For pet owners, there's a downside to living in a warm, sunny climate. Fleas infest year-round, especially during dry weather. "You have to assume in Florida that your pet has fleas," said Karla Bard, the spay and neuter clinic veterinarian at the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. "It's sad."
About half of the animals coming into the shelter on Armenia Avenue in Tampa have evidence of fleas, she said. To avoid an outbreak, they treat them with Capstar, an oral medication that kills fleas in 30 minutes.
At home, pet owners can treat their animals with a variety of flea and tick treatments available at stores and vet offices. Be careful of supermarket products, which may be less expensive but not as safe or effective, animal experts say.
Tampa Veterinary Hospital recommends a new drug for dogs only called Comfortis, a chewable tablet taken once a month. Combined with liquid products, such as Advantage or Frontline, which are applied to a pet's fur every few weeks, the treatment can work well in keeping a pet flea-free.
"The main thing that people need to do is break the life cycle of the fleas," said Ginger Curp, a receptionist at the Tampa Veterinary Hospital. "If you see one, it has friends."
Pest-control experts urge homeowners to attack fleas simultaneously from all angles: the pet, house, yard and even vehicles. Treating the pet exclusively doesn't work, said Russ Frank, owner of Florida Bug Inspectors.
"Professionals need to look at all areas, including couches and bedding and the car," he said. "Fido many never go into the car, but you live next to Fido and you go into the car."
Whatever treatment is used, pet owners should follow the instructions closely and never use a medication intended for a dog on a cat. The Environmental Protection Agency last year received 44,000 complaints about "spot-on" liquid products, prompting regulators to warn owners and veterinarians that some flea-control treatments may be toxic to pets.
The EPA is investigating the reports, which ranged from mild skin irritation to seizures or death.
Information from Times wires was used in this report.