Fighting the Flea War


Consider that pest, the flea, able to leap 150 times it's own length with a single bound; 50 times faster on acceleration than a space shuttle; able to resist enormous pressure and frozen temperatures. If this weren't enough, the flea can go months without eating and can produce a new generation in just 21 days. Pretty amazing stuff for something that is only 1 to 16 mm long and capable of bringing great misery to man and beast.

Fleas have been with us since the Paleocene era, some 60 million years ago. All told, there are approximately 2,400 species and sub-species found all over the world, including the polar regions. Fortunately, only a handful regularly bite us and our pets.

Ironically, more dogs suffer from human fleas, pulex irritans, than humans do from dog fleas. The most common flea found on dogs and humans , however, may be the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis.>Unlike the supposedly finicky cat, the cat flea is not very picky about it's host and is found on 'possums and other mammals beside dogs and cats. Actually, C.felis is not the only fickle flea.

most fleas are drawn more to a particular environment, or habitat than to a specific host. This is an important factor for pet owners to consider when planning a flea control programme.

People who see only two or three fleas on their dogs may feel as if they don't have a flea problem, but it's what you don't see that can wreck havoc.

Given the optimal conditions of a host, warm temperatures and high humidity, 10 fleas can multiply to 250,000 in just 30 days !. For every flea you can see on your dog, there are a hundred more in various stages of development in your home or kennel.

The most common mistake pet owners make in their flea programme is to simply bathe or dip their dogs and hope the problem has been taken care of. But the experts all agree that isn't enough. The house, yard, dog-runs must be treated at the same time for any real benefit. Environmental control is absolutely critical to good flea control.

Don't overlook the importance of treating your cat at the same time.The family with one or more indoor/outdoor cats has the hardest job of adequate flea control. Take the pets to your veterinarian to be bathed and dipped and have a professional exterminate treat your house and yard. For best results it is important to do all this on the same day. For those who prefer to attack the problem themselves, a primary defense is the vacuum cleaner. Although flea larvae and pupae can (and do attach themselves to carpet fibres, regular vacuuming will pick up most adult fleas, their faeces and eggs. Vacuuming several times a week will disrupt their life cycle by getting rid of flea faeces, which are the main food source of the larvae. Change the vacuum bad frequently and seal the opening before you dispose of it. This will keep surviving adults from getting back into the environment

Be cautioned against putting flea collars or powders in the vacuum bag. If the chemicals are strong enough to kill fleas, inhaling those same chemicals from the cleaners exhaust may pose a danger to people. Another common mistake is to fog or fumigate the house and then steam clean the carpets. Steam cleaning should be done before you use a fogger or fumigator. Otherwise, along with removing the insects you've killed, you also take way any residual effect of the fogger and keep it from doing it's whole job.

It is preferable to treat the environment more than the pets. It is better for your animals health to concentrate on the environment more than on the dog. However, it's not necessary to overdose the environment either.

A little chemical goes a long way. Use flea control products carefully and read the labels completely before buying anything. Grooming the dog daily with a flea comb and frequent vacuuming is your best approach. Don't stop once you get started. Sprinkle flea powder on your carpets overnight a couple of times a month and bath your dog weekly with a medicated shampoo containing pyrethrins. Pyrethrins and their counterparts, pyrethroids, are botanicals and are considered to be the least toxic of all insecticide products

Foggers that contain an IGR, or insect growth regulator, are preferred. IGR's don't kill, they just prevent further growth of the flea from the pupal stage. It never hatches into an adult and therefore can't breed or bite. In an age when people are looking for alternatives to conventional pesticides, IGR provide just that.

In an effort to avoid chemicals, many people turn to one or more of a variety of natural, non-chemical methods of flea control. These include ultra-sonic flea collars, herbal repellent oils such as eucalyptus, pine or pennyroyal and the much touted brewer's yeast and garlic.Although some users swear by one or another of these, none has been clinically proven to work.

There does appear to be one somewhat natural, or at least non-insecticide product that has been shown to be effective as a repellent. A study that appeared in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, found that Avon's "Skin-So-Soft" bath oil repelled fleas. The study found that one and a half ounces of Skin-So-Soft, diluted with a gallon of water gave significant, although not complete, relief against fleas.

Citing the public's need for innovative flea control products and the current frustration with insecticides, the study recommend the addition of SSS to flea-dip solution. This would combine the repelling effect to the SSS with the flea-killing benefit of the dip. A second benefit is that the pleasant woodland fragrance of the bath oil nullifies the odour of most dips and the oil helps combat dryness of the skin.

