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Veterinary Viewpoints: Flea control

Friday, May 29, 2015

Fleas are a major nuisance for pets and pet owners alike. Many pets reside indoors and fleas have become a year-round problem with contamination of both the yard and the home. 

Fleas constantly irritate pets and can cause flea allergy dermatitis and spread intestinal tapeworms.

Fleas can also transmit several diseases. Heavy infestation of homes and surrounding areas may result in humans being bitten by newly emerging fleas, inciting an allergic response. The rash can be mild to extensive depending on numbers of fleas and individual sensitivity.

Why is it so hard to control fleas? Fleas undergo four developmental stages. The adult flea lives almost exclusively on its host by feeding on its blood. Eggs are deposited on the host and readily fall off the pet into the environment — both your home and yard. A female flea produces 40-50 eggs per day or up to 2,000 eggs during her lifetime. 

Within one to 10 days, eggs hatch into larvae. Egg hatch is enhanced in an environment that is warm and humid.

These larvae are "free living" as they crawl about and are usually found at the base of the carpet and at dirt level away from light where they can find organic materials and flea feces needed to survive.

Within five to 12 days, larvae spin a cocoon to form the pupal stage of their life cycle. Usually, the pupal cocoon matures within one to four weeks. Movement, pressure or heat will stimulate the adult flea to emerge.

If not stimulated, the pupa stage can survive in a dormant state for up to six months.

After emerging, the adult flea starts feeding. It will spend its entire life (approximately 100 days) on that host, unless removed by grooming.

Areas in the house that are likely to support flea development are the pet’s bedding, furniture cushions and thick carpeting — protected areas where the pet spends most of its time. Flea eggs can even survive in the crevices between planks of wood, linoleum or tile.

Outdoor "hot spots" for fleas include dog houses, flower beds, gardens, and areas under decks or porches.

Basically shady, moist areas where the pet spends time can become flea infested and a source for reinfection. For every six fleas you see, there are 300 in the environment or on the pet!

To control flea infestation, fleas must be removed from the pet, the home and the yard.

The most important principle in a total flea control program is to simultaneously treat the pet’s environment (indoors and outdoors), the pet, and all other pets (dogs, cats and ferrets). Pets of roommates and visiting family or friends can continually expose your pet to fleas and contaminate the environment with eggs. 

Here are some tips on cleaning your pet’s environment inside and outside:

  • Vacuum carpet with a beater-bar brush to remove adult fleas and other immature forms
  • Vacuum areas where the pet spends substantial time, i.e., chair, bed and couches
  • Vacuum and treat areas under the furniture
  • Dispose of the vacuum bag immediately
  • Steam clean carpet
  • Wash pet’s bedding, blankets or rugs in hot water on a weekly basis
  • Mow and rake the yard thoroughly
  • Restrict your pet’s access to areas under the deck or porch where flea eggs can accumulate
  • Remove any organic debris from flower beds and under bushes
  • Clean any place your pet spends time, i.e., garage, basement, pet carrier, automobile
  • Mop non-carpeted floors

On the advice of your veterinarian, apply flea control products to all pets.  Your veterinarian may also recommend the use of premise treatments for the indoor and outdoor environments simultaneously. This includes cats, dogs and ferrets.  Keep free-roaming animals out of the environment.  Repeat treatments to successfully eliminate fleas in the environment.

Consult your veterinarian for the best approach. Each flea infestation is unique; therefore, no one program is effective for every flea problem.  It is important to remember to repeat the recommended treatment to provide long lasting protection.

by Elisabeth J. Giedt, DVM

Veterinary Viewpoints is provided by the faculty of the OSU Veterinary Medical Hospital. Certified by the American Animal Hospital Association, the hospital is open to the public providing routine and specialized care for all species and 24-hour emergency care, 365 days a year.

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