To effectively control fleas, it is necessary to understand a little of their life cycle and habits.
# Adult flea—lives on the host animal (dog or cat), where the female lays her eggs
# Egg—flea eggs are laid on the host animal but fall off into the bedding, carpeting, and elsewhere in the animal's environment
# These pearly white eggs are barely visible to the naked eye and are usually impossible to find without a magnifying lens.
# flea eggs hatch into larvae in 1–10 days, depending on the temperature and humidity; the warmer and more humid, the more rapidly the eggs hatch
# Larva—flea larvae feed on organic material in the environment and on the droppings from adult fleas
# They are sensitive to sunlight and to drying, so inside the house the larvae prefer deep carpet, bedding, and cracks in the floor boards
# Outside the house, the larvae prefer shaded areas that have plenty of organic material (grass, leaves, etc.) or moist, sheltered soil
# As the larvae feed on adult flea droppings, they are found in highest numbers in areas where flea-infested animals spend much of their time
# Pupa—after 5–11 days, the larvae produce a fine cocoon in which they complete their development
# During this stage of their life cycle, fleas are resistant to insecticides
# In ideal conditions, adult fleas hatch from their cocoon in as little as 5 days, although fleas can survive in the pupated form for up to 5 months
# Hatching is stimulated by vibration, physical pressure, heat, and carbon dioxide; in other words, the presence of a potential host animal
Immediately after hatching from its cocoon, the adult flea seeks out a host animal. It must have a meal of blood within a few days in order to survive and produce eggs. Within 2 days of her first blood meal, the female flea begins producing eggs. Fleas can continue to produce eggs for up to 100 days. A single flea can produce thousands of eggs.
What problems can fleas cause my dog?
Fleas feeding on your dog can cause several problems:
# Itching and scratching at the flea bite—in most dogs, the itching is mild and temporary
# Some dogs become allergic to flea saliva and develop severe itching, hair loss, and skin damage from scratching and biting at the site. If left untreated a skin infection can develop.
# Tapeworm infestation—fleas are an essential part of the tapeworm's life cycle
# The dog is infested with tapeworms when it swallows a flea that contains immature tapeworm stages
# Anemia—loss of red blood cells
# This occurs only with severe flea infestations, and usually only in young or sick animals
I haven't seen any fleas on my dog. So that means I don't have a flea problem, right?
Not necessarily. It is easy to tell when a dog is heavily infested with fleas. You can see the fleas crawling over the dog's skin and through the hair. If your dog has only a light infestation, you may not see any fleas unless you look for them. A common place to see fleas is on your dog's belly and the inside of the thighs, where the hair is thin or the skin is bare. Another place to look is in the dense hair over your dog's rump, especially near the base of the tail. Part the hair and inspect the skin for either fleas or flea dirt.
Flea dirt is actually flea droppings. It looks like black grains of sand or cracked pepper on the dog's skin. If you place a few particles of flea dirt on a white surface (e.g. a piece of paper) and wet them, you will see a reddish brown stain form. This is because the flea droppings contain digested blood from the flea's blood meal. You may also notice tiny areas of dried blood on the dog's bedding from moistened flea dirt that has since dried.
How can I control fleas on my dog?
Effective flea control requires the three P’s! Pets, Premise and Persistence
1. Pets: Control of fleas on your dog
2. Premise: Control of fleas in your dog's environment
3. Persistence: Controling fleas is an ongoing battle.
Environmental control is probably the more important of the two. Adult fleas on your dog account for as little as 5% of the total flea population. Fleas can be shared by cats and dogs, so if you have a cat, it must also be treated.
Control of fleas on your dog
There are numerous products that will kill adult fleas on your dog. However, they vary in the duration of their effects:
# Flea shampoos, sprays, and powders—most will kill any fleas on your dog at the time of application, but they have no lasting effect
# Your dog may have more fleas within 24 hours of being treated
# Some of the newer sprays can be safely used every day, if necessary
# Flea rinses (dips)—may be effective for 4–5 days, depending on the product
# The rinse is applied after the dog has been shampooed; it is left to dry on the dog's coat
# Sprays containing flea growth regulators—depending on the product, these sprays are usually applied weekly
# The growth regulators help break the flea's life cycle
# Flea collars are not very effective in warm, humid climates (environments that are ideal for immature flea development)
# Some dogs are sensitive to flea collars and develop skin irritation under the collar; if this happens, you should remove the collar and use another method of flea control
# Spot-on products—Advantage® and Frontline® are two brand name products that are applied to a small area of the dog's skin; they effectively kill fleas for at least a month
# They kill the adult fleas, usually before the flea has had a chance to bite the dog
# Be sure to select the appropriate package for your dog's body weight
# Program®—a tablet that sterilizes any eggs laid by the fleas that feed on your dog
# You must give your dog the tablet once a month
# This drug does not kill the adult fleas on your dog, but it does break the flea life cycle by preventing hatching of the next generation of flea eggs
Control of fleas in your dog's environment
Control of fleas in your dog's environment is fairly simple for indoor dogs, especially if you have no other pets that regularly go outside. It is impossible to rid the outside environment of all fleas. Flea control in dogs that regularly go outside or live outside can be more difficult.
Unless you have strictly indoor pets, environmental control must target both your house and your yard:
# House—use a fogger or long-lasting spray to kill any adult and larval fleas
# If you have a particularly bad flea problem, it is often worth having a professional exterminator treat your home
# Fleas in the pupal (cocoon) stage are resistant to insecticides, including foggers, so it may be necessary for you to treat your home 2 or 3 times to get rid of all fleas
# The second treatment should be done 2 weeks after the first
# You should also wash or otherwise treat your dog's bedding on a regular basis
# Yard—spray your yard with an insecticide that has residual activity for at least 30 days
# For a difficult flea problem, consider having an exterminator treat your yard
# In warm, humid climates, it may be necessary to spray your yard every 30 days during the warmer months of the year
# Some newer products contain a growth regulator (fenoxycarb) and need to be applied only once or twice a year
My dog has been boarded while we were away, and now it has fleas. Did they come from the boarding kennel?
Possibly. Your dog could also have gotten the fleas from your home. Unless stimulated, fleas can remain in the pupal (cocoon) stage for up to 5 months. So, if your house has been empty for several days or weeks, the unhatched fleas will have remained in their cocoons during that time. On your return, activity in the house and the presence of your dog or other pets will stimulate the fleas to hatch and reinfest your pets. Newly hatched adult fleas will also jump on people in search of a blood meal. They much prefer dogs and cats to humans.
Fleas in the pupal stage are resistant to insecticides. Treating your home with a fogger or long-acting spray just before you go away may not prevent this problem. It is best to maintain a flea control program throughout the year to effectively rid your pets and home of fleas.
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