“Just One Flea”: A Bigger Problem Than You Ever Imagined!

This article is designed to help you better understand your pet’s condition. This is not a substitute for a veterinary diagnosis; it intended for reference purposes and to supplement an existing diagnosis after a veterinary examination. If you have questions or concerns, please contact us at 740-432-5980. It is absolutely vital to have a veterinary diagnosis prior to following any of the instructions provided here.

The facts:

  • Fleas have four life stages and the adults make up the smallest portion of the population.  The adult fleas are the only life stage that is visible to the naked human eye.  The average flea population on any given animal is as follows:
    • Eggs     =          50%
    • Larvae =          30%
    • Pupae   =          15%
    • Adults  =          5%
  • One adult female flea can lay up to 50 eggs per day, 500-600 eggs over several months.
  • In just 30 days, ten female fleas under ideal conditions can multiply to more than a quarter of a million new fleas in different life stages

How do I Control Fleas?

The answer is that there is no single method or insecticide that will completely eradicate (or at least control) a flea problem.  Good flea control means controlling not only the adult fleas visible on a pet, as they are only a small part of the flea population, it also means controlling the immature stages, such as eggs, larvae and pupae to reduce the overall population.  The flea life cycle is fairly complex, and understanding the various stages will make it easier to get rid of them.

Know The Enemy

The time it takes to complete the life cycle from egg to adult varies from two weeks to eight months, depending on the temperature, humidity and the amount of food available.

Adult fleas are blood-sucking parasites with mouth-parts specially designed to pierce a host and suck out its blood. When they first hatch, adult fleas have one immediate priority: eating. Most survive only a week without feeding, but some can survive for 20 to 62 days before feeding if conditions are conducive. Once they have had a sufficient meal of blood, they mate.

Eggs are loosely laid in the hair coat of your pet. They are wet and sticky when first produced but dry out and usually drop from an animal within a few hours. (More than 70% fall off within eight hours of being laid). Eggs can fall almost anywhere but particularly where the pet rests or sleeps, such as on rugs, carpets, furniture, dog beds, kennels or under trees.

The time taken to hatch is totally dependent on environmental factors, with the ideal temperature being around 77ºF. Eggs can dry out and die, so like all the other life stages they need high humidity. Freezing conditions will also kill eggs, so those laid outdoors in the fall may not survive the winter in colder areas.

Eggs hatch into larvae, which cannot move very far from the place they emerge from the egg. They need a protected environment with moderate temperatures and high humidity. Larvae are attracted to dark

places. They are normally found indoors in floor cracks and crevices, along baseboards, under rug edges, deep in carpet pile and in furniture or beds.

Outdoors, they develop in sandy earth (such as children’s sandboxes, space under the house or under bushes) where a pet may rest or sleep. Some 83% of fleas develop in carpets in the home. Exposure to full sunlight kills larvae while water can drown them, so heavy rains or flooding will reduce the larval population.

Once fully developed, the larvae weave themselves a silken cocoon in which they pupate. Pupae are sticky and whitish in color. Pet hair, carpet fibers, dust, grass cuttings and other debris stick to the pupae and help camouflage them.

Pupation takes between 5 and 14 days, however pre-emerged adult fleas may remain resting in the cocoon for a prolonged period until conditions are more appropriate. Pupae can survive a cold winter or a very hot summer in a state similar to a hibernation, commonly referred to as ‘over-wintering.’ They can remain in this stage for up to six months without feeding.

The detection of pressure (such as a host animal walking past or lying down on them) or heat of 90 to 100ºF (the body temperature of a dog or cat is around 101ºF, but the fur is a little cooler) stimulates the adults to emerge from their cocoons. Many heated homes are warm enough for the flea life cycle to continue year-round without the need for over-wintering.

The newly-emerged adults target hosts by touch and by sensing air currents, carbon dioxide and light. They jump towards these stimuli and while the jump is roughly aimed, it is not precise.

Families returning from vacation often trigger a wave of flea emergence. The house has been empty with no hosts for fleas to feed on, so the adults have died out. However flea eggs have hatched and the larvae have pupated. New adult fleas have fully developed inside the pupal cocoon but remained in hibernation, awaiting the trigger for emergence. Unfortunately for the returning family, they are greeted by hundreds of hungry fleas.

Be Careful

Please keep in mind that while there are countless over the counter flea products available, some are PESTICIDES (POISONS DESIGNED TO KILL LIVING CREATURES).  Sadly we have seen it first hand; clients over-doing at home remedies giving their pet flea baths, dips, collars, sprays, etc. trying to eliminate a flea issue and consequently their pets have been poisoned to the point of severe illness and sometimes death.  Please, please, please be logical about this process and use reliable products that have been thoroughly researched and proven safe.  Never combine products.  Never use a product intended for a dog on your cat or vice versa as it can prove fatal.  Never use a product that does not include a weight specific dose: the appropriate dose of anything for a Chihuahua should never be the same dose for a Great Dane.

Which Products Work and Which Do Not?

There are numerous safe and effective products out there, and they all work in different ways.  We carry several different products that, when given monthly, will both treat and prevent fleas.  We have both oral and topical medications available to better serve your personal preference.  Each product is different, and many will also help treat and prevent other parasites in addition to fleas.  Discuss with your veterinarian your parasite concerns and she will help match you with the best brand of prevention for your pet.

As for products that typically have little efficacy: flea collars rarely if ever work and can cause severe irritation to the skin around the neck, flea shampoos and Dawn dish soap work as well as any shampoo; they kill nothing but may wash away some fleas temporarily but the fleas just jump back on when the pet returns to the environment (the house or yard); therefore, these baths ultimately do nothing.

Remember you get what you pay for; the cheap stuff at Walmart will cost you more in the end because it does not work and can make your pet sick.  You will end up paying more money for other products and possibly a vet bill for a sick animal as well.

It is much cheaper, safer, and easier to use a preventive every month and avoid an infestation all together.

It is also important to follow product instructions carefully for maximum efficacy and safety.  Always make sure that you are applying a product that is labeled for your pet’s species and weight: some products labeled for dogs are toxic to cats, for example.  Also, if you are applying a dose designed for a dog that weighs 20 pounds to a dog that weighs 50 pounds, it is likely that product will not work.  Other examples would include: not bathing your pet 2 days before or after the application of Frontline products, not bathing your pet with liquid dish soap when using topical products, and always giving oral products with a full meal.

Cassie Gombeda RVT

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This is a large amount of information to absorb, and we understand that.  This is why we have handouts for you, because presenting all this too you verbally may prove overwhelming.  If you have concerns or questions beyond what is described here please never hesitate to ask.  We are here to help you give your pet the happiest healthiest life possible.

Guernsey Veterinary Clinic
2103 E. Wheeling Ave.
Cambridge, OH 43725
740-432-5980

Dr. Leia Hill
Dr. Michele Dangaran
Dr. Nikki Freshwater
Dr. Michelle Santangelo

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