Let’s Talk About Fleas
authored by Dr. Becky Marks
How do fleas affect my pet’s health?
1. The biggest problem that fleas cause is skin allergies. As fleas bite they inject saliva into your pet’s skin. Many pets are allergic to this and develop itchy skin. Pets will bite themselves, scratch, rub and roll. Often this leads to hair loss and raw sores called “hot spots.”
2. Fleas carry tapeworm larvae. When your pets gnaw at themselves in response to fleas biting, some fleas are swallowed. The tapeworm larvae then develop into adult worms in your pet’s intestines.
3. In severe cases, fleas ingest so much of your pet’s blood that anemia results. This can be life threatening.
What do fleas do for a living?
The key to flea control is understanding the flea life cycle. Fleas are insects and therefore go through several developmental stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult.
Adult fleas bite your pet for nourishment (blood). As they take a blood meal they leave their eggs and feces behind on the pet. Fleas lay 3,000 eggs in a lifetime. Flea eggs fall off the pet as they travel in your house or yard. Eggs hatch in 7-10 days in warm and humid weather. In poor conditions the eggs can survive up to 2 years. Next they hatch into larvae. The larvae feed on debris in the house or yard. Instinctively they seek cool, dark places such as under furniture, baseboards, in closets and bark dust. Larvae molt into the pupal stage which spins a cocoon. The cocoon lies around in the house or yard until the adult fleas are ready to emerge. This happens within a week in optimal conditions but up to a year until the conditions are right. The new fleas (immatures) are HUNGRY. They will take a blood meal from any source–humans, squirrels, rodents but as they mature seek dogs and cats. Fleas can live several months without a meal (the abandonned beach cabin). Fleas travel 1 mph. They can cross a yard in no time and they can climb steps to enter any part of your home.
Important points to remember
1. The climate in Western Oregon is perfect for fleas. Under warm and humid conditions adult fleas can lay eggs which will mature in 3 weeks.
2. Fleas are very good at what they do for a living. They easily survive. Like roaches they will be here after a nuclear holocaust.
3. For every one flea you find there are 3000 eggs in the environment.
How can I control fleas in my situation?
If you find more than 5 fleas on your pet you must treat the pet and the environment.
Two simple steps: 1. Treat the pet and 2. Treat the house
1. Treat the pet.
A Bathe the pet to remove fleas, eggs and flea feces. After bathing you must wait 48 hours before applying a topical product. If you can’t bathe then use a flea comb.
B Apply Skin applicator- Small packets of insecticide applied between the shoulder blade. These roducts kill adult fleas for 1 month. Timberland Animal Clinic recommends Frontline Top spot Plus. It does not wash off and is the best for severely allergic dogs. Others include Revolution and Advantage( you cannot shampoo if you use these).
C. Oral Products .Timberland also recommends, Trifexis (for dogs only), Comfortis which are once a month chewable tablets and work extremely fast. Occassional intestinal side effects may occur. Capstar is shortterm chewable tablet. It kills fleas within minutes but is not safe for continual use. It if often used in kennel/boarding environment. The advantage of oral product is that you can bath you pet and immediately start treating with an oral dose.
2. Treat the house.
a. Thoroughly clean your home by vacuuming (then throw away the bag), washing bedding and don’t forget the garage.
b. Apply the flea treatment. Hand held sprays work best. Hold the can knee at height. Cover fish tanks or plants. All other life should leave for 2 hours. Apply the spray to every corner, underneath couch cushions, down hallways and baseboards.
Knockout spray is the product we do carry because it kills all stages of the flea life cycle. Keep in mind that when trying to get fleas under control, 95% of the flea populations are in the environment not on your pet. You cannot ignore this part of the process.
Treat the yard?
Usually you don’t have to treat the yard. Your veterinarian can help you with this. Bark dust is a breeding ground for these critters. Remove it if you can.
1. Yard insecticides. Available in a hose spray form. They are strong insecticides and in the peak of the season will be needed if you have severe infestation.
2. Nematodes are parasites that feed on flea larvae. They also eat aphids. These are “good” bugs ad environmentally kind. Must be released early in the season to be effective. Gardening retailers carry this product.