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Published September 30, 2011, 12:00 AM

Pet Care: Check for signs of fleas

Dear Dr. Fox: A very basic question: How do I know when my cat has fleas if I do not actually see one crawling on her?

By: By Dr. Michael Fox, INFORUM

Dear Dr. Fox: A very basic question: How do I know when my cat has fleas if I do not actually see one crawling on her? – R.S., Houston, Texas

Dear R.S.: The best test is to check for flea droppings on your cat using a fine flea comb. Fleas make poop that is like tiny flecks of shiny, black-brown coal dust in the fur of cats infested with fleas. The flecks turn brownish-red when you flea-comb or brush them off the cat onto a piece of white paper and add a drop of water. It’s dried, flea-digested cat blood.

The simplest controls are to flea-comb your cat every day, especially if the cat gets outdoors. (One reason to make cats enjoy life indoors and never want or need to go outside, like my two formerly feral cats, is so they won’t keep picking up fleas, and worse, outdoors.) If you trap a flea in the comb, dunk it in a bowl of sudsy water.

Vacuum carpets, all floor surfaces and all furniture where the cat sits and lies every three to five days to gather up flea larvae and hatchling fleas. Sprinkle these areas with Fleabusters borate powder. Put down clean sheets on the furniture for the cats to lie on.

Trap fleas with a low-wattage light suspended over a pan of sudsy water placed on the floor where there is the most cat traffic. Fleas are attracted to the warmth. This flea trap is very good when folks are away on vacation or getting ready to move into a new home.

Dear Dr. Fox: I would like to purchase the PetzLife gel. However, I am not sure how to use this product. Do you apply it with your fingers to coat the dog’s teeth? Do you put it on a piece of food? My concern is that we have a German shepherd mix, and he is not used to fingers in his mouth. I am almost 100 percent sure that he would not let me apply the product this way. – M.F., Minneapolis

Dear M.F.: This is an excellent product to keep dogs’ teeth and gums healthy. I got my dogs used to the taste by first putting a little on my finger and letting them lick, then I massaged their gums. They like the taste.

It is important to get to the back teeth (the big molars) where tartar or scale builds up. If the tartar is very thick, apply the gel for a few days. If it does not loosen – try using a fingernail – have the teeth professionally cleaned and then maintain them with daily treatments of PetzLife Oral Care Gel. My dogs also got used to the spray.

There is no use in putting the gel on food that will simply be swallowed. On a Nylabone or chew toy, OK, but the gel will not get to all the teeth unless you apply it yourself.

Send your questions to Dr. Fox in care of The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox’s Web site at