Fleas and Flea Control

****Flea Life Cycle ****

Understanding the life cycle of the flea is necessary in order to control it. The flea has several stages to its life cycle. Adult fleas spend most of their time on the dog or cat - they must be dislodged to leave since they will not do so voluntarily. Despite this, when the flea population on the dog becomes excessive humans tend to be an acceptable alternative to the flea. The average life span of an adult flea is probably about 6 weeks - but fleas can live as long as a year under certain conditions. A female flea can lay 20 to 28 eggs a day. She may lay several hundred eggs over her life span. These eggs fall off the pet and develop where they land. They are small and can even develop in the cracks in wood floors or other small crevices. A larvae hatches from the flea egg. It takes as few as 9 days to as long as 200 days to go through its growth stages. At this time is forms a pupae and waits for the right time to hatch. Fleas prefer temperatures of 65 to 80 degrees and humidity of 75 to 85 per cent. This range determines the period of time that fleas are a problem in your particular area. For some areas of the country, this is all year. In others, the flea season is relatively short. It is estimated that for every adult flea found on the pet, there are about 10 developing fleas in the pet's environment. 

**** Flea Control **** 

Since we know that the flea lays her eggs on the pet and they fall off, it is obvious that they fall off where the pet goes. This means that you must treat your house if your pet comes inside. Many people resist doing this, explaining that they never see fleas in the house. The flea egg does not move and it is very hard to see. The flea larvae does not have legs so it has limited movement. The pupal stage of the flea does not move at all. It is not likely that you would be aware of immature fleas --- until they grow into adults. At this point you will be overwhelmed and the problem will be very hard to control. It is possible to kill the pre-adult stages of the flea in the house. Outside, the flea eggs fall off in areas where the pet does things that dislodge them, like jumping around, sitting and scratching, etc. If these areas are warm and moist throughout the day, the flea can reproduce there. It is not necessary to treat large expanses of lawn that dry out during the day -- concentrate on areas the dog spends time, that stay moist and warm. Make sure you treat around the doors in and out of the house, where your dog or cat is likely to be waiting around and where flea eggs are likely to drop off. 

There are now several "once a month" flea control medications for pets. Lufenuron (Program - tm), makes control of preadult fleas easier than it has been in the past. This medication is approved for both dogs and cats. It is administered once a month and is active in the body for that entire time. At the present time there are no known side effects of the medication other than a small percentage of pets who are nauseous after administration of the pill. It may be administered when other medications are being used. The pill does not affect adult fleas at all. Therefore it is important to start this pill before the flea season or to treat for adult fleas as necessary. There are also "once a month" adult flea control medications. Advantage (tm) and FrontLine (tm) are two new medications that provide long lasting adult flea control. Advantage works for about one month to kill fleas and FrontLine works for one month in cats and up to three months in dogs. These are very effective products. While these products may be combined with Program (tm), their ability to kill adult fleas effectively may make it un-necessary. There are many other products that will kill the fleas on the pet. Shampoos, powders, and sprays tend to kill only the fleas present on the pet at the time of application. Mousses (flea foams) and flea creme rinse products tend to have some residual effect. Dips, which are usually used as pour-on products, have a slighlty longer residual effect and are more likely to be associated with toxicity. Proban, an orally administered flea killing pill has short duration of action but is made to be given twice weekly. There are "spot on" products as well, which have may have a longer duration of action. However, all of these products are more toxic and/or less effective than FrontLine (tm) and Advantage (tm). 

Treating the house should involve a two pronged approach. To kill the pre-adult fleas it is necessary to use methoprene (Precor). This can be done by using this product alone, or in combination sprays with an adult killing ingredient. The ingredients that kill preadult fleas are generally effective for 3 to 4 months, indoors. Killing adult fleas can be accomplished using any of the pyrethrins (tetramethrin, pyrethrin, permethrin, etc.), or an organophosphate. The adult flea killing ingredients do not have a residual effect and retreatment every 2 to 3 weeks until the fleas are gone is usually necessary. These products come in sprays and aerosols (foggers). It is very important to read the directions, figure out the square footage you are attempting to treat and use these products properly. Foggers generally are ineffective unless one is placed in each room, so small size foggers may be the most economical approach. An alternative to this approach is to use a sodium borate product for flea control - such as FleaBusters. Some people use diatomaceous earth (food grade) in the house to control fleas. 

Flea treatment in the yard can be accomplished using one of the yard sprays specifically made for this purpose. There is a new approach, in which a nematode (worm) that lives on flea larvae is spread in the yard. This is non-toxic and appear to be effective. These worms are sold by various companies. One brand name is Interrupt, available through veterinarians. Remember, it is only necessary to treat areas which stay warm and moist. For some people this will be the whole yard. For others, treatment of much less than the whole yard will be effective. 

Prior to this year (1996), we felt that effective flea control meant that you needed to treat the pet, the house and the yard. Not treating any one of these could lead to perpetual flea problems. It appears that FrontLine (tm), Advantage (tm) and Program (tm) may change that situation and allow control of fleas with treatment of the pet, only. 

Flea control can be accomplished if you are careful to take a few steps to ensure that your plan works. Treat your pet with one of the new flea control products. If you elect to treat the house, to it right. Measure your house and figure out the square footage -- then apply a proper amount of flea control product. If you are using foggers, make sure that they will cover the area you anticipate -- don't expect them to treat two rooms by placing one in the hall, for instance. Get a fogger for each room. If you use a professional exterminator, make sure they use a product that kills preadult fleas as well as an adulticide. Pay them to come back in 2 weeks the first time, rather than waiting a month. Keep up the treatment until you see no fleas, then use the preadult products 2 or 3 times a year to keep the problem from coming back. 

Fleas can be controlled. It can be expensive to take care of a flea infestation but it is usually cheaper than dealing with the complications to your pet's health that fleas can bring about.