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THE GOODS : The Flea Days of Summer : It's hot, the insects are hatching, and everyone is scratching. You could trade in Fido for a goldfish, but a new pill may bring relief.


Goooooood morning, Los Angeles. It's flea time. That hot summer season when those biting black creatures are breeding in your carpet and yard and on Fido. But there's hope from a new anti-flea pill called Program, which prevents flea eggs from hatching.

Program, a once-a-month pill, is made from a chemical called lufenuron, a flea-growth regulator. It doesn't kill the fleas that are already on the dog, but it interferes with the production of chitin, a substance that forms the shell of the flea egg. It is the first such product on the market.

"It's not a perfect world, so this is not a perfect solution," said Dr. Martin Small of the VCA Animal Hospital in Burbank. "It doesn't kill adult fleas, but it does do what it says it does, and it's 99.5% effective. It breaks the flea's life cycle, and that's substantial. Two fleas can produce up to 2,000 eggs and can live about four weeks in hot summer. People who are listening to what we tell them seem happy with the pill."

So far, Program is getting mostly rave reviews from the nation's veterinarians and pet owners. But some pet owners become impatient and think the fleas should be gone overnight, many vets say. Actually, Program may take 30 to 60 days before it is effective, especially if you already have a flea infestation in your home.

"It is a good product," said Small, a practicing veterinarian for 36 years. "It's the only internal one I've ever endorsed. There were other ones before, but they were internal insecticides, small doses of insecticides in pills, and I wouldn't recommend those."

Even if the dog occasionally picks up a few fleas, as long as it takes the Program pill, the fleas can't reproduce.

A veterinarian must prescribe Program. It comes in four tablet sizes, color-coded according to the weight of the dog. A six-month supply costs about $35. Ciba-Geigy Corp. introduced the innovative dog pill in the United States in April, but it has been available in 33 other countries for one to two years.

In early July, Ciba brought out a liquid Program for cats, but most of the area's veterinarians already are out it. Ciba sent an initial 70 doses of liquid to each veterinary practice. "Ours were gone like that," said Small.

Most Southern California vets will prescribe the dog pills for cats--you must know the weight of the cat so it can get the proper pill--but Ciba is not permitted to market them for felines.

"We are legally bound by what's approved by the FDA, and it approved the tablet for dogs only," said Ciba Animal Health President Tom McGowan. "It has approved the liquid for cats. Vets can prescribe the pill for cats; we cannot. But because we cannot promote it is in no way to be construed that it doesn't work [for cats]."

He said Ciba will begin making more liquid Program in September, but "to be honest, we probably will not have full quantity."

The problem with giving Program pills to cats is that pills are too big to be given whole, so they must be broken up and given in small pieces--cat owners know what an ordeal that would be.


Maxine and Chuck Schiele of Burbank have a cocker spaniel/terrier-mix dog, Sweetie, who "just literally gets poisoned by fleas," Maxine Schiele said.

But, since putting Sweetie on Program three months ago, the Schieles say she now has no fleas. "She's out in the back yard, where we have decking and a pool, and now there's not a flea on her," Maxine Schiele said.

Karen Smith, who works for a TV production company, has had her three indoor/outdoor dogs on Program for three months as well. She puts a pill in each of the dog's food at the first of the month and said there is "not any question there are less fleas. My neighbor has one dog who has been on Program for three or four months, and he has no fleas at all."

Smith conducted a recent experiment at her home, giving all her dogs baths with a regular shampoo on Saturday, then waiting 24 hours to comb them. "They had a few fleas, but not nearly as many as I expected."

Dr. Lisanne Evans, a veterinarian at San Pedro's All Pets Veterinary Hospital, also ran out of liquid Program quickly, so she gives her own four cats the Program pill. "You just have to put it in smaller pieces," she said. "Plus continue to bathe and flea-comb the animal. We have had a 90% positive reaction from our clients."

Evans was at a conference in Canada in March, talking with veterinarians who had been prescribing Program pills and liquid since June, 1994. "They have had it for more than a year in Canada and Mexico and had no reported side effects. It also can be used for puppies, kittens and pregnant animals."

Program also is safe for nursing females and breeding males, according to representatives of Ciba Animal Health, a division of Ciba-Geigy Ltd. of Basel, Switzerland, which manufactures pharmaceuticals, agricultural chemicals, dyes, plastics and vision care products.

"I don't think it's a panacea," said Dr. Al Plechner of California Animal Hospital in West Los Angeles. "But if everybody uses it, it will reduce the flea population dramatically. It is better if the animals are only in their own yard, apartment or house. But the public has to be aware if other animals are coming in the yard, they'll be bringing fleas."



Even with Program, most vets recommend continuing traditional remedies for controlling fleas, such as:

* Have a pest-control company spray the yard with chemical insect killers.

* Hire Fleabusters or other service to treat carpets in the home or apartment.

* Use powder or chemical spray products to kill flea eggs in carpets and rugs.

* Spray upholstery and the pet's bed with other flea-control products, either chemical ones or those with natural substances such as citronella.

* Bathe and spray the pets regularly.

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