The warm temperatures and relatively dry summer, in combination with a mild winter last year, have opened up the Seattle area to a flea infestation.

At a time of the year when I might see one or two flea infestations in the course of a week, I am seeing as many as six per day, said Dr. Cary Waterhouse of Lake Union Veterinary Clinic.

Waterhouse says dogs and cats appear to be equally affected, and being indoor-only does not seem to guarantee immunity to the problem.

He says in addition to environmental factors, several social factors play a role in the recent increase in flea infestations -- namely more dog-dog interactions (at a daycare, dog park, or pet-friendly workplace) and multi-family dwellings (condominiums and apartment complexes with common hallways).

Urban wildlife such as rodents, raccoons, opossums, etc. are also a concern because they can bring fleas into our environment.

Fleas are even savvy enough to hitch a ride in a backpack, purse or clothing, making the 'indoor exclusive' cat at-risk as well, said Waterhouse. The dog can easily expose the indoor cat to fleas as well -- so it appears nobody is safe.

Prevention of the infestation is obviously the best measure to avoid problems. Many products exist which, when used properly, can safely protect a pet from infestation.

Some over-the-counter products, in addition to being somewhat ineffective, have been linked to adverse reactions and pet deaths, so talk to a veterinarian before starting a product, said Waterhouse.

In the case of an infestation, treating from different angles is the best approach.

Simply dousing the pet or the environment with pesticides will kill adult fleas, but do little to control the immature stages and could harm your pet or family, said Waterhouse.

He says many balanced products to control flea infestations are available. In addition to being safe to use on / around pets, they control the flea population at multiple levels - killing adults and preventing maturation of immature stages.

Waterhouse says treating the pet is half the battle -- treating the pet's environment (home, yard) is also important. Vacuuming and doing laundry are the easiest and most effective ways to eliminate flea eggs and larva from the home.

Some people will even put a flea collar (not an effective form of flea control on your pet) into their vacuum's canister -- others will empty the canister or change the bag on a regular basis, said Waterhouse.

Make sure to get under furniture and in closets -- fleas will hide anywhere they can get. Hardwood and tile floors are not immune -- the cracks between flooring materials provides an excellent spot for egg and larval development. Other products -- like diatomaceous earth -- can also be used in the environment (carpets especially) as a non-toxic means of control.

While many pets will show telltale signs of a flea infestation (chewing, scratching, hair loss), some will not. A simple examination with a fine-toothed comb should isolate live fleas or flea dirt (feces), indicating a problem.

Many pets will have such a severe reaction to the flea bites, they will also require medical treatment to stop the itch or treat an infection that develops as a result of the scratching and chewing. These flea allergic animals should be maintained on a flea preventative to help minimize these infections, said Waterhouse.

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