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Do you notice small black specks left behind in your companion animal's brush when you groom him? This is a sign that your pet -- and your home -- are host to fleas. They're very small, lay 20 to 25 eggs daily and feed on the blood of your pet. And any animal who goes outside during flea season will probably bring them back indoors.

Fleas can cause big problems for companion animals, including skin disease and anemia. These dark, flattened insects tend to prefer young animals to adult ones and can pass on tapeworm eggs to pets who eat them. Some animals are highly allergic to flea saliva and may scratch themselves continuously.

Complete control of these pests involve eradicating the adult fleas on your pet, as well as the eggs and larva that live in rugs, upholstery and your pet's bedding. Vacuum thoroughly, especially where your pet sleeps and eats. Remember to throw out the vacuum bag afterward. If your companion animal is severely infested, you may need to apply an area spray or powder directly to rugs, chairs and other areas frequented by him. Foggers are an option, too, but they often do not kill flea eggs -- which means you must re-fog in 2 weeks, when these eggs have hatched. During each application, you'll need to evacuate all human and animal occupants for about 4 hours.

There are many products available to hep you control the adult fleas on your pet; make sure the product you choose is approved for your animal companion's species and age. Some products are not recommended for pets under 4 months of age. And please be careful -- these products contain poisons, so be sure to use them according to manufacturer's instructions and keep them away from children.

A flea collar can be a useful component of flea control, but make sure it isn't too tight, and check your animal's neck for signs of irritation or infection. Sprays and powders are most effective in moderate infestations, and shampoos will kill fleas on your animal, but you'll need a plan of attack for the fleas in the environment, too. Dips are effective in killing fleas, but are highly toxic -- use rubber gloves to apply them.

When reading labels, you may notice that some products contain insect-growth regulators. These are good for slowing or eliminating the growth of eggs, but may not kill adult fleas. And another word of caution -- the active ingredient in one product you're using may not mix well with the chemicals in another, so check with your veterinarian and please read everything on the label carefully. If your pet is wearing a flea collar, for example, check with your veterinarian before using any additional products, such as shampoos or dips.

There are some very effective products that are available only by prescription from your veterinarian, including flea controls that kill fleas or stop the development of eggs. They can be mixed with your animal's food once a month or applied directly to the skin. And remember, no matter what your plan of action is, you'll need to treat all animals in the house -- not just the ones who have obvious infestations.

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