Fleas! Fleas! Fleas!

Although we are far from the flea heaven that is Florida, Quinte West is a wonderful habitat for fleas in the summertime. Here at Hillcrest Animal Hospital it is probably the single most common problem that we deal with over the year.

Believe it or not, even dinosaurs suffered from fleas! The ancestor of today’s flea can be traced back well over 100 million years. Keep this in mind when you are trying to eliminate them from your home… you are fighting over 100 million years of evolution! Due to this long evolution, fleas are beautifully adapted to their niche. They are capable of surviving for up to a year in their pupa (cocoon) form, and survive for weeks as a reproducing adult, laying up to 50 eggs every single day. They will rest in their pupal phase until a living (warm), breathing (giving off carbon dioxide) animal walks by (like “Boris” the cat), then they instantly hatch and jump aboard. Once the female has a blood meal she begins producing and laying eggs within 24hours!

Here is a link to fleas on Wikipedia;  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flea

I will always remember my parasitology lecture in school (20 plus years ago for those who are curious). Sitting in the back I watched as my normally quiet, mature class almost all began to fidget and scratch for most of the lecture. It was pretty funny actually. We were informed by our professor that the average female flea could lay between 25 and 50 eggs every day as long as she could find a host to feed off of. Those eggs could complete their life-cycle to adulthood within as little as 2 weeks during optimal conditions (ie: summertime in the Quinte area!). Want to hear the scary part? During a single 2 month period a male and female flea could very easily produce as many as 500,000 offspring! So fleas do indeed get worse “almost overnight” as many people report, and getting rid of them can be quite difficult if you do not approach the process properly.

By far the best solution to fleas is to prevent getting them in the first place. Your veterinarian has many products that can safely be used on your pets to kill fleas before they ever become a problem. Many of these products are combinations that also prevent heartworm and can deworm your pets as well. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that many products you find in pet stores and hardware stores are “old technology” insecticides that can fail you. Most importantly many of these can be a serious health threat if applied inappropriately, especially to cats.
Illustration of iceberg underwater

Once you have noticed that your pet has fleas it is crucial to realize that your pet is literally the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to the whole problem. Like an iceberg, 90% of the flea problem on your pet is “below the waterline” in the form of larvae, pupae and eggs. As well, your pet is the “tip of the iceberg” in comparison to the problem within the house itself! In order to eliminate fleas from your environment you must adopt a 2-pronged approach. A product must be used on all of the animals in the house and the house itself must be dealt with as well.

Products for animals are available almost everywhere. As I stated above, many of them are “old technology” that will have some form of quick-kill effect and rapidly wear off. In effect taking the top 10% off the problem and allowing a new 10% to surface. Therefore it is very important to use residual products on your pets that act for a month, or products that prevent the hatching of larvae, eggs and pupae. This same principle applies to the product that you use for your home. As a rule, premise products are much more toxic than those designed for use on pets. Cats in particular (also fish and birds) are very sensitive to these products and should not be exposed to them. The better premise products will contain substances that prevent larvae (caterpillar or worm stage), pupae (cocoon phase) and eggs from maturing, these are called “insect growth regulators”. They are the reason why you no longer have to spray your house every month for 3 or 4 months to control fleas. A single application of a good product, when properly applied, will control the problem in the house as long as your pets are also being treated with a residual product for at least 2-3 months. One very important thing to keep in mind about fleas is that the larval form is photophobic and seeks dark areas. So when you are spraying your house, it is the hard to get areas that are the areas of greatest concern, not the open area in the middle of the room.

If you are experiencing a problem with fleas, do yourself and your pets a big favour… call your veterinarian. This is a problem that can be simply and relatively quickly dealt with, but only if you use the correct tools.