The past several years has brought a new understanding of the biology of the flea and with it a better understanding of the relationship of the flea with our pets and the environment. These new discoveries have enabled us to design much more effective flea control programs.
The Life Cycle
It is important for us to learn how the flea lives and survives in order to combat them. Adult fleas lay eggs only while on the host. These eggs then fall off of the host and deposited anywhere that the animal has access to. The largest number of eggs are naturally found in areas or places where the pet spends most of its time. Hence, in the home, careful observation of the habits of the pet will reveal the major areas of flea development. These areas are known as hot spots - and are likely the most contaminated. The hot spots will be the areas where the pet sleeps or lounges - sofas, chairs, rugs, beds etc. Fleas have an extremely high reproductive capacity and may lay up to sixty eggs per day.
While eating, fleas excrete large quantities of incompletely digested blood which quickly dries into reddish-black fecal pellets. This flea dirt falls off of the host and serves as an essential food source for the flea larvae. The larval stage usually lasts a week or two after which time the larvae produces a cocoon in which to develop further. Flea cocoons are particularly hardy and are resistant to adult insecticides. Before the fully developed adult flea emerges from the cocoon it can remain there for several weeks until a suitable host comes along - in which case it can emerge in a matter of moments.
To have any chance of being successful, a flea control program must be directed towards the animal and the environment. We must eliminate adult fleas on the animal and in the environment as well as the immature stages in the environment.
Before treating the pet or the home with insecticides, mechanical control measures should be taken. These include washing the throw rugs, blankets, and bedding. Vacuum all areas where the pet frequents - this will help remove flea eggs and larvae. Cushions and pillows should be removed and vacuumed. Pay special attention to
crevices in sofas and chairs, under beds and furniture. Next vacuum all carpets and floors - vacuuming not only removes a number of eggs and larvae, it also stimulates the cocoons to hatch where they are then susceptible to the insecticides. Once you have finished vacuuming tie and throw the vacuum bag away!
The next stage is to use a house spray for the home, preferably one with a residual action.. Sprays are also available in combination with “Insect Growth Regulators” (IGR’s), these are compounds which inhibit development of immature stages of the insect. They are extremely safe products.
You should do one of two things with your pet. One thing is to bath them. A bath ensures initial flea removal and cleanses the coat from flea feces and debris. You should remember that a flea shampoo has no residual action so other measures are required. We recommend using moisturizing flea shampoos to avoid irritating your pets skin. For continued protection you must use a spray or mousse on a regular basis. Some of these products also contain IGR’s - your veterinarian will be able to explain which is the best for you.
Insect Growth Regulators are now routinely used in the flea prevention programme. There are two effective methods of flea prevention on the market. One effective product given orally once a month and works by sterilizing the female flea. The other is a break-away collar that you place on your animal. When these products are started early in the flea season, it will prevent the buildup of flea populations in the environment.
The pupae presents the biggest obstacle in any flea control programme. Insecticides cannot kill the pupae under the cocoon, and it is because of this that they continue to grow and hatch for the next two to four weeks. For this problem it is necessary to re-spray the heavily populated areas.
An effective control programme is based on a full understanding of the life cycle of the flea, the habits of the pet, and effectiveness of the products.