Fleas, the nemesis of our pets, are happening now! To understand the problem you must know the life-cycle.
- We will start with the adult flea. Once hatched, they seek a blood feeding as soon as possible. Once on their prey they remain, feeding and producing eggs. Each flea lays hundreds of eggs. Some eggs remain on the host but most fall off into the environment. Visualize your dogs and cats with flea infestations as little salt shakers as they romp through the house and over your furniture.
- After falling into the environment (grass, carpet, furniture, etc.) larvae hatch from the eggs within 2 to 5 days. These larvae feed on adult flea feces and debris in the environment.
- The larvae eventually develop into pupae that spin and exist in a silk-like fiber cocoon. This cocoon protects the pupae during inclimate weather, carrying the life cycle through droughts and winters. They are also resistant to all flea and house treatments. I repeat, resistant to all known treatments.
- The pupae develop into the adult flea which emerges from the cocoon anywhere from a few days to several months.
The 2 most important facts about the life cycle are the number of eggs each adult flea lays and the pupae stage. Each adult female flea lays hundreds of eggs. These eggs hatch and eventually become adults laying their hundreds of eggs which develop into hundreds more, etc. The numbers grow exponentially through the summer. This is why we spend the autumn and early winter months treating severe infestations. Once winter sets in our pets may be flea free but the pupae and cocoon stage allow the life cycle to remain intact and it all starts over in the spring.
Problems will become exaggerated when infestations are allowed to progress. Fleas tend to congregate just in front of the tail where oil glands are concentrated. As the flea population increases the dog itches more, resulting in self induced trauma. Staph bacteria take advantage of the damaged dermis and invade and propagate. The end result is a pyoderma (a deep skin infection). This is incessantly itchy resulting in further self trauma and spreading of the infection.
(Severe Flea Allergy Dermatitis on a dog.)
Flea allergies are by far the most common allergy we see. When a dog or cat is allergic to fleas, the problems discussed with advanced infestations occur much earlier. Often a few flea bites will trigger the intense itching seen with dogs and cats with heavy infestations.
The deep skin infections are treated with oral antibiotics, and topical antibacterials, anti-inflammatories, medicated shampoos and rinses. Occasionally, corticosteroids are administered for relief. Antihistamines are usually ineffective in relieving ‘flea itch’. If the infestation is bad a ‘quick kill’ flea treatment is given. Otherwise, the dog or cat is started on our monthly treatment/preventatives.
If the problem is chronic treatment of the environment may be recommended. Please seek our advice on products. Usually the inexpensive home-treatment products kill adult fleas only. You need products that have adulticide and larvacide. No product has any effect on the larval/cocoon stage, this is why repeat treatments are needed at 3 week intervals to kill the fleas as they hatch out. It takes at least 2, and sometimes up to 3 treatments, to be effective.
The best and most effective treatment is prevention! Follow these tips for a successful program.
- Remember the flea life cycle. We recommend year-round flea prevention to avoid any problems associated with the complicated flea life cycle.
- The monthly applications and oral medications we recommend are very dependable and safe as long as the recommended protocol is adhered to. Do not miss treatments! Do not bathe within 2 days of applying topicals!
- Seek our advice on prevention. Many products sold in pet stores, grocery stores, etc., are both inexpensive and ineffective. They claim to be effective for a month but in reality are usually effective for up to 5 days. They are chemicals used commonly 15 to 20 years ago, re-packaged in dosing ampoules. Their safety margin is narrow and can be fatally toxic to cats.
- The fipronil products (generic Frontline) sold over the counter seem to be losing their effectiveness. This may be due to resistances developing by the flea or poor compliance to directions. This is our clinical impression and not based on any scientific research.
- New, 3 month duration products are being released to veterinarians for resale. These are brand new and the jury is still out as to their effectiveness for the entire 3 month period. However, the research does look good.
- The products we currently recommend and carry for resale are Activyl monthly topical application for dogs, Cheristin topical application for cats, and Trifexis oral chewable. Trifexis is given monthly for fleas and heartworm prevention. We have had great success with all three products.
- Many times I’m asked why their pet has gotten fleas when they are isolated to the house and yard. Remember, the description about little salt shakers? Well, those feral cats and other small mammals do the same thing as they pass through your yard. So, we recommend all pets be on prevention year-round.
So, to review, because of their life cycle fleas will never go away. Prevention is the key to keeping your pet flea-free. Please seek our advice for prevention and treatment. That’s why we’re here!