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Itchy? Fleas make early return to Seattle

Dr. Maryam Salt checks for fleas on a dog. (KOMO)

SEATTLE - Pet owners beware. Fleas are making an early return this year, with some veterinarians saying they started seeing infestations as early as January.

It's a first for Dr. Maryam Salt of the Queen Anne Animal Clinic. In seven years, she says she's never seen fleas this early in Seattle.

"A lot of people think we don't have a flea problem," Dr. Salt said. "But it's getting worse. When I find them in a physical exam, people are quite shocked and disgusted."

Salt believes our milder winter may be to blame, coupled with a lapse in flea and tick prevention during the usually colder months.

Sam, a six-year-old Golden Retriever owned by Jan Schueller, received a clean bill of health on his recent visit to the vet.

"If they aren't on a preventative, maybe they should be," Schueller said.

Pets can take flea and tick prevention as either a pill, or a topical application. There are versions available for over-the-counter purchase in many stores, but Dr. Salt urges any pet owner to be careful.

"The most commonly used over-the-counter products do not seem to be as effective as they used to," Salt said. "We think the fleas may have developed a resistance to a lot of those products."

Some products should not be used on cats, and others may trigger a reaction in pets with sensitive skin.

While Schueller says she's tried such products without a problem, she prefers an expert's advice.

"We've always gone through our vet, as opposed to getting medicine from across the counter," Schueller said.

While outdoor pets may be most at risk, indoor pets can get fleas, too. Dr. Salt says fleas can find their way onto your pet as you walk through a bushy area of a park, or while your dog stays a few days at a kennel, or even from the old carpet of your home if the previous occupant's pets had fleas.

Many flea treatments will also treat ticks. While ticks are more of a problem in rural areas and east of the Cascades, Dr. Salt says there are a few cases of them every year in the city. Ticks can carry Lyme Disease, but it's rare in Washington. King County Public Health says of the less than 20 cases reported each year in Washington, most originate from outside the state.

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