Late at night, you're curled up on the sofa engrossed in a novel when a black speck suddenly appears on the page in front of you. You stare at it, hoping against all hope that it's simply an ink spot.
You glance over at your cat, which is fast asleep next to your feet. You check out the dog, which is lying on the floor, gnawing at some rawhide.
You look again at the speck, which begins to move, confirming your fears: One or both of your animals have fleas.
If you own a cat or dog, you have probably experienced a scenario like this at one time or another. To avoid a repeat performance, say local veterinarians, you need to take preventive action rather than wait for an infestation. And in Ventura County, this is the time of year to take those precautions.
The problem is the variety of flea killers out there--shampoos, dips, sprays, powders, foggers, dusts--and the number of brands available, not to mention the option of pesticide versus natural treatment.
To help, we offer some tips from local dog and cat experts.
The latest flea killer is made by the Ciba-Geigy pharmaceutical company. Called "Program" and sold only through veterinarians, it is available now only for dogs, but the cat equivalent is due out shortly.
The product comes in tablet form and is ingested orally by the pet. Dr. David Payne of the Santa Clara Valley Veterinary Clinic in Santa Paula says it works as a "growth regulator," inhibiting production of the hard shell of insects. This prevents most flea eggs from hatching, and those that do hatch cannot mature.
"It's basically birth control for fleas," he said. "It is the flea (killer) breakthrough of the decade."
Eleanor Renshaw, veterinary technician at Ventura's Buena Animal Hospital, was also excited about the product. She said about 85% of the flea population is always in the larva and egg stage.
"If we can prevent fleas from reaching maturity, where they are biting and sucking blood from your dog or cat," she said, "then we are attacking the problem at the core."
Renshaw said a one-month supply of Program tablets goes for $6 to $10, depending on the dog's weight.
If you prefer a flea collar for your animal, Renshaw suggested Ovitrol, which also is effective against eggs and larva. She said this prescription product sells for $8-$10, and is supposed to last eight months for dogs and a year for cats.
Now, if the fleas have already passed the larva or egg stage, Renshaw and Payne said, look for products containing pyrethrin, an insecticide said to have a relatively low toxicity level.
A check of local pet store shelves produced quite a few pyrethrin-based products, ranging in pyrethrin content from 0.05% to 0.2%.
"It is very safe and will kill quickly," Renshaw said. "But it doesn't have any residual effect. You can't expect to control fleas for a long period of time."
Alternatives to pyrethrin-based products are the 100% natural flea killers on the market.
In addition to going after the fleas on your pet, you should also spray your carpet and furniture. "For indoor flea control, again we suggest using a pyrethrin product and a growth regulator," Payne said. "There is a product called Precor and another called Fenoxycarb that we recommend."
Renshaw said her office uses a product line called Vet Kem, which comes in sprays, flea collars and other forms. A Prevention Pack of several products goes for $32-$38 at her hospital.
And finally, another place to attack the fleas is outside your home. For that, again, there are many chemical options. For a non-chemical approach, worms called nematodes can be sprayed on your lawn to fight off the fleas.