Vet Blog

Getting Flea Issues Under Control

January 01, 2020

The most important thing to understand about flea issues is that they're not typically a quick fix.

If you have a flea issue, you're going to have to be diligent about getting it under control and you're going to have to understand that it can take up to 3 months to do it - so yes, you will likely still see some fleas while you're working on the problem. Here are some quick facts to let you know what you're dealing with:

  • Fleas have 4 life cycles: Egg, Maggot (Larva), Pupa, and Imago (Adult).
  • A flea can jump vertically 7 inches and horizontally 13 inches.
  • A single female flea can lay about 50 eggs per day.
  • A single female can lay 5,000 or more eggs over her life.
  • It takes a flea 4-6 weeks to reach adulthood.
  • Fleas have a large life span range depending on environmental conditions, ranging from as short as 3 months to several years.

Now that we've got that straight, let's get to work on fixing the issue.

The Life Cycle of a Flea

First of all, you need to understand the flea life cycle to appreciate the importance of the recommendations we make to get the flea issue under control.

Any pet owner who's had trouble with fleas knows how quickly an infestation can spiral out of control. But how does it go from one flea to hundreds - even thousands - so quickly? That's why you need to understand the life cycle of the flea from egg to adult. It's also important to note that the entire life cycle can be completed in 2 weeks during warm summer months. So here we go:

  1. Egg. Eggs are deposited on the pet and fall into the environment - your pet, your grass, your carpet, and your furniture.
  2. Maggot. The maggots (flea larvae) are approximately 0.5 cm long and can emerge as soon as 2 hours after the eggs are laid. Like all maggots, they pretty much feed on anything: blood, feces, organic debris, their own eggshells, and even other flea larvae. Flea larvae develop outdoors in cool, shady areas where pets rest, as well as indoors in undisturbed, protected sites such as in carpet, under furniture, and along baseboards.
  3. Pupa. Flea pupa are whitish cocoons that can be found in soil, on vegetation, in carpets, under furniture, and on animal bedding. Adult fleas emerge from cocoons about eight days after they were formed. All adults have usually emerged by day 13, depending on temperature and humidity.
  4. Adult. Adults begin feeding (sucking blood) immediately when they find a host (i.e., you and your pet) - usually within three minutes. After feeding, egg production begins within 24 hours.

Okay, so now we know why flea problems are worse in the summer (because it's warm!); however, you must understand that this cycle continues as long as a single flea in any stage of the life cycle is present in the environment. That's why year-round flea prevention is important…especially in Louisiana!

Fleas By The Numbers

Let's look at a quick analysis. Say it starts with 1 flea; it feeds and lays 50 eggs every 24 hours. You probably don't notice this 1 flea, but it's already at work in your home. Now let's say it's the middle of summer and the life cycle is only taking 2 weeks to complete because it's so warm. Well, you don't notice the single flea, and so you also don't notice the eggs or the maggots or the pupa until they hatch into adults. So now how many adults do you have when you first notice? Unfortunately, you're already somewhere between the Day 14 and Day 30 scenarios below:

  • DAY 14: 1 flea x 50 eggs/day x 14 days = 700 eggs laid (most of which are in the maggot and pupa stages by now), and 50 adult fleas.
    • Note: When you notice a flea issue, you are somewhere in between these two scenarios.
  • DAY 30: 51 fleas x 50 eggs/day x 14 days = 35,700 eggs laid (most of which are in the maggot and pupa stages by now), and 2,551 adult fleas.

The Underlying Issue

A single flea creates significantly larger issues at each stage of the life cycle, which is why the life cycle must be broken and why to successfully resolve a flea problem, each phase of the life cycle must be addressed.

If a life-cycle approach is not taken to control the issue, more adults will emerge, and the process will begin again.

How To Win The Battle

It's been said that the best offense is a good defense. When it comes to fleas, this is also true. The number one way to control and prevent flea problems is to use flea prevention products on your pet year-round; however, we now have a problem to fix and here's how we recommend doing it.

