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     < Back to Health Facts

    
Fleas

by Dr. Bill Ehlers, D.V.M.

Fleas! The bane of all pet owners, especially in Florida. It's a problem that has been occurring since the dinosaur age and will continue to occur until man finds a way to totally wipe out these little pests. Fleas cause our pets to scratch excessively, sometimes to the point of bleeding. They infect our homes and our yards and even bite us and our children. Sometimes it seems like it's impossible to get rid of them but it's not! This article will address the flea problem and all the products, both good and bad, that are out on the market.

Windsor

A flea's lifestyle is very consistent. They live 90% of their life on your dog or cat and lay eggs. These eggs fall off and land in your carpet, grass, chair, etc. The eggs can lay dormant for months or hatch within 2 weeks. The hatchlings are called larva. These look live tiny black worms. The larva live for about 10 days and then become pupaes. Pupaes are live cocoons. These pupaes can last for a few weeks or a few years. Adult fleas emerge from these pupae and they live for approximately two weeks. An adult's life is very short lived but they are prolific breeders. They can lay thousands of eggs, and the whole cycle continues. The eggs and pupae are very resistant to any sprays and this is why treatment sometimes is ineffective. Environmental treatment is the most important step in flea control so it must be done correctly. Both the inside and outside should be sprayed unless the outside has no shade. Fleas cannot live in sunny, hot, areas. They live in moist and warm to cool carpets, chairs, bedding; all should be sprayed on the inside. I stress spraying, as bombing your home is not effective. The spray should contain an adulticide and an insect growth regulator. This will slow down or stop the progression from larva to adult. The spraying should be repeated in 3 weeks then done every 3 to 4 months. Always make sure that your pets are out of the area when spraying and are not allowed back until the spray is dry.

Keeping the environment clean is important but unfortunately dogs and cats can go out of your yard and pick up fleas. There are some excellent products on the market that are safe and very effective. The first product is Program. The active ingredient in Program is lufenuron. Program is a once a month tablet that is given orally. Program doesn't kill adult fleas but it basically sterilizes them. The way it works is that the flea bites the animal and takes in the product. Program is not good for flea allergic animals and all pets in the household must be on it or it won't be as effective.

There are three topically applied products that are very effective in both killing fleas and keeping fleas from biting. The first is called Advantage. The active ingredient is imidacloprid. Advantage is applied on the skin of the back. It doesn't go into the animal's bloodstream but forms a barrier over the animal's skin. Fleas don't bite because they feel ill the minute they jump on the pet. It is very effective on pets that are flea allergic. It is used every 30 to 40 days.

A second product is called Frontline which contains the active ingredient Fipronil. It wokrs very similarly to Advantage but also controls ticks. When using these products you can only bathe your pet in mild shampoos like Aloe and Oatmeal based shampoos.

A third product that has just come out is called Revolution. This topical product not only controls fleas but also heartworms, scabies and ear mites. It also controls intestinal parasites in cats.

All three of these products are very safe and the toxicity level is almost nonexistent. They can be used on very old, very young, pregnant and even nursing animals. They are probably the most important products to come out for flea control in the past 50 years.

There are a lot of "old time" products that are still out there but they are obsolete and sometimes dangerous. There is very little need to dip dogs anymore as the dip is an insecticide. Flea sprays are almost off the market and the topical products that can be bought in pet stores (Control, Biospot, Defend) are all topical insecticides that can cause liver and kidney damage. These products should be avoided. Flea collars are not as effective and the best place for these is in your vacuum bag. Garlic pills, yeast pills, or using Borax in your carpets and other home remedies are safe but there are no proven facts that they work.

In closing, flea control today is much safer and easier than it was even 10 years ago. As long as there is a definite plan, there is no reason that anyone should have a flea problem.