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Flea Control and Prevention

Flea problems need to be controlled on your pet both indoors and outdoors.

  • Pets (control of fleas on your dog or cat)
  • Premises (control of fleas in your pets environment indoors and outdoors)
  • Persistence (controlling fleas, an ongoing battle)

Fleas cause problems such as itching and scratching near the flea bite. In most pets the itching is mild, but occasionally dogs or cats become allergic to flea saliva and develop severe itching, hair loss, and skin damage from scratching and biting at the site. Left untreated a skin infection can develop.

To prevent fleas from settling on your pet, flea prevention and elimination works throughout the entire flea life-cycle. A very difficult aspect of controlling fleas is its ability to reproduce. A single female flea is a very prolific breeder and may lay over 1,000 eggs in a lifetime.

Fleas are resilient and hardy, with several stages in a life cycle for complete metamorphosis:

Stage 1: Adult Flea Infestation problems begin when adult fleas come into contact with a dog or cat, and begin laying eggs.

Stage 2: Flea Eggs Within 2 -5 days they begin the process of developing into biting adult fleas.

Stage 3: Flea Larvae Flea eggs hatch into larvae, a stage that can be eliminated by using a product that contains an ovicide.

Stage 4: Pupae Larvae spin a silky cocoon around themselves and form a pupae in preparation for emergence as a full-grown biting adult flea. It jumps on your dog or cat, and the cycle begins again with laying more eggs.

For every flea you see on your pet, many more are at different stages of their life cycle (egg, larvae, pupae), in carpets, furniture, and in the cracks and crevices of your home. Treating your pet for fleas will not get rid of the problem. Treat the environment both indoors and outdoors to solve a flea infestation.

If your pet is itching, determine if fleas are the cause by quickly turning your pet over and look for fleas within furry areas, belly, and inner thighs. Also look on the back just in front of the tail. Part the hair and look at the level of the skin. Look for flea dirt (flea feces) -- dark specks of pepper scattered on the skin surface. Pick it off and place on a wet paper towel. After a few minutes the tiny specks will spread out like a small blood stain. Flea dirt may be your only evidence of a flea infestation or flea invasion.

Fleas Fast Facts

  • Some fleas jump 150 times their own length. That compares to a human jumping 1,000 feet. A flea broke a record with a 4 foot vertical jump.
  • Flea fossils date back to the Lower Cretaceous period, about a 100 million years ago, when Tyrannosaurus Rex roamed the earth.
  • Flea larvae are blind.
  • Fleas can bite 400 times a day -- that's 4,000 bites a day if your pet has 10 fleas.
  • Female fleas consume 15 times their body weight in blood daily. This blood passes through her digestive system and is defecated out onto the skin.

Pet Flea Control
Numerous products that vary in the duration of their effects will kill adult fleas on your dog or cat. Follow label directions on whatever product you buy and consult with your veterinarian about age restrictions.

1. Flea shampoos are applied first to your pet's head, face, ears, and then to the rest of your pet's body. Do not drip any solution in your pet's eyes. Applying flea shampoo with a sponge is a good method. Dawn dishwashing detergent can be used instead of a flea shampoo. All shampoos should be rinsed thoroughly from the coat.

2. Flea sprays kill adult fleas rapidly. Buy a flea spray that contains insect growth regulators (IGR's) because they help to break the flea life cycle.

3. Flea dips or rinses may be effective for 4 - 5 days, depending on the product. Apply the rinse after your pet has been shampooed by dipping your pet's entire body from nose to tail. It is not rinsed out and dries on the coat. Follow directions carefully regarding frequency throughout the flea season.

4. Flea powders are simple to use by sprinkling on your dog or cat's coat being careful not to get any your dog or cat's eyes. Flea powders kill any fleas present at the time of application, but many have no lasting effects.

5. Flea collars are an economical method of flea control when used before you see fleas, but aren't very effective if you already a flea problem. Flea collars, such as the Ovitrol Plus or Ovitrol Plus II sold by veterinarians, kill adult fleas and also make flea eggs sterile. These contain (IGR's). If your pet develops a skin irritation under the collar, remove the collar and use a different method for flea control. Make your own herbal flea collar that effectively works for a few weeks by applying essential oils to a soft nylon collar or use a bandana. Mix 1 drop each eucalyptus oil, lavender oil, and geranium oil. Soak collar or bandana, then dry before using on your pet.