We're often asked, "What products do you recommend?" That's most readily answered by what we carry in the clinic, and those products we carry are also readily available to you; so there's no having to wait for an online shipment. However, we have dozens of other products to fit any budget available to you through our online store. As a side note, this is not the time to save a few dollars to buy from cheaper online suppliers. Buy the real thing, from an authorized distributor (like the BVS Online Store), and handle the problem the right way the first time.

Step 1: Get Rid of Fleas on Your Pet. Your pets need to be on flea, tick, and heartworm prevention year-round. The prevention needs to be administered properly and can take from 4-36 hours to kill existing fleas in the area. Treat all pets in the home for a minimum of 3 months to eradicate the entire life cycle for each pet. Once the infestation is eradicated, continue to treat pets monthly. Stray animals (feral cats) and wildlife (squirrels, rats, rabbits, and opossums) moving through your yard can re-introduce these pests into your environment.

For Dogs:

  • Trifexis is an oral flea preventative, as well as a heartworm, hookworm, roundworm, and whipworm preventative given every 30 days. Give with a FULL Meal for best efficacy.
  • Credelio is an oral flea preventative, as well as a tick preventative given every 30 days. Give with SOME FOOD for best efficacy.
  • Vectra 3D is a topical flea preventative for adults, eggs, and larvae), as well as tick, mosquito, mite, and biting fly preventative given every 30 days. Apply from "Tooter to Snooter" or "Rear to Ear."

Note: When using topical flea preventatives such as Vectra 3D and Revolution, wait 3 days after applying to bathe your pet and use a detergent-free (soap-free) shampoo when doing so. This will help the topical flea prevention to remain effective longer.

For Cats:

  • Cheristin is an oral flea preventative given every 30 days.
  • Revolution Plus is a topical flea preventative, as well as a heartworm hookworm, roundworm, and ear mite preventative given every 30 days. Apply to the back of the neck.

For Dogs & Cats:

  • Frontline Spray kills adult fleas. Use every 30 days.
  • Vetri-Repel is an all-natural flea, tick, mosquito, and fly repellent. Use every 2-3 days, or as needed before going outdoors.

STEP 2: Treat Your Environment. They're in your yard, your carpet, pet beds, your bedding, and your furniture, so you must treat it all. Vacuum carpets at least once a day. Wash pet bedding. Wash area rugs. Treat indoor and outdoor areas using appropriate insecticides.

For Home:

  • Knockout kills adult and pre-adult fleas and ticks and controls maggots for 4 months.
  • Knockout ES kills active flea infestations and ticks, prevents flea infestations from developing, and prevents re-infestation for 7 months. Must ventilate room for 2 hours after use.

Step 3: Assess Your Pet's Situation

  • Where do you go with your pet? Do you visit other family, and if so, do they have pets? Do you go to the dog park, daycare, or boarding facility?
  • Are you in a multi-family structure? If so, do they have pets? If more than one family is present, you may need to notify the landlord and to request they treat any common areas where pets are walked (indoor hallways and outdoor grassy areas), as well as your apartment (because fleas can travel through air vents, electrical lines, and plumbing lines). You should also contact a pest control company.
  • Is your house raised? If so, are feral cats around/under the house? Maybe you have a neighbor that's feeding feral cats. If this is the case, you may need to capture some of the feral population and treat the area.

Additional Resources

  • Fleas: Know Your Enemy - This is a great article with additional information on the health risks fleas cause for your pet.
  • Product Manufacturers - Call product manufacturers and ask them any questions you may have. Customer service numbers are on product labels; the manufacturers are a good source for the latest recommendations on treating flea infestations. They can also share any "breakthrough" data (instances in which their product was proven not to work) if any data exists.

If you have questions or need to talk to a veterinarian, please contact us or schedule your pet's next appointment now.

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