Can you imagine having dozens, or even hundreds, of insects crawling on your skin and biting you 24 hours a day?! We owe it to our pets to use effective flea control. At best, a flea infestation is a significant quality-of-life issue. At worst, it can make a patient miserable and cause severe skin disease.
Fleas and flea hypersensitivities are some of the most common skin problems we treat in both dogs and cats. Chances are, if you have attempted to avoid use of flea/tick preventives in your patients, you have encountered fleas at least once or twice in your pet’s lifetime. I have been guilty of this in the past! Maryland has great weather for fleas, and the inside of your home probably does, too. Fleas like temperatures between 70 and 90 degrees, and humidity of about 75%. Sound familiar? Most of us live in these conditions consistently, and this contributes to the success fleas have had in our indoor and outdoor environments. So what to do?
Flea Life Cycle:
Knowledge is power. Let’s boil this down to some FUN FACTS rather than an entomology lesson:
- The fleas on your dog or cat are all the “cat flea” Ctenocephalides felis.
- Fleas lay EGGS, which hatch in about 2 days to LARVAE, then form PUPAE, and finally emerge as ADULTS over the course of 3-4 weeks.
- The adult flea lives for 4-25 days. That’s up to 25 days of irritation from one insect!
- Adult, female fleas produce up to one egg every hour. And they don’t sleep. So that means 15 female fleas on your dog or cat can deposit 360 eggs a day into your home. Over a 25-day lifespan, that’s 9000 eggs that hatch, develop, and look for a warm body to feed on. Feeling squeamish yet?
- Most of the fleas in a household aren’t on your pets. They’re in the environment, effectively in the pipeline that’s depositing adult fleas on a daily basis onto you and your pets.
- Fleas almost never leave their home. Fleas don’t last long in the environment, and won’t leave a host without a reason. Once they’re on your dog or cat, they’ll usually stay there until they die.
Usually diagnosis is straightforward, and can be accomplished by simply viewing adult fleas on a pet. However, we routinely see flea “dirt” (digested blood, or flea excrement), flea eggs, and occasionally flea larvae on patients. Frequently, while we are performing a routine physical exam we notice a small amount of suspicious black debris on the exam table… When we place some on a white sheet of paper and apply a small drop of water, it reconstitutes and is recognizable as blood. If you are suspicious that your pet may have fleas, you can do the same!
While we carry several products at our clinic and on our online store, we typically recommend those that are very reliably effective. We have seen many, many patients over the last 5-10 years with flea infestations that have been unaffected by fipronil (Frontline products or the generic versions thereof). While these products are effective for some flea populations and certainly among the least expensive, we recommend them less often.
Bravecto, Simparica, and Nexgard are all members of a newer class of flea/tick preventive. They are all effective, and safety for this class appears excellent after several years of use. They are also quite cost-effective, and convenience is excellent since they are all flavored, chewable products. Bravecto in particular is given only once every three months.
Bravecto for cats is a newer version of the same compound that’s formulated for topical use, so cats don’t need to swallow it. We know what it’s like to make a cat swallow a medication… Bravecto requires a single, topical treatment every 3 months, making it ideal for even difficult-to-handle cats. It’s also one of only a few flea products for cats that is effective for ticks, so it’s great for cats that spend time outdoors.
Vectra for cats and Vectra 3D for dogs are effective flea preventives, and the canine version contains a pyrethrin that kills ticks on contact. We have been very pleased with their performance.
Seresto collars are effective for up to eight months, and we have had relatively few problems with lack of effectiveness. The convenience is excellent, though dogs and cats need to wear the collar at all times.
Remember the staggering numbers of offspring fleas can produce? Removal of fleas, eggs, larvae, and pupae is a hugely important component of control. Consider two complementary ways of accomplishing this:
Sentinel for dogs and Program injectable for cats are insect development inhibitors that will prevent the development of eggs and larvae in the environment. The active flea-control ingredient is Lufenuron, which has been used safely for many years. Dogs receive it as a monthly, chewable heartworm preventive. Cats receive it as a long-acting (6-month) injection. Don’t skip the flea/tick preventive, though! Remember that adult fleas can live on your pet for over three weeks, and we never have a month without ticks in Maryland.
Vacuuming floors, carpets and furniture, and washing/drying bedding are very effective in eliminating fleas. Flea eggs, larvae, and pupae don’t survive a trip through a washer and dryer, and a vacuum cleaner is great for eliminating the future flea population from your floors and furniture.
Patience is needed as it takes a few months to completely eliminate the population of fleas from the environment.
We are always happy to help! If you have product or management questions for us, please ask. And if you have a pet with red, irritated skin, or with scabs and crusting from a skin infection, it’s time for an exam and some other medications. Most of our patients will be feeling much better in a day or two, and with a long-term commitment to flea control, future problems can be avoided.