6. Electronic flea collars emit powerful ultrasonic pulses that are inaudible and harmless to pets and humans, but fleas go crazy!

7. Spot-on products like Advantage and Frontline are applied topically to a small area of your pet's skin and effectively kill fleas for at least a month. The medicine is in small vials that contains 1 dose and kills adult fleas usually before the flea has the opportunity to bite.

8. The Pill (Program) is a product that prevents flea eggs from hatching. Owners give the pill once a month. When an adult female flea bites a Program-treated animal, the flea ingests the active ingredient (lufenuron) which passes into her eggs and prevents them from hatching. A similar product called Sentinel contains both the flea control ingredient and heartworm medication all in 1 dose.

9. Natural methods include using essential herbal oils, essential fatty acids, garlic, Brewers Yeast tablets and B vitamins. They make your pet less tasty to fleas.

10. Flea combs are used by combing your pet's coat. Drown fleas in soapy water, because fleas can jump out of plain water.

Indoor Flea Control
If your dog or cat remains indoors and you do not have other pets that come in from the outside, environmental control is relatively simple. But if your pet goes outdoors, indoor flea control becomes more of a challenge.

1. Launder pet bedding (and your bedding if your dog or cat sleeps on your bed) in hot, soapy water (this kills all flea stages) at least once a week. Dry on high heat. Gather the bedding up by grabbing all 4 corners and roll into a tight ball so no fleas or eggs fall off.

2. Vacuuming is effective in picking up adult fleas. Collect toys, clothing and shoes off the floors, under beds and on furniture for easy access before vacuuming. Place flea powder into the vacuum bag to kill fleas while you vacuum. Flea larvae don't like light and spend most of the time deep in the carpet at the base of fibers. After vacuuming, immediately place the vacuum bag into a plastic garbage bag, secure the bag with a twist tie and discard in an outdoor covered trash container. The vacuum bag must be thrown away because flea eggs can survive and develop inside vacuum bags and adults may be able to escape to the outside. Carpeting, floors, rugs, upholstered furniture, baseboards, and under beds are vacuumed 2 - 3 times a week to thoroughly remove flea eggs, larvae and adult fleas.

3. Steam cleaning, shampooing, and vacuuming the carpet can kill some of the larvae, but there will still be some live fleas so some sort of chemical treatment may be necessary.

4. Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth, a non-toxic flea treatment, used on carpeting works. The tiny bits get in the breathing pores of the bugs and suffocate them. Monthly applications are recommended in areas with heavy flea populations, especially during the height of flea season. Sprinkle it on the carpets, use a stiff bristle broom to work it into the carpet, then vacuum it up later. Do not purchase diatomaceous earth at a pool store, as it has a high crystalline silica content that is toxic to pets and humans. Crystalline silica content should be less than 3%. Borax powder also works if sprinkled on carpets, worked into the carpet with a stiff bristle broom, and vacuumed up later. If you are pregnant, stay away from any borate substance. Keep your cats away from borax powder as it can cause terrible breathing problems and potential fatalities.

5. Flea Trap is a safe and simple permanent appliance that uses heat and light to draw fleas from up to 25 feet away. Fleas are attracted to the trap, fall right through the grid and meet a sticky death on the replaceable capture pad. Adult fleas are killed on the replaceable capture pad without poisons, expensive pills, or visits to the veterinarian. Capture pads last for 3 months or until filled with up to 10,000 fleas.

Outdoor Flea Control
Treat the outdoors a month before flea season starts. Although inside your house is where you want no fleas, outside your house is where you start. Fleas love grass, which is where most dogs and cats pick them up. Outdoor flea remedies are applied to grass by sprinkling the powder, or by using a hose sprayer for yards and gardens. Beneficial nematodes control fleas in the yard. They are tiny little bugs that eat adult fleas and larvae. They are applied with a hose sprayer on a yard, or a watering can on a garden. Garden centers, nurseries, and pet stores have nematodes available for purchase.

Trimming lawns and weeds helps to create an undesirable environment for flea larvae because there's less shade to hide and grow. Larvae live under organic debris such as grass, branches, leaves, or soil. They live for 5 - 11 days before becoming a pupae. Because larvae don't like light -- rake up any leaves, sand, or gravel -- and keep the grass cut. Watering will also drown the larvae. A majority of the fleas and larvae will be within 50 feet of your pet's favorite resting spot, so focus on those areas.