Treating for fleas is a frustrating ordeal. Our goal is to help you understand flea biology and make it easier to control the flea infestation on your pets. It is important to understand that in order to control fleas and relieve your pet's discomfort, 3 goals must be achieved: 1) kill the fleas currently on your pet (relieving their itching) 2) eliminate fleas from the environment (eliminating eggs, pupa & larvae, as well as adults) and 3) prevention (provide long term flea control preventing recurrence of an infestation).
1) Relieving the pet of its current infestation is actually realitively easy.
The most commonly used residual adulticidal flea compounds are contact insecticides. They do not kill instantly or repel the flea. While a few fleas may die within minutes, most will actually feed prior to dying, often many hours later. Therefore when you see a few fleas on your pet 1-3 weeks after treatment, you cannot assume the product is failing. Due to the contact neurotoxic action of these compounds, newly acquired fleas often are not killed for several hours (18-48 hrs). Close scrutiny of treated pets in an infested environment will almost always result in fleas being observed for up to 2 months! and occasionally longer. While some of the newer residual adulticides (Frontline, Advantage, Promeris) do not kill instantly, they do kill most newly acquired fleas before egg production is initiated (24 hrs). However, some level of flea survival and reproduction does occur prior to the next application of flea control. NO PRODUCT IS 100% This occurs because the speed of flea kill slows during the 3rd and 4th week after application due to decreasing insecticide levels, improper application of the product, frequent bathing or swimming can reduce insecticide levels and genetic variability of the flea resulting in difference in insecticide susceptibility.
SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT TOPICAL INSECTICIDES. Which product is best for your pet is dependent on your pet and it's lifestyle. CONSULT YOUR VETERINARIAN BEFORE YOU APPLY ANY INSECTICIDE ON YOUR PET. There are many over the counter products and remedies, they may not be appropriate for your pet. Hartz Control, Sargeant's Pretect, Zodia, Spot-On, Bio-Spot and Defy all contain permethrin, an insecticide that has been used for many years in flea sprays, shampoos and collars. As permethrins have been used for years, there is a great degree of resistance. These products also have a greater risk of toxicity if not applied correctly or dosed correctly. This clinic has witnessed toxic effects to these insecticides, causing muscle tremors, seizures and death. We do not recommend these products! Additionally, due to resistance, their effects do not last long and potentiate continued resistance among the flea population. To date, these resistance tendencies have not been reported among some of the newer products.
This hospital recommends the use of the following products:
These products should be used monthly to insure good control on your pet. Each has their own advantages and disadvantages. Application of the products are similar, but may have slight differences in where they should applied and when. Please consult our staff to learn which product may be best for your pet and how they should be applied. Read the package instructions carefully.
2) Elimination of environmental infestation is now and has been the most difficult and time consuming part of flea control. The fleas you see on your pet came from flea eggs laid 3-8 weeks previously. Fleas have four stages in their life cycle: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The total flea life cycle can range from a couple of weeks to several months, depending on environmental conditions. The adult female flea can lay up to 50 eggs per day, 1000-2000 eggs over several months. The flea egg hatches anywhere from 2 days to a few weeks, depending on environmental conditions. From the hatched egg emerges the larva. The larval stage lasts about 5-18 days (longer in some cases), then spins a cocoon and pupates. The pupa is the last stage before adult. The adult flea can emerge from the cocoon as early as 3-5 days, or it can stay in the cocoon for a year or more, waiting for the right time to emerge. When is the right time? Stimuli such as warm temperatures, high humidity, even the vibrations and carbon dioxide emitted from a passing animal will cause the flea to emerge from the cocoon faster.
As you can see, the entire life cycle is quite variable, from as short as 2 weeks or as long as two years. That is why it is so important to remain vigilant, even when a flea problem is thought to be under control.
Since the adult flea is essentially a permanent ectoparasite, dependent upon a constant host relationship, direct flea transfer between pets is an uncommon to rare occurrence. Your pet did not get fleas from having been close to another animal with fleas. Those initial few fleas came from flea eggs deposited in the environment that your pet inhabits, that in turn hatch and jump onto your pet or even you. You will not likely notice the first 2-3 fleas your pet acquires. What you are reacting to are the second & third generations of fleas. Those initial few fleas within hours after arriving on your pet and in your home start laying eggs within 24 hours and in a few days are producing 40-60 eggs/day per flea. The eggs then fall off the pet (into your carpeting, the pet's bedding, where ever your pet has access), and ultimately develop into adult fleas.
Controlling the environment is critical. Your best defense is to start and maintain your flea control early. This means starting with a topical insecticide on your pet before you have a problem. Applying Frontline, for example, monthly starting in March (for this area) before the flea season begins will help assure that any flea finding your pet will be killed before it has the opportunity to reproduce. If your pets are indoors, where the environment is temperature controlled, winter flea dormancy does not occur, and year round use of a monthly flea insecticide product is essential.
Treating your home with products containing insect growth regulators can be helpful, but will not totally eliminate your problem. Research has also shown that regular vacuuming can aid in decreasing the flea population, since the "beating" of the vacuum bar damages the egg so that it does not hatch. However, you are not effecting every egg, some will still be hatching.
So how do you best control the environment? By breaking the flea life cycle on the pet, forcing the fleas to extinction in your home and yard by preventing the flea population from reproducing. This may theoretically be accomplished by 1) killing newly acquired fleas with a residual on-animal adulticide before they begin reproduction (within 24 hrs) or 2) directly affecting the viability of the eggs (insect growth regulators or other ovicidal compounds, such as Program).
3) Once the infestation is eliminated it is recommended to continue treatments by implementing a prevention program. Reactive treatments to kill fleas on pet (treating only when you see fleas) is often too late to prevent infestation of the environment. Placing all pets in the home on a continuous long term preventive program will prevent recurrence of active infestations.
This year, this clinic as seen 4 patients die from flea bite anemia (being literally bled to death by fleas) and OTC use of toxic topical insecticides. Talk to our veterinary staff about helping you and your pets live a flea free life. START EARLY, START NOW, TREAT MONTHLY, TREAT ALL PETS.