Standard flea control means treating not only the animal, but also its environment, and repeating the treatment frequently.
"Under most circumstances," claims flea expert Dr. James Sargent, "most of the products around work pretty well."
There are those who complain, however, that nothing works. Others swear by home remedies such as adding a bit of brewer's yeast to a pet's diet. Choosing your weapons can be pretty much a game of trial and error.
Some basic reminders:
* Start with a good, regular shampoo.
* A flea shampoo will kill current residents, although it does not offer any residual effects.
* A dip will kill the fleas and provide protection for up to 10 days, but this means your pet will have insecticide on it the entire time. If your pet sleeps in your bed or roughhouses with your children, you ought to think about whether you want that kind of exposure to potentially dangerous chemicals.
* If you choose not to dip your pet, you'll probably want to use a powder or flea collar (the subject of much debate).
Some vets call flea collars the best thing since sliced bread, others consider them worthless. Those who toe the middle ground contend that while the collars may control fleas on small dogs and cats, on larger dogs they only drive the pests away from the front end. If you do use a flea collar, follow the package instructions carefully. Remember that some animals are sensitive to the collars, so check frequently to make sure there's no redness or hair loss around the neck area. If there is, remove the collar and try something else.
Be sure the product you're using is meant for the animal it's being used on. Some dogs, especially greyhounds, are sensitive to certain chemicals and can be poisoned by something as innocuous as a a flea collar. NEVER use any flea product on a cat -- remember their tendency to lick at their fur -- that isn't specifically for cats.
* Once you've treated the pet, treat its environment to prevent reinfestation. Vacuum all carpets thoroughly and dispose of the bag immediately. Launder the pet's bedding; spray areas inside and out where the pet spands a lot of time and my have deposited flea eggs.
* If infestation is severe, you might consider endling in a professional exterminator or fogging your house with a commecial fogger. In order to kill the larvae as they hatch, you'll have to fog (or have the exterminator visit) at least three times, at 10-day intervals.
If all else fails, you might remember Ernie Pyle's advice:
"It you go long enough without a bath," he wrote, "even the fleas will let you alone."