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We have been asked very frequently about the recent uprising of flea infestations in the region. Please take the time to read some of the following information on fleas, how to control them, and many options we offer for protection.
~ Fleas and how they work
Fleas reproduce much like butterflies do. Females lay eggs, which hatch into worm-like larvae. The larvae spin cocoons and become pupae. An adult flea emerges from the cocoon. In a population of fleas, about half are eggs, and about five percent are adults.
Female fleas can lay eggs only if they've had a meal. If a female emerges from her cocoon and isn't able to find food, she'll die without reproducing. But once she's eaten, a flea can lay close to 20 eggs at a time, for a total of 500 eggs during her lifetime.
Most of the time, fleas lay their eggs on their host. The eggs are completely smooth, so they slide off of the host and land in its environment. In people's homes, the eggs sink deep into carpet fibers and into floor cracks. Outside, flea eggs settle into the soil. Flea eggs are white -- the black specks you see on flea-infested animals and their bedding are particles of dried blood and flea droppings.
In order to develop, flea eggs need a warm, moist environment: a temperature of about 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) and 70 to 85 percent humidity. In these conditions, the eggs hatch in about 12 days. This 12-day window is one of the reasons why it can be hard to get rid of fleas. Some insecticides kill adult fleas but not eggs, which means a whole new set of fleas can emerge after the adults have died.
Flea larvae are about 1.5 millimeters long and look like white, segmented worms. They avoid light and migrate toward cracks in the floor, where they remain for their development. Unlike their parents, the larvae don't eat blood. Instead, they eat skin cells, flea droppings and other debris. Larvae develop through three stages, or instars, molting after each.
After a week or two, flea larvae spin silk cocoons. They attach pieces of dirt and debris to their cocoons as camouflage. If food is plentiful, the adult flea emerges after about a week. Otherwise, the flea may stay in its cocoon for up to a year.
~ Controlling fleas
For many people, seeing fleas prompts an immediate trip to a pet-supply store or to the vet for some type of chemical that will get rid of them. These chemicals can fall into a few basic categories:
- Insect growth regulators (IGRs) keep flea eggs from hatching by mimicking flea hormones. They may or may not affect pupae, and they have no effect on adult fleas. Some IGRs are topical -- pets absorb them through their skin, and fleas ingest them with the hosts' blood. One IGR, methoprene, is often used as a spray. The World Health Organization has also approved methoprene for use in controlling mosquito larvae in malaria-prone areas.
- Chitin synthesis inhibitors, also known as insect development inhibitors, keep young fleas from developing properly by disrupting the formation of their exoskeletons. Lufenuron, also known as Program, is a chitin synthesis inhibitor.
- Pesticides kill adult fleas. Imidacloprid, sold under the brand name Advantage, is an example of a topical pesticide.
- Repellents like DEET discourage fleas from entering a particular area.
Some chemicals are intended for use in a particular environment, like a room or a yard. Most of the time, you should remove pets and children before applying the chemical, and everyone should stay away from the area until it dries. Other flea treatments are topical or oral medications for pets. Some of these treatments require fleas to bite pets in order to work, while others do not. Typically, you can purchase these flea treatments from a veterinarian. For information on specific chemicals and how to use them, see these overviews from the Texas Agricultural Extension Service and the University of Florida. If you plan to use chemicals to treat your pets or your home, use them sparingly, and follow all accompanying instructions to the letter.
Today, many flea treatments are exceptionally powerful -- they kill fleas and their eggs within a few days. However, sometimes a simple on-the-spot treatment isn't enough to rid your home and your pets of fleas. Here are some simple steps for preventing and dealing with flea infestations:
- Treat your pets and their environment at the same time.
- Bathe your pet and use a flea comb to remove fleas. If you plan to use a topical flea treatment on your pet, follow the instructions regarding how long to wait before or after bathing your pet.
- Vacuum your home thoroughly at least every other day. Immediately empty the canister or replace the bag, and discard the debris in an outdoor garbage can.
- Launder or replace pets' bedding.
- Mow your lawn regularly. Rake and discard any leaves or other lawn debris, and keep piles of sand away from your home.
- Whenever possible, discourage wild animals from entering your yard.
There are a few home remedies for fleas that don't work. While flea collars can help keep fleas off of your pets, they don't generally have much of an effect on established infestations. Feeding brewer's yeast, garlic and vitamin supplements to pets is also unlikely to do much good against fleas. Ultrasonic collars also don't appear to act as a flea deterrent or repellent.
Most of the time, if you treat your pet, lawn and home for fleas at the same time, you can get rid of an infestation on your own. If not, you may need to contact a professional exterminator.
~ Flea control options offered
To be effective, flea control needs to be given once every 30 days, whether you choose to give oral or topical medication. Some people have found collars to be effective, however, in our facility, they do not seem to be effective over the entire animal. Our clinic carries several different options, most of which are a combination control with either heartworm prevention and/or tick and intestinal parasite control - please see the heartworm prevention page for more information on these products. Contact us for more information on these products and to get our best recommendation for your pets.