For my second blog, I think I would like to discuss a little bit about fleas. They are a problem we see day in and day out, on all types of animals, including pocket pets such as rabbits, hamsters, and guinea pigs. I think the biggest problem with flea control and prevention, is the lack of knowledge about the life-cycle of the flea. Contrary to what you may see and observe, only 10% percent of an established flea population is on, or seen on, your pet at any one time. That means that 90% of the total flea population isn’t even on the animal! For example, if you pick 10 fleas off the back of Fido, 90 other fleas, whether they be flea eggs, larva, pupa (cocooned young adults) are lingering about your pet’s environment. Also contrary to popular belief fleas do not “live” on your pet, in fact, most often, fleas spend more time off of your pet than they do crawling around wreaking havoc! A mature female flea lays about 20 eggs at any one time, usually on the your pet, but the eggs are not sticky and easily roll off contaminating the environment anywhere the pet goes. The eggs take anywhere from two days to two weeks to hatch, but some can even can take up to six months. When the flea egg hatches it is now in the larval stage, a microscopic worm-like stage where the immature flea feeds on dead skin cells and microscopic debris in the environment, including carpets, curtains, rugs, beds, cracks in hardwood floors, and any dark, cozy, spot in your house where Fido or Kitty is allowed. In ideal conditions, the flea is in the larval stage for approximately 1-2 weeks, at which time it spins a cocoon around its body and metamorphoses into the adult flea after a further one to two weeks. However, like some flea eggs, some cocoons can stay viable for up to one year! Once the flea hatches from the cocoon, it must FEED ( I say this like a zombie that wants BRAINS), fleas can only continue their life-cycle and lay eggs if they are able to take blood meals from your pet, or if your pet isn’t available, YOU! An average adult female flea can lay up to 5000 eggs in her lifetime, and furthermore, under ideal conditions, single fleas can live for several years!!! WOW!
Now that we understand the life-cycle of the flea, what can we do about it? The main goal for anyone trying to eliminate an established flea population is to disrupt and eradicate the life-cycle. The best way to do this is to treat EVERY PET in the household with topical or oral insecticides every 30 days and, JUST AS IMPORTANTLY, treating and removing fleas from the environment. As I said before, only 10% of fleas are on the animal, and you will never break the life-cycle if you do not treat the environment. Options for treating your pet that we offer at River’s Edge include topical Vectra 3D which kills fleas and ticks, topical Revolution for cats (you can purchase canine Revolution from our online pharmacy), oral Comfortis, and oral Trifexis, which is Comfortis with an added heart worm preventative. Forgive me for saying, but products that you can buy over the counter at big box stores (NOT including Frontline or PetArmor which is generic Frontline) are CRAP at treating established flea infestations. They do not confer a month’s worth of protection, they aren’t powerful enough, and they just don’t get the job done. I am all about saving money and getting the job done for the least amount of money, but in reference to fleas, you must treat with the top of the line products, period. Once you have treated your pet adequately, you MUST treat the environment. The best way to do this is with commercial insecticides and vacuuming. Outside pens can easily be treated with Sevin dust. Just remove the animal from the enclosure, dust the area, and let it sit for 2 days and rinse. Do not let the pet back in until you have rinsed and it is fully dry. This is especially important for cats as they are very sensitive to the permethrins, the active ingredients in most commercial insecticides. For pets that live indoors, the environmental decontamination can be more tricky. Usually a combination of methods provides the most desirable results. Firstly, wash all the pet’s bedding, including your bedding if the pet sleeps with you, in hot water with lots of detergent, do this weekly. Prudent and frequent vacuuming can rid the environment of up to 96% of adult fleas if done properly and often enough, every 5-7 days (don’t forget to change the bag, its full of fleas and eggs!). Vacuuming before treating with indoor pesticides also stimulates the eggs and cocoons to hatch, thereby exposing them to the next course of treatment, “bug foggers” and Knock-out flea spray. Both of these products contain permethrins as the active ingredient which is relatively safe in accidental human and dog exposure, but again, is very toxic to cats, so ensure you follow the instructions on the product and allow adequate ventilation of your home after you deploy a fogger and adequate dry time for Knock-out spray. Also, the insecticide in the Knock-Out spray we carry at River’s Edge only lasts for two weeks before it breaks down but the spray also contains an insect growth regulator which lasts for seven months! The growth regulator targets the egg and cocoon stages and prevents the flea from hatching out of either the egg or cocoon. One of the most discouraging occurrences owners have lamented to me during the treatment of fleas is the fact that fleas are still seen on their animals 2-3 months into treatment. This is almost universally unavoidable; some fleas will escape the insecticides, washing, and vacuuming, and will hatch out and get on your pet, which is why you MUST RE-APPLY the pets protection every 30 days! Rest assured that if you are employing the aforementioned products to your animal, they are not getting re-infected, rather new adults are hatching out and must bite your pet before they die. This whole shebang is all about breaking the life-cycle and if you aren’t religious about applying the products to your pet, these few surviving adults will bite, not die, lay eggs, and start the life-cycle all over again! When all is said and done, it can take up to 6 months before you consider yourself and household flea-free. DON’T GIVE UP!!! and don’t get discouraged, fleas are not the end of the world, it just takes patience, determination, and knowledge to kill those flippin’ freakin’ fleas!
Russell B. Jones, DVM