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  • ♦Fleas are tiny biting insects that can cause severe discomfort for our pets resulting in scratching, biting, chewing and restlessness.

  • ♦Fleas are the cause of Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD), the most commonly seen skin allergy in dogs and cats.

  • ♦Continuous year-round control is the only way to stay on top of flea numbers in your home.

  • ♦For successful flea control, all in-contact animals and their environment must be treated.

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Fleas are very important pests on domestic dogs and cats, especially during the warmer months, but fleas may persist all year indoors.  There are over 2,000 described species of fleas worldwide, however the most common flea encountered in and around homes is the cat flea. The dog flea is relatively rare, infact most dogs infested with fleas have cat fleas! Adult fleas are not only a nuisance to humans and their pets, but can cause medical problems including flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), transmission of tapeworms, secondary skin irritations, and, in extreme cases, anaemia.

iStock_000013311974XSmall.jpgAlthough bites are often felt as a sharp pricking sensation, it is the resulting irritation caused by the flea's saliva that varies among individuals. Some may experience a severe reaction (general rash or inflammation) that results in secondary infections caused by scratching the irritated area. Others may show no reaction after repeated bites over several weeks or months. Bites on humans are usually found on the ankles and legs. The typical reaction to the bite is the formation of a small, hard, red, slightly raised (swollen) itching spot, surrounded by a red halo. Flea bites on sleeping people typically occur in clusters or lines of two or more bites. On pets, fleas tend to concentrate their bites to the neck, shoulder blades, and base of the tail regions. However, with heavy infestations, the fleas can be seen running across the sparse hair areas of the belly.


Identification

Adult fleas are approximately four millimetres long, dark reddish-brown, wingless, hard-bodied insects, with enlarged hind legs, and are flattened laterally (from side to side) allowing easy movement between hair, fur, or feathers on the host. Fleas are excellent athletes, leaping vertically up to seven inches and horizontally over a foot!  They have piercing-sucking mouthparts and spines on the body projecting backward which makes fleas difficult to pull out of the fur of animals.

Life Cycle and Habits

flea-life-cycle-demonstration-(2).gifFleas pass through a complete life cycle consisting of egg, larva, pupa, and adult stages. Completion of the life cycle varies from two weeks to eight months depending on the temperature, humidity, food, and species. Normally, with regular blood meal access, the female flea can lay 15 to 20 eggs per day (up to 600 in a lifetime) on the host (dogs, cats, rats, rabbits, mice, possums, foxes, chickens, humans, etc.). Eggs are loosely deposited in the hosts’ skin, fur, or feathers and usually drop out where the host sleeps and frequents (rugs, carpets, upholstered furniture, cat or dog boxes, kennels, sand boxes, lawns, etc.). Eggs hatch in approximately two to 14 days. Larvae take a week to several months to develop. Pupae mature to adulthood within a silken cocoon woven by the larva, to which pet hair, carpet fibres, dust, and other debris adhere. In about five to fourteen days, adult fleas emerge when they receive a signal that a host is near. Signals may include: vibrations (pet and people movement), pressure (host animal lying down on them), heat, noise, or carbon dioxide.
Most fleas survive cooler weather in the larval or pupal stage. Survival and growth are most successful during warm, moist winters and springs. Newly emerged adults will live for about one week without a blood meal, but can survive two months to several years between meals. Optimum conditions for the flea’s life cycle are 20° to 30°C and 70% humidity.

Control Measures

The best way to approach flea control is using integrated pest management (IPM) techniques.  This involves cleaning and removing food for the flea larvae while targeting both adult fleas and the larvae with pesticides. Flea control is best achieved with simultaneous, coordinated efforts involving strict sanitation, pet treatments, and home treatments (both indoors and outdoors).

Prevention

Trim lawns and weeds to create a less habitable environment for flea larvae and adults. Restrain cats and dogs so that they can’t roam freely in heavily infested areas or contacting other infested animals.  Discourage nesting or roosting birds and other mammals on or near the premises. Screen or seal vents, chimneys, crevices, etc., where vermin may enter buildings. Regularly wash or destroy pet bedding, and regularly groom pets and vacuum frequently. Frequent vacuuming has been shown to remove up to 95 percent of the flea eggs, some larvae, and adults.

