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Combating a Serious Flea Problem

Friday, June 22, 2012

Fleas are almost invisible due to their tiny size, but they can easily ride into your home on a sock or pants leg. Fleas cause obvious discomfort to your dog or cat and occasionally attempt to make a meal out of you and your family! Ctenocephalides felis, or the common car flea has a complex lifecycle that you need to understand to successfully eliminate. Fleas hatch into the first of several worm-like stages. Immediately, these larvae squirm down into the carpet or grass to avoid light. They live for weeks on the ground, seeking small amounts of organic material to eat. The best meal for them is "flea dirt," the remains of an adult flea's blood meals. Once these larvae attain a certain degree of health, they go into a pupae state and can lay in dormant wait for up to two years! Once they sense the vibrations of a large animal nearby, they hatch and immediately seek a host. Cats are their preferred home, but they are quite happy to choose a dog as well. Adult fleas spend all their time on the host animal eating and laying eggs, which fall from the animal to restart the cycle.

This peculiar lifecycle explains why in order to successfully eliminate fleas from your household you need to focus on the animal's body (where the adult fleas are), and areas where the pet spends a majority of its time (where the eggs and larvae live). Adult fleas are best attacked with IGRs or insect growth regulators. IGRs are a group of pesticides that quite effectively destroy the reproductive system of insects but are essentially harmless to mammals. These are the products that are squeezed from a small tube onto the dog or cat's neck or spine. Frontline and Advantage fit this description, for example. Follow the instructions carefully, as the flea's lifecycle is longer than the effective period of these products. Also, be aware that these products are strong chemicals and you should consult a vet before using even the over-the-counter versions. Homemade remedies such as sticky pads and diatomaceous earth (DE) will kill some fleas, but generally cannot be used to eliminate the entire flea population.

But removing the adult fleas does not solve the overall problem. Outdoor areas your pet frequents must be treated with a pesticide as well, usually a hose end sprayer full of a pyrethrin-based poison. The pet's bedding should be washed frequently in hot water and that and other areas your pet spends time in must be vacuumed. Then vacuum again often, as the vacuuming will cause vibrations that encourage the flea pupae to