The importance of consulting a veterinarian before beginning any flea control programme can not be stressed enough. Not only does the prime flea season vary from region to region, but so does the type of treatment needed.What works in one area may not work in another. Another reason to consult your veterinarian is to make sure the products you use to treat your pets, house and yard are compatible and will not cause a toxic reaction.

People who buy a product for their dogs from the vet, another for the house from a grocery store and another for the yard from somewhere else are playing Russian roulette with chemicals.It is easy to overdose a dog. People should be cautious combining products and should never use more than two organophosphates (such as diazinon or malathion) at the same time. Flea allergies in dogs are a common source of confusion and frustration for their owners,

Ironically, a flea-allergic dog often has fewer fleas than non-allergenic pets in the same household.Dogs can be allergic and have a severe reaction with one flea, and that one flea can make them miserable. The sad truth for pet owners is that it is nigh impossible to completely eradicate fleas. A regimen involving all household pets, the house and yard is critical and follow-up treatment in 10 to 14 days is a must, if any long-term results are to be realised.

Because fleas are quick to develop a resistance to chemicals that are used repeatedly, it is necessary to rotate the product used. You might want to use a carbamate one time, a botanical the next and then switch to an organophosphate. Pet owners are urged to read all product labels, particularly if their pets are on any medication. Some drugs do not work well with, or may enhance toxic effect of, insecticides. Many flea killing agents can't be used on puppies under 10 weeks of age or on sick pets and some products aren't safe for stud dogs or pregnant females. When in doubt, check with your vet. AChieving total flea control, if only for a few months at a time, is not an impossible dream. But it is no picnic, either. There is no easy answer to flea control. The person who can come up with an easy, inexpensive way to combat fleas will be a millionaire.

Life Cycle Of The Flea

Understanding the life cycle of the flea will help people understand the importance of the follow-up treatments for effective, long-term flea control. The life span of fleas is strongly influenced by environmental factors such as heat and humidity. The full cycle can take as little as three weeks or as long as two years. Fleas prefer temperatures ranging from 60 to 80 degrees and their optimal humidity level is between 70 to 85 percent.Given these conditions fleas have been known to live as long as a year without eating. The norm, however, is 6 to 12 months. To start a new generation on its way, adult fleas must first find a suitable host. Their tiny eyes do not see well and they don't have a nose as we think of one. Instead, fleas use their antennae and bristles to locate their hosts by odour, body temperature and low levels of exhaled carbon dioxide. Changes in light or shadow and air currents may also stimulate activity.

Once the flea has had it's blood meal, it is ready to breed. The female lays approximately 5 to 20 eggs at a time, taking time out for blood meals. Eggs may be laid off or on the host, but even those deposited on the host usually fall off. Each female has the capacity to lay several hundred eggs over her lifetime. In a week to ten days the eggs will hatch into maggot-like larvae. during the next two to three weeks, the larvae move about by they use of anal struts. They feed on the faeces of adult fleas, or on organic material on the ground, mites such as dust mites in carpets - and possibly even on injured fleas.

The larval stage can hold over as long as six months waiting for more optimum living conditions. They will pass through three larval stages before forming a cocoon, which starts the pupal phase. The pupal stage seems to be the most resistant and can hold over for as long as a year. Vibrations caused by animals or people walking nearby cause the adult flea to hatch from its cocoon and the cycle is repeated.

The Tapeworm Connection

Although most people know that fleas give dogs and cats tapeworms, few understand the process by which this happens. The small, white, wiggly flat sections sometimes seeen in a pet's faecal matter or on the hairs around the anus are only segments of the tapeworm. Actually, those flat segments are full of eggs. Flea larvae feed on those eggs from faeces of infected dogs and cats. They might also find dried egg segments in your lawn or carpets. The eggs develop into larvae inside the flea. After being swallowed by your pet, the fleas body is digested by the gastric juices in the pet's stomach. The tapeworm larvae is now able to hatch and attach itself to the intestinal wall of the host, thus starting the cycle all over again. Unless killed by medication, the tapeworm will continue to cast off egg segments. Even if you haven't see nay signs of tapeworm in your pet, ii is a good idea to take stool samples to your vet every three months or so. Only a teaspoonful is needed for the test, but the faecal matter should be fresh. medication comes in a pill and works within 24 hours. You do not need to withold food or water.

Submitted by John Chandler