by David Moore
Manager of Technical Services and Board Certified Entomologist
Q: My dogs get fleas every year. What can I do to stop their suffering? -Jennifer C, High Point, NC
A: Fleas are a common problem of dogs and cats. There are a few options to help prevent fleas from entering your home. Some of these options involve your pet, while others require mechanical changes to the environment. By using multiple options, you can help ensure fleas do not enter your home and bother your family.
By eliminating the habitats in your yard where fleas are most likely to occur, you will take the first proactive step for prevention. Fleas tend to like it where it is moist, warm, shady, and where there is organic debris. They will also tend to be where pets spend more of their outdoor time such as patios, dog houses, etc. Rake away leaves and grass clippings to reduce the number of places fleas can live.
For your pet, there are a few options for ongoing coverage. Have your pet get shampooed with a flea-control product or purchase a product that you can apply to your pet on a regular basis. The problem with these options is that many fleas have become resistant in varying degrees to the pesticides contained in these products. Although these products will have some other value for other parasites such as ticks and mites, their level of control for fleas can be hit or miss at times. Flea & Tick Collars can be effective, but must be applied properly. To get the right degree of snugness, you should just be able to get two fingers between the collar and your pet’s neck. Some collars lose effectiveness when they get wet, so make sure you verify how long they will last in the environment by reading the label.
Your pets are not the only animals that travel in your yard and deliver fleas on your property. Stray dogs and cats as well as naturally occurring wildlife can be a source of fleas. Try to discourage these animals from entering your yard by keeping your trash inaccessible, eliminating potential harborages for these animals, and by not leaving food out for them. Even if you do not have any pets, fleas can be carried into your home by your family as well. Adult fleas respond to movement, vibrations and carbon dioxide. By simply walking around and breathing, you are attracting fleas to you.
On the inside of your home, you can vacuum your home on a regular basis to help pick up fleas. Vacuuming will suck up many flea eggs and disrupt their reproductive cycle. This will also remove dirt and debris that flea larvae use to create a cocoon. The debris that they use also helps to camouflage the pupa while it develops. Adult fleas consume blood as they feed, leaving behind droppings that have blood remnants in them. These droppings dry out quickly and are left behind for flea larvae to develop.
The resolution usually needs a 2 tier approach for resolution. You will need to visit your vet and have a pesticide treatment given to your pet. This can be a shampoo, a topical application or an oral dose given to the pet. Be cautious about over the counter applications since the dosage is determined by weight. A veterinarian will be able to determine what your best option is for your pet. Flea combs are often overlooked for removing fleas. Comb your pet and then place the fleas in soapy water to kill them. Combing a pet is very time consuming, but it will provide some immediate relief for your pet.
A pesticide treatment is usually necessary to resolve a flea issue and they are not usually resolved in one treatment. Multiple applications are usually required. A product that will kill any adult fleas and also stop the development of eggs and larvae is preferred. Many over the counter treatments use active ingredients that the fleas have developed resistance to. If you choose to treat your home with an over the counter treatment, you may elongate how long it takes to resolve the issue. I usually recommend that a pest management professional performs the treatment since most homeowners do not have the education on where to look for flea harborages.
Most flea treatments take multiple applications, so you will have to be patient while going through the process. A pest management professional will usually be able to resolve the problem faster and provide guidance on how to prevent fleas from reoccurring again given your personal situation.