Fleas, the Frustrating Pest

Consider the following scenario: You arrive home from a long flight from a wonderful, two-week vacation. As you drive home, you remind yourself the boarding kennel is already closed and you have to wait until tomorrow to pick up your dog, Max. You finally walk in the front door, happy to be home. As you walk across the carpet you feel a tingling sensation on your legs and when you look down, you see your white socks now look gray. FLEAS!!

Some people’s reaction to the above would be to banish the dog from the house and to call the exterminator. Both reactions would be wrong – neither would help to rid the house of fleas. Why? In order to appreciate, you must have a basic understanding of the different stages of fleas, such as their life cycle, and know which chemicals kills which stages, if any!

There are four stages of a flea’s life: egg, larva, pupa, adult. Only adult fleas are on the pet, the other stages are in the environment. The female fleas on the dog lay eggs that roll off onto the carpet, bedding, floors, grass, etc. In one to six days, the eggs hatch to larvae that can crawl. In five to 11 days, the larvae change to pupae. Unfortunately, there is no chemical or substance that can kill flea pupae other than fire. Even worse, the pupae have the ability to go into “suspended animation” and just stay in this state until a host appears. We know this state can last at least one year. Once a host comes close, certain stimuli cause the pupae to hatch to adults that immediately hop onto the host, which in this case, is either your pet or you!

Should you banish “Max” to the backyard? No!! If there is no pet in the house, the fleas in the house will simply go to you to live and feed. You need Max to act as “bait”. A good adult flea treatment should be used on Max. Your veterinarian can advise you on such products. Since you have been gone for two weeks, all the fleas in the house (before you entered) were in the pupae stage. Therefore, any chemical an exterminator would use would be useless. Once a host enters the area, the fleas immediately hatch and go to the host, so any residual chemical in the carpet is also useless, the fleas aren’t exposed long enough to be killed. Premise sprays take 36 to 48 hours to kill fleas. You have to treat adult fleas by treating the pet. The best flea control involves treating all the stages possible and stopping egg production. Drugs that kill eggs and larvae are added to some adult topical treatments or are available separately. Your veterinarian is the best source of information on integrated flea treatment.

Fleas

Fleas

A common parasite, fleas are found in almost every area of the world and can be found on dogs, cats, and many other mammals. They survive year to year even in cold climates because they live on pets, in buildings, and on wild animals.

There are four stages to the flea life cycle. Eggs are laid by an adult female flea which is on a host. The eggs roll off into the environment and after a few days they mature into larvae. Larvae survive by eating flea feces, flea egg shells, organic debris, and other flea larvae. They can crawl and move as far as six inches per day. After a few days, and once conditions are conducive, larvae mature into pupae. Pupae have very thick shells and are very resistant to environmental conditions. After a few days, and once the pupae detect a host is present, they mature into adult fleas that hop on another host.

There are many types of flea treatments. Unfortunately, there is no one drug or chemical that can kill all four stages of the flea. There are several types of good products to kill adult fleas: Activyl, Frontline, Advantage, Comfortis, Capstar, Revolution, and others. Older products of various formulations of synthetic pyrethrins are also available, some of which are highly toxic to cats. Lufenuron and methoprene are chemicals that work on immature stages of the flea, although there is no chemical that will kill the pupal stage.

Fleas are the number one allergen of dogs and cats and can cause severe skin disease and itching. Another reason fleas should be treated is due to the fact that they can carry and spread several serious diseases, such as tapeworms, Cat scratch disease (Bartonella), murine typhus, and the bubonic plague.

Your veterinarian can help you with a flea control program depending on what kind of pets you have and the level of flea infestation. Control may involve treating the environment as well as the pets. Contact your veterinarian today for more information about the treatment options available for your pet!