea free as possible. (This is a good idea and much appreciated even by dogs who don't suffer flea allergy.) For a full treatment of flea control, read the excellent booklet "How to Control Fleas, with or without Insecticides" by Ted Kuepper, now in 2nd edition; author-published by TK Enterprises ,4907 Marlin Way, Oxnard, Ca 93035.

(Update : I have no idea if this booklet is still available.)

However for a brief guide to flea control, here is what has worked for me and reported to work for others. I myself prefer to use chemical insecticides as little as possible, and especially to avoid all which are cholinesterase inhibitors. When I must use an insecticide I stick to Pyrethrins and equivalents , which are low in toxicity. So the following emphasizes safty for the dog.

For indoor flea control, first bomb or spray home at start of warm summer season with a bomb or spray product that includes an Insect Growth Regulator (eg "Precor" is the most common in bombs) to prevent immature stages from maturing for 6 to 7 months. This will get you through the rest of the flea season. On bomb day, you must get all animals out of the house while bombing. I prefer to leave the house closed up for somewhat longer than directions call for and to then thoroughly air out the house for several hours, which is longer than directions call for, before returning animals into it. On bomb day, also take all your dog bedding (including your own bedding if dog sleeps with you) to the laundromat. For maximum benefit, you could add some insect growth regulator (sold under various names, eg "Basus", "Torus", containing fenoxycarb) to the rinse cycle, then line dry the bedding in a warm but non-sunny area (sunlight breaks down insect growth regulators, though fenoxycarb is supposed to be more resistant than methoprene). I haven't tried treating the bedding yet, becaue it only just now occured to me. You can also spray dilute insect growth regulator directly on bedding or other flea-friendly areas mid-way through flea season if needed.

For outdoor flea control, you could use fenoxycarb as an insect growth regulator if you don't mind destroying many beneficial insects as well as fleas. There is a better way : flea parasitic nematodes, which live on and kill immature stages of the flea, but are harmless to other insects. Sold under trade name "Bio Halt" or "Bio Flea Halt". These are mixed in water and sprayed on your lawn, yard, kennel runs, etc. and sprayed on with a hose attachment or a tank sprayer. Absolutely safe for people, pets, livestock. In theory the nematodes keep breeding as long as immature fleas are present. Product information says re-apply in 4 weeks. "Flea Busters" service uses Bio Halt for its outside control, if you'd rather pay more to have someone else do it. I haven't used Bio Halt myself, as my yard is small but my dogs walk daily on perimeter of over 100 acres; but I've heard glowing reports of outstanding effectiveness from users who have only their own yard to deal with. Another brand is "Nature Gard for Fleas" which says it works for up to 6 weeks between applications.

For use on the dog himself, I rely mainly on one of the greatest and safest flea repellants on the market, one which wasn't intended to be a flea product but serendipitously discovered by countless dog-lovers : Avon Skin So Soft. Just call your local Avon person and a few dollars buys a summer's supply. Dilute it with water about 6 parts water to 1 part SSS, or 8 to one, then spray it on the dog daily or as needed. (It also repells mosquitos, though I would not rely on it as sole means of heatworm prevention.) For the dog who already has a hot spot or any other itch, I add some oil of citronella (available at health stores), which discourages chewing, and some Aloe Vera gel (at drug store amoung the skin lotions), to promote healing and to soothe the skin. Alternatively or additionally, there is also a new drug "Program" (lufernuron), a pill given to the dog once a month, which is supposed to prevent the eggs of a female flea who has fed from the dog from hatching. I have not used this yet : it's new on the market --- with blockbuster sales --- and I'm inclined to wait to be sure it is as safe as claimed. If I had a dog who was desperately desperately reactive to fleas, I'd be willing to give it a try sooner. All dogs and cats in the home must be on the Program program to make it work. Cost is about $6 / month per large dog.

(Update : Program works well and is safe, as is Sentinel which has the same active ingerdient plus heartworm prevention. I like Frontline and Advantage / Advantix even better, as they kill fleas on the dog, rather than just preventing the flea from laying eggs. Costs on all of these have gone up, as costs of everything have gone up.)

The second key is treatment of hot spots as they occur. If you can prevent fleas from biting the dog , you will prevent most hot spots. But occasionally one will happen : if you treat it promptly it will cause little distress and damage. First shave a new hot spot and wash with Phisoderm or similar antiseptic soap. Nolvasan is antiseptic and drying; apply daily till healed. Use citronella or other bitter agent to prevent chewing if needed. At this point, during the healing stage, I would be using my Avon + citronella + aloe vera mixture. I don't like to give prednisone systemically (ie pills or shots) to treat flea allergy unless it cannot be controlled otherwise, as systemic use can have serious undesirable side effects. However topical (local) use of a cortisone cream or spray on hot spots can be nescessary for more severe hot spots..Also spray with Lidocain or other local anesthetic can alleviate pain and prevent chewing.

To the extent that you are successful in controlling fleas, you will also prevent or reduce tapeworm incidence, as dogs get tapeworm by ingesting fleas which carry it. Since only one flea ingestion is needed, I don't think total tapeworm prevention is realistically possible, but you sure could reduce the frequency and amount.


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 8/19/07 revised 8/19/07
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