Fleas - What You Need To Know Your Family Pets Are Our Family Pets

Fleas: What You Need to Know

  • Fleas must feed on a pet to lay eggs/ make flea dirt (feces). Flea dirt looks like pepper. It varies from tiny black dots to tubular structures about 1/32 (1/2 mm) long. If you are not sure it is flea dirt, put the suspected material on a light-colored table or countertop. Add one or two drops of water and wait about 30 seconds. If it is flea dirt, the water will turn reddish brown as the blood residue goes into the solution. Another trick is to put some of the material on a white paper towel and then wet the paper towel with water. A red stain will become apparent if you gently wipe the material across the surface of the paper towel. 
  • Every flea will produce 40- 50 eggs per day within 24 hours of a blood meal (2,000 eggs in a lifetime)
  • Fleas lay eggs on a pet’s hair coat, then they fall into the environment.
  • Fleas do not transfer from host to host- pets acquire fleas from an infested environment.
  • If you see live fleas, then there MUST be eggs/larvae/pupae/emerging fleas SOMEWHERE on the premises (indoor or out).    
  • New fleas emerge daily- the fleas you see today hatch from eggs laid 3-8 weeks ago.  In colder climates, they incubate longer.
  • In an infested environment, the pet becomes a “flea vacuum”.  The fleas that hatch out immediately look for a host... your pet!  If the pet is treated properly, the fleas will begin to die- stopping egg production.
  • EVERY pet in the environment must be treated.  This includes dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, and hedgehogs.  If ONE animal is untreated, the fleas will continue to feed and lay eggs.  The environment will, therefore, continue to be infested. Since no flea control product is a force field (meaning that the fleas must jump on the pet and, in most cases, bite before they die), you will continue to see fleas on even treated pets until the environmental problem is under control.
  • When treating the environment, remember that flea eggs are EVERYWHERE the pet goes (This includes your bed if your pet sleeps with you.  Tips: wash bedding weekly, vacuum frequently (removing or freezing bag/canister and throwing away outside of environment), treat with a flea SPRAY with an IGR (insect growth regulator), not a bomb.  Bombs send product up into the air, and it settles on top of furniture, etc., missing the areas flea eggs most commonly are- under furniture/ in dark places. Outdoors, you should concentrate on shaded, moist areas.  Most treatments will not kill the flea pupae stage.  Once these pupae become adults, the environment may need to be treated a second time (usually 7-14 days).
  • Flea pupae can survive for up to 6 months in the environment!!!!  When stimulated by environmental movement, heat, and CO2, they emerge from the pupal stage.  This is very relevant for those who come to NC and stay in vacation homes or people who have recently moved because the home may have hundreds of flea pupae waiting to emerge.  Often, people mistake this mass emergence of fleas for a failure of the flea product they are using. It is important to remember that no matter what product you use, fleas have to jump on the pet before they die.   
  • There is NO overnight fix for a flea infestation.  Ridding your home of a flea infestation is a process, and if you are consistent and thorough, the problem will be resolved.  
  • It is important that you use the flea control product we prescribe properly.  Topical products should be applied DIRECTLY to the skin, not the hair coat.  They do not get rubbed in.  Some of these products must be placed in one spot, while others should be dispersed over several spots.  Oral medications often need to be given with a meal. 
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Common Flea Misconceptions

  • I still see fleas.  

The product isn’t working- Again, no product is a force field.  The fleas must jump on the pet before they die.  Be patient, and also be sure to explore all avenues to make sure you have not missed any steps (i.e., you are only treating one pet out of three).

  • He’s indoors/ the fleas are only in my yard.

 Usually, an indoor environment is much more hospitable to developing fleas than outdoors.  Flea eggs are deposited wherever the pet goes.  If the pet is inside, so are the fleas, eggs, larvae, and pupae!

  • I have to bathe him (with flea shampoo) to get the fleas off.

While bathing is effective temporarily, it is detrimental to an overall flea program.  A flea bath will kill fleas on the pet while the shampoo is in contact only.  There is no residual effect.  Therefore, the fleas will resume feeding and reproducing once the pet is put back in the environment (without another form of flea control).  Additionally, if a pet is on a topical flea control (ie: Advantage Multi, K-9 advantix), the bathing (and swimming) will reduce the product's effectiveness over time and may strip the product off completely.  

In this case, the bath is doing more harm than good. If you must bathe your pet you should:

  1. Use a “soap-free” shampoo.
  2. Bathe as infrequently as possible.
  3. Wait 2 days before/ 2 days after a bath to apply a topical.
  4. Use an oral flea prevention if possible (Trifexis or Comfortis)- Bathing and swimming do not change the efficacy of these products.
  • They aren’t biting me.

Fleas are host-specific; they prefer to be on a dog/cat/other animal host.  Fleas seen on people usually have just emerged and are looking for an animal host.

  • He isn’t scratching.

 Not all dogs and cats are allergic.  When fleas bite, they inject saliva into the host animal.  Some animals are allergic to saliva and react by itching and scratching (often near the base of the tail). These flea bites may bother an afflicted pet for several weeks, and even a single bite can give an allergic pet a severe reaction.  A related misconception is that the animal must have live fleas to scratch.  Remember that the animal is allergic to saliva and not the flea itself.  Again, if you have one allergic dog and two that are not, all three still need to be treated to eliminate the reproducing flea population in the environment. Conversely, it is important to remember that not all itchy animals have fleas. Fleas are one of many reasons a pet can be itchy, and a veterinarian should determine if flea allergy is the cause.

  • I only have to use flea control in the summertime.

Flea eggs are laid wherever the pet goes… including indoors.  This means that fleas can survive all winter long.  Also, NC never gets cold enough to entirely kill off flea populations in the winter.

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What You Should Do to Protect Your Pet from Fleas

  • Use the flea control product prescribed to you as directed by your veterinarian.
  • Treat ALL pets in the environment.  Make sure you only take your pet places where other pets are treated properly for fleas.
  • Wash bedding (the pets and yours) weekly and vacuum frequently (removing or freezing bag/canister and throwing away outside of the environment).
  • Treat the environment with a flea SPRAY with an IGR (insect growth regulator), not a bomb.
  • Avoid bathing your pet if you are using a topical flea product.  
  • Be consistent and patient.  There is no overnight fix for a flea infestation, but if you follow these guidelines, you will succeed and be flea-free! 

Things to consider:

  • How often are you bathing your pet/ does your pet swim frequently?
  • Are ALL of the pets being treated?…and your roommates, boyfriends, girlfriends, moms, dads, etc.
  • How often are you treating the pet/pets?
  • What product and dose are you giving/applying?
  • How are you applying or administering the product?
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