Inspection

Pets usually display signs of discomfort when they are infested with fleas. Frequent scratching and biting of the legs, belly, and back areas are often signs of flea infestations. Fleas can be difficult to find in the fur of animals. Try to separate the fur on the shoulder blades and at the base of the tail to see if you can observe fleas running about. If the pet will allow, place it in a large sink or bath tub and comb the back and sides of the body. If any black debris falls off, moisten it with some water and if it turns red, this indicates flea dirt from adult fleas. Before treatment, observe where your pet prefers to rest. Research has demonstrated that these areas will contain the highest number of eggs, larvae, and pupae even after vacuuming. Hot spots for homes with dogs are usually areas where the pet goes in and out of the house, eats, sleeps, and spends time with the family at the base of furniture. For cats, check carpets and furniture where the pet frequents.  Flea dirt from infested cats may also be found on the tops of refrigerators, tabletops, bookcases, and other elevated locations.

Sanitation

Vacuuming carpet where your pet rests and sleeps will help control flea larvae by removing eggs and dried blood faeces (larval food) plus opening up the carpet for more effective insecticide treatment. Vacuuming must be performed on a regular basis (every other day) to be effective. Concentrate on areas where lint and pet hairs accumulate along skirting boards, around carpet edges, on ventilators, around heat registers, in floor cracks, and under and in furniture where the pet sleeps.

Chemical Control

There are literally hundreds of products on the market for flea control on pets and the premises. For successful flea control, ALL pets and the home environment need to be treated simultaneously.  Regular, preventive treatment of cats and dogs is the most reliable way of keeping the pets clean of fleas and to avoid development of a complete flea infestation that includes the larvae and pupae. When this approach has not been followed, it is strongly recommended that a veterinarian and a licensed professional pest control operator be consulted or hired, as both have the experience, training, equipment, and most effective insecticides for overall flea control.

advocate.jpgPets

There are many formulations: shampoos, aerosols, dips, sprays, dusts (powders), collars, spot-ons, and monthly tablet or chew treatments. Port Phillip Animal Hospital stocks only the newest, most effective, clinically proven treatments and we can tailor a complete flea control program for your specific requirements.  The same cannot be said of supermarket or non-veterinary product suppliers. When using pesticides, be sure to read, understand, and follow the instructions on the label. Products need to specify the pet type on the label. Some products that can be used on dogs are toxic to cats so always consult a vet if unsure about the safety of your product. 

Indorex.jpgIndoor Control

Total release aerosols (often called “flea-bombs”) have lost favour in recent times as it has been shown the vapours rarely get to the location of flea larvae or pupae not to mention the process of 'bombing' a house can be disruptive. Surface sprays can be used in a more targeted fashion and those that are effective usually have a knock-down pyrethroid (a chemical ending in “–thrin”) and an insect growth regulator. The insect growth regulators interfere with the development of the larvae and egg production by the female flea. 

Outdoor Control

If the cat or dog regularly goes outside, especially to rest or sleep, treatment will be useful. Treat outdoor areas frequented by pets during the summer months.  Animal enclosures, kennels, doghouses, crawlspaces, and turf areas used by the pets are important to spot treat with a hand sprayer. Clean and sweep porches, mow the grass, and soak dry soil with water before treating to bring the flea larvae up to the surface.

Alternative Remedies - Do they work?

There are numerous plant-based products on the market that claim to be effective against fleas.  The most common of these are pyrethrum-based products. Unfortunately, many flea populations are resistant to natural pyrethrum as well as the synthetic versions, pyrethrins. Many websites recommend feeding pets garlic, brewer’s yeast, or B vitamins but none of these home remedies have been shown to be effective against fleas. Also, pennyroyal, eucalyptus, rosemary, tea leaves, and citronella have not provided effective control. In fact, overdosing of any of these materials can be irritating or even toxic to pets.

Grooming Control

Flea combs are commonly sold and can assist in removal of adult fleas from an infested animal, but this only deals with one small component of the flea population. The use of dehumidifiers with air conditioning and vacuuming can assist in reducing flea populations within the home.