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Fleas and Your Pets

We enjoy our pets considering them members of our family.  They greet us with excitement when we return home and sit by our side as we watch an evening television program.  Sharing pictures on social media of their playful antics or accomplishments is a favorite pastime.  Pets have a treasured place in our home and we love them however along with owning pets is the responsibility of keeping them healthy and free from fleas.   Once fleas are introduced into a home it threatens our peace and tranquility.

Flea prevention for dogs and flea prevention for cats follow a similar process.  First, you will need to remove the fleas from their bedding and sleeping areas including parts of the house that your pets frequent.  Then you need to remove fleas from the animal. When that has been accomplished a long term treatment to prevent reinfestation is required.  In the discussion below, we cover how to keep your house and prevent fleas on your dogs and cats.

What do Fleas Look Like

FleaFleas are small wingless reddish-brown insects that average 1/12 to 1/6 in long. Their body is narrow from side to side allowing freedom to move easily through the hair of an animal or in the nap of carpeting.  Covered with spines projected backward allows fleas freedom to move forward between hair or feathers and difficult to remove.  Adults have piercing-sucking mouthparts to penetrate the skin of the host, and long powerful legs permitting them to jump as high as 7 to 8 inches vertically and as far as 14 to 16 inches horizontally.

Flea Species

Cat and dog fleas are similar species of fleas that occur throughout the United States.   Cat fleas are the most common fleas found on pets. Dog fleas are commonly found on wild hosts rather than domestic pets. Both can be found on wild animals or livestock.  Other fleas are less common but still found are Human Flea, Oriental Rat Flea, Northern Rat Flea, Sticktight Flea and the European Mouse Flea.   This article will be referring to the most common flea, the cat flea.

Fleas Can You See Them

Fleas on Human skinThe flea’s ability’s and design permit them to stay firmly attached and to travel from place to place almost undetected.  With spines to help hold them in place, their shape providing the ability to move among the hair of the host and their powerful legs to help them escape and remain hidden, it is sometimes challenging to eliminate them.  They quickly grow in numbers infesting an entire home environment.  Turning a dog on its back and looking at its underbelly and back toward its tail is generally a good place to see fleas on a dog.  Cats are more difficult and a little less cooperative but fleas may be able to be seen on their belly if you separate the hair with your fingers.

What Do Fleas Eat/ The Fleas Diet

Fleas feed on the blood of its host which are most often cats, dogs, and other pets. Larvae feed on the organic debris of adult fleas.  It’s more pleasant to say organic debris than what it really is, the feces of adult fleas that contain undigested blood.  Pupae can be found in the carpet, bedding or other areas pets frequent and are developing into an adult flea. Once developed into an adult it waits for a host.  Pupae can detect vibration, rising levels of carbon dioxide and body heat of a host.  They then emerge from their cocoon and hope to land on the host ready to feed.  Although they prefer animals with hair, wild or domesticated, humans will suffice for a meal if that is what’s available.   People often experience an infestation after returning home from a vacation because the fleas are ready and waiting for a host to appear.  The cocoon protects the pupae making it a difficult stage to destroy.

Life Cycle of A Flea/A complete Metamorphosis

Order: Siphonaptera

FleasLifeCycleFleas have a complete metamorphosis.  Adults lay eggs shortly after a blood meal.  Eggs are smooth, rounded, light-colored and about 1/50 inch in diameter so small they can hardly be seen.  Laid on the host they fall in a pet’s bedding, carpet or cracks in the floor.

Eggs hatch from 2 days to 7 days after being laid into flea larva.  These are small, active maggot like creatures with 13 body segments and chewing mouth-parts but no legs.  Feeding on organic debris through 3 instars(stages) they grow to 1/8 to 1/6-inch-long and 1/64 inch wide.  They become entwined in the carpet and resist the pull of a vacuum cleaner.  It may take about 1 week or up to several months  for the larvae to develop. The time needed depends on the environmental conditions and food availability.  

The mature larva spins a cocoon for pupation.  This cocoon becomes covered with grains of sand, lint, dust, or other debris and is well camouflaged.  If temperatures are favorable within about 7 to 10 days, the adult flea develops within the cocoon.  The adult may not emerge immediately most, however, emerge within 7 to 14 days after the cocoon is formed.  The adult flea may not emerge for several months or may remain in the cocoon for up to a year until conditions are favorable for feeding.  Flea problems seem to peak in spring, summer and fall seasons when the environmental conditions are common indoors and out.  In some areas, they can be a year-round problem.

Flea Products

Understanding the flea life cycle is important when choosing products to eliminate an infestation of fleas.  Fleas may become resistant to a product making it ineffective. Pest professionals are updated on the products that are available, if there is resistance to a product, and how to manage each life cycle.   If you choose to use do-it-yourself over the counter products, follow the label.  This is extremely important for both you and your pet’s safety.  The EPA as more advice on reading labels and being safe.   EPA Guide: Read the Label First to Protect Your Pets

There are sprays available for homeowners to purchase and use on their own.  Emulsions are generally preferred for treating carpeting because they allow for better penetration of the active ingredients without leaving a visible residue.  Many products today also contain insect growth regulators (IGR).  IGR disrupt how insects grow and reproduce, they can prevent reproduction, egg-hatch, and molting from one stage to the next.  For more information on IGR and pesticide use visit the National Pesticide information Center.  NPIC: Insect Growth Regulators

Total Release Foggers are dangerous and sometimes not effective. Forgetting to put out pilot lights for water heaters and furnaces could cause an explosion.  Before you consider using these Please see the Safety Precautions the EPA has.  EPA: Safety Precautions for Total Release Foggers 

If you choose to call a professional after having treated first it is also very important that you tell the professional what product was used.  If fleas were resistant to the product the pest professional knows which products can be used.

