By Katy Nelson, DVM
What fleas lack in size, they make up for in persistence. These tiny little bloodsuckers cost Americans around $9 billion annually to control* … one of the largest single expenses for pet owners.
I often have clients complain that though they’ve done their flea and tick preventatives religiously, at times they still find fleas on their pets. Where are these fleas coming from? Well, most of the time, the explanation can be found in one of two things.
1. Flea Product Tolerance
Flea product tolerance has built quickly over the years and we want to avoid creating a population of fleas who are immune to our best insecticides. By changing products periodically, we keep the fleas sensitive to the products we use. Another option is to add a flea sterilizer to prevent a resistant population of fleas from passing along those genes. Speak to your veterinarian about their recommendations for maintaining appropriate flea control in your home.
2. Fleas are in the Environment
At any given time, about 57% of the fleas in someone’s home are in the larval stage. These larvae spin a cocoon to live in, where they can develop into a pupa. After a week or two of development they grow into an adult. The adult flea may remain in the cocoon for up to five months, until the vibration or presence of carbon dioxide from a passing animal triggers it to awaken and emerge from the cocoon to feed.
The most effective flea treatment programs consist of an integrated approach to management and prevention, including good sanitation and treatment of the pet and the environment. What does this mean, exactly? Well, the first line of defense is a flea comb and a good bath, followed by flea (and tick) prevention medication. Discuss with your veterinarian which flea treatment is most appropriate for you and your pet.
Finish the task by employing some simple sanitation techniques inside and outside the home. Change your pets’ beds frequently and vacuum thoroughly. Vacuuming removes up to 30 percent of flea larvae and up to 60 percent of flea eggs from carpet and bedding. Vacuum under furniture, cushions, chairs, beds, and along walls. Fleas also thrive in the cracks of hardwood floors, so don’t forget to vacuum those, too (and discard those vacuum bags immediately)!
Outdoors, fleas prefer moist, shady, cool places. They especially like shrubs, leaves, and trees, and don’t fare well in sunny areas or open grass. By trimming back shrubs, raking out leaves, and, in effect, limiting the amount of areas where fleas thrive, you can help prevent infestations out of doors.
However, in situations where infestation has occurred, there are some options for outdoor treatment, both natural and chemical. There are several types of flea traps, predatory nematodes you can add to your soil, and many different products available to apply to infested areas. However, it may just be easier to call a pest control company and have them treat the yard with a pet-friendly solution for you as part of an ongoing program. Keep in mind that it may take months to exterminate the area completely.
How to Prevent a Flea Infestation
The best solution to a flea infestation is preventing one from ever occurring by consistently treating your pets and homes. Fleas aren’t just itchy pests, they’re also nasty little vectors of disease, so keeping them out of your home is a great way to keep you and your pets healthy for years to come.