Fleas — even saying the word makes your skin crawl. Not only are they disgusting little creepy-crawlies, but once they are on your indoor pet it is certain they have also infested your home. And unless your pet lives in a sterile bubble, they are at risk of picking up fleas.
So what can a pet owner do to get rid of fleas? While it is a difficult process, it is not impossible. The first step is to know the flea life cycle. Contrary to popular belief, fleas spend the majority of their life in the environment and not on the animal. They start life as an egg laid on the hair of an animal, but once the egg dries it falls off in the animal’s resting area. For pets, this is typically where they sleep, either their dog house or pet bed, or their owner’s bed if that’s where they sleep every night.
In one and a half to six days, the egg hatches into a larva. The larva move away from light and bury themselves into the environment. Carpet provides an ideal habitat for the young larva, as they can imbed themselves deep into the fibers. The larva go through three metamorphoses before they spin a cocoon and become a pupa for five to six days. The pupa forms a young adult flea that emerges when it feels warmth or vibration from the animal it is looking to infest. The young fleas then leap onto the animal. Fleas have an amazing ability to jump; they can spring vertically seven inches and horizontally thirteen inches. Adult fleas then feed on the blood of the animal and reproduce.
Because flea treatments can only kill the adult flea, treating your pet just once is not always sufficient. That’s because the pupa in the environment can re-infest your pet after the first treatment. Eliminating fleas requires both pets and the home be treated. There are a host of flea medications available from your veterinarian, which are often more effective than what is available over-the-counter.
In addition, everything in the home will need to be thoroughly cleaned. The carpets should be vacuumed, all bedding washed in hot water and all furniture cleaned. Then an insecticide, such as a “bug bomb”, should be applied to the whole house. The house will need to be re-treated at least three times, two to four weeks apart. This is because the eggs are unaffected by insecticides and hatch after the treatment. As each crop of eggs hatches, they need another dose of insecticide to kill them.
The simplest way to keep fleas at bay is to have a good prevention program. Most preventative medications are given once per month. There is an oral medication, but most options are topical. Topical flea treatments are applied to the skin between the shoulders blades. These medications can be given year-around.
Flea control products are safe to use, however, it is important to only use dog products on dogs and cat products on cats, as dog products can be unsafe for cats. Another important note is flea products from your veterinarian are vastly more effective at preventing fleas than flea collars. UV light causes the collars to become ineffectual in a short period of time.
While they are gross, fleas are typically not a life-threatening problem for pets. The main issue is how difficult it is to remove them from your house once they get established. Because of the effort required, the easiest thing to do is to give all pets, even those that are always indoors, flea preventative. The ounce of prevention is worth the pound of cure.
Source: Jake Geis, DVM/Yankton
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