Identify and Manage a Flea Infestation

Signs of Flea Infestation

  • Pets repeatedly scratch and groom themselves due to the discomfort of flea activity.
  • Humans may experience bites which leave behind itchy marks or welts
  • Flea dirt, (the adult flea feces) that looks like coarse ground black pepper may be seen on pets, pet beds, carpets, rugs and other areas the host animal rests.
  • Adult fleas on pets or humans may be seen jumping from the carpet to the host.
  • Fleas may be seen in pets bedding or close to where they can get a blood meal from the host.
  • Fleas will generally be concentrated in pet resting areas, outdoors where there is a fallout of fecal material from adult fleas feeding on the host.
  • A reaction to a flea bite may be a small, hard, red, slightly raised itching welt with a single puncture point in the center.

Fleas are carriers of parasites and other diseases.  Fleas are found on wild hosts like rodents, raccoons, opossums, skunks and feral cats and dogs. It is important to make sure entry points are sealed to prevent intrusions of these pests. Fleas can carry the internal parasite dog tapeworm, common in both cats and dogs requiring treatment by a veterinarian.

Flea Treatments

The Pets

Flea treatments for the home and pets must be combined for effective elimination of fleas.  Veterinarians have a variety of options that are extremely effective for helping to eliminate a flea infestation.  Some treatments involve the pet taking a pill by mouth, others are put on the base of the neck under the fur.  There are also pet sprays, dips, and shampoos that are a tremendous help.  These products kill the adult fleas or prevent the fleas from being able to reproduce. 

It is vitally important to read and follow the labels on any products you purchase.  First, because it is the law and most importantly for the safety of you and your pet. See your veterinarian for which products are best for your pet.

Pre-Home Treatment Preparation

An important initial part of the treatment is the removal of clutter and debris indoors and outdoors, as this could interfere with a thorough application. Floors, carpets, and upholstery should be vacuumed before the treatment.  It is important to deposit the vacuum bag in a sealed plastic bag and place it in the outside trash can. Vacuuming will pick up the nap of the carpet allowing for complete penetration and application of the products used by the Pest Professional. 

Pet bedding should be disposed of in severe infestations; in some cases, laundering and placing in a hot dryer is enough to kill the fleas.  Pick up any pet dishes or pet food. Remove clutter from the back yard, pick up or remove pet bedding or clutter from kennels or any place the pet may sleep, spend time or travel through.  Remove anything that would prevent a good application coverage of the products.  Following these steps will help ensure the treatment will be successful.  Pupae present at the time of treatment will likely still emerge several days to a couple weeks after completing a treatment.  After the treatment, any additional cleaning should be delayed to be sure and not remove any product meant to kill additional pupae that may still emerge.

Pets and people should be away from the premises during any applications and not reenter for 1 to 2 hours. The treated areas should be completely dry before returning.

Pacific Northwest Insect Management Handbook at the OHSU Extension Department has some identification of flea cycles and additional advice. Public Health Pests: Flea  

Flea Prevention

Fleas can spread diseases and parasites from host to host and continued treatment of your pet should be followed to prevent further infestations.  Remember to wash and dry your pet’s bedding in a hot dryer often to kill any fleas that may have found a hiding place there.  Bathe your pet often with flea shampoos.   Fleas prefer shade and moisture, mowing the grass will help prevent fleas from staying in your yard.  Cutting down tall weeds and exposing the dirt to the sunlight will also help prevent fleas from over population.  Regular vacuuming of carpet and floors can also help to prevent a flea infestation. Pets may pick up fleas from places like the dog parks or on walks around the neighborhood.  These steps may help prevent fleas and keep you and your pet healthy and comfortable.

Fleas prefer shade and moisture, mowing the grass will help prevent fleas from staying in your yard.  Cutting down tall weeds and exposing the dirt to the sunlight will also help prevent fleas from over population.  Regular vacuuming of carpet and floors can also help to prevent a flea infestation. Pets may pick up fleas from places like the dog parks or on walks around the neighborhood.  These steps may help prevent fleas and keep you and your pet healthy and comfortable.

Regular vacuuming of carpet and floors can also help to prevent a flea infestation. Pets may pick up fleas from places like the dog parks or on walks around the neighborhood.  These steps may help prevent fleas and keep you and your pet healthy and comfortable.

I have found a helpful video from VetVID.  This gives excellent advice on treatment and prevention from Dr. Mike.  Fleas: Tips to Protect Your Dog During Flea Season

Feel free to share this information with others who have pets so they can help their pets say healthy and comfortable too.

American Extermination Plus is here to help you.  Call us today for a professional consultation.  We want to help you restore peace and tranquility to your home.

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