Fleas. Even saying the word makes us itch. These tiny creatures can make your pet miserable, and in turn make you miserable. Plus, once they latch on to your pet and make a home in your house, they are very hard to get rid of. Bottom line, fleas are a pain. Here are some tips to help you avoid this pain and avoid flea infestations in the future.
Getting rid of fleas on your pet and in your house can be a long, challenging and expensive process – so why not avoid them all together? There are several widely-available flea prevention products that you can use to protect your pet from fleas.
Topical gels such as Frontline® Plus, Advantage® II, K9 Advantix® II, Sentry® FipoGuard® Plus and more can be found at your veterinarian’s office or local pet store, and are applied in between the pet’s shoulder blades, so that the pet won’t lick it off. The product then seeps into the pet’s oil glands under his skin, and is distributed throughout his hair. If properly applied, these products should kill all fleas on the dog within two days, and the dog will remain protected from infestation for 30 days. Frontline, Advantix and Sentry also work on ticks.
Other flea control products include prescription flea prevention pills (available from your vet), and some over-the-counter options like CapStar, which can kill adult fleas within 30 minutes. This is good for a quick-fix when the dog has fleas but is not a substitute for monthly prevention treatments. Flea collars, which slowly release some of the same chemicals used in the topical gels, are another cost-effective option that can last for 5-8 months.
Before choosing a flea prevention product, we encourage you to talk to your vet about what is best for your pet. Most flea prevention products are not recommended for puppies under 8 weeks – be sure to check the minimum age on the back of the packaging before purchasing and using any product. Also, products containing permethrin (including K9 Advantix II) can be fatal to cats if ingested, and should be used with caution in households with cats. For more information about the active ingredients in flea prevention products, check out this article from Doctors Foster and Smith, an online pet store.
Anti-flea topical gels, pills and collars are powerful prevention tools, but what if you are already seeing fleas on your pet or in your home? Things to look for: Is your pet itching more than usual? Are you seeing flea dust (tiny black specks of dirt) left behind when you pet gets up from a nap? Are you noticing worms in your dog’s stool? All these things are signs of a flea infestation. In that case, we advise you to clean, then clean again . . . and maybe again!
First, bathe your pet using flea shampoo, available at most pet stores. If you don’t have any on hand, you can combine white vinegar, water and dish soap to make this popular homemade flea shampoo recipe from Dogster (see their post for more instructions). Use the shampoo to kill any adult fleas on the pet, and comb the pet’s fur in the bath to capture any remaining fleas. You may need to repeat this several times until the fleas are all removed from your dog and home. In between baths, bring out the flea comb again, and search for fleas in your pet’s fur (hot spots are the head and rear). Keep a bowl of soapy water nearby, and dunk all fleas you capture on the comb into the water. They will not survive in the water long, and can be quickly disposed of after you’re done.
Upon first site of fleas on the dog or in the home, vacuum all areas that the pets frequent, especially flea-friendly areas like couches, rugs and other napping spots. The goal is to vacuum up eggs, larvae (worm-like stage before flea form), pupae (cocoon stage after larvae and before fleas—also the toughest to kill), and the fleas themselves. Before vacuuming, put several broken-up mothballs into the cylinder of the vacuum or in the vacuum bag to help destroy anything that is sucked up.
When vacuuming, be sure to get as many surfaces as possible, including crevices of furniture, under furniture, rugs, and along baseboards; basically, vacuum anywhere the vacuum can reach. When you are done vacuuming once, do it all over again, and maybe even a third time. When finished, seal the vacuum bag or remnants that are in the cylinder in a plastic bag. If you have a bagless vacuum, wash out the cylinder with soap and water after use. This will further help destroy the pests and ensure they don’t escape from the bag or cylinder to re-infest your home or trashcan.
In addition to vacuuming, don’t forget to wash all the areas that the dog or cat frequents. This includes, but is not limited to, dog beds, sheets, cushions, pillows, comforters, blankets, etc. Basically, you will be doing quite a bit of laundry.
Finally, once the initial clean-up is complete, use a home flea-eradication product like a fogger or a spray to get rid of any remaining eggs, larvae, pupae or fleas. Outside the home, check your yard for damp, shady spots where there may be flea nests. Eliminate the environment, if possible, by cutting back brush, picking up debris, etc. At the very least, use the same spray you used inside to help cut down the population. Professional pest removal services can also be very effective; while the cost will be significantly greater that do-it-yourself solutions, it may be worth it in the case of severe home infestations.
If you are still seeing fleas on your dog, you will need to repeat these steps again until all traces of the fleas are gone. Due to the life cycle of the flea and the amount of eggs produced (see video below), you may have to repeat the process for a couple of weeks.
In addition to being proactive and keeping things clean, be sure to keep a close eye on your pet throughout the flea season. Flea activity is strongly influenced by humidity and other weather conditions, meaning that flea season varies depending on geography. To find out when fleas are most active in your area, check out this map and zip code tool on The Weather Channel’s website.
Throughout flea season, it is important to check your dog regularly for fleas. Also keep an eye out for more serious potential reactions to fleas from your pet. If you are seeing generalized hair loss, scabs and excessive itching, your pet may be having an allergic reaction. If your pet has pale gums, has a cold body temperature and is generally listless, it may be parasitic anemia. Both conditions are serious (especially for young animals), and any affected pet should be seen by a vet as soon as possible.
Fleas are tough creatures – the key to getting rid of them is to be tougher than they are. Be vigilant, be proactive and be knowledgeable. With these tools in your arsenal, you can win the battle against those tiny, tricky bugs!
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Flea life cycle video from Pet Health Network.