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No Fleas Please! – Dr. LeeAnn DuMars, ABVP

Most pets initially acquire fleas outdoors and feral cats, opossums, raccoons, foxes and coyotes are flea-infested and deposit flea eggs in the outdoor environment. Pets that come into contact with these areas can acquire fleas rapidly. Fleas can hitchhike on people and be brought into the home to infest pets. Once on a pet, the fleas will feed and mate; female fleas than lay eggs within 24 hours. After a few days, each female flea will produce 40-50 eggs per day, with thousands of eggs being deposited in the home. These microscopic flea eggs become larvae, than pupae which spin a cocoon that is resistant to insecticides, freezing and dessication. These cocoons can lie dormant for months. They emerge as adults when they sense an animal nearby due to vibration, warming, and carbon dioxide production. Many times we hear that “my pet cannot have fleas – if they were in my home, I would have been bit.” Well, fleas actually do not prefer people – they prefer pets and if you do see fleas biting humans in the household, you have a very serious infestation! The entire flea lifecycle can be completed in as few as 16 days!

Most pet owners never saw the first 2 or 3 fleas their pet acquired. Pets can go untreated for days or weeks, while the home has been “incubating” a biomass of immature and maturing flea life stages. By the time the pet actually becomes itchy, there is an infestation. If we initiate topical or oral treatments at this time, control can take up to 3 months to eradicate all life stages.

One of the many frustrations for veterinarians is managing client expectations following flea treatment. Many pet owners believe that all fleas should be rapidly and permanently eliminated once treatment is initiated. In reality, the few adult fleas that are noticed are only the “tip of the iceberg”, as they represent only 5% of the total flea problem! Most current flea adulticide products do not repel fleas and these products do not instantly kill fleas. It may take several hours or even a day or two to kill fleas that jump on a treated pet to be killed by the residual insecticide. Expect to see some fleas on the pet for 3-8 weeks after beginning flea control. Insect growth regulators can be added to slow the reproductive process of fleas by either topical or oral routes (methoprene in “Frontline Plus”,” Program” and “Sentinel”, oral products with lufenuron; “Nylar” in Vectra). Professional exterminators or house treatments with borates can also prevent subsequent re-infestations. We call this combination of treatments “Integrated Flea Control”, because it attacks the flea life cycle in several stages – using flea adulticides, insect-growth regulators, and environmental control.

Lack of year-round control with spotty or infrequently used products,
excessive bathing or swimming, individual resistance or variability in local flea populations and improper use of products all contribute to the problem of persistent flea infestations. Flea allergy dermatitis is seen in our pets that are sensitive to flea bites and can result in costly veterinary visits for medications and itch-relief. It is much easier and less costly to minimize visits by using wise and thorough flea control. Prevention is so much easier for both you and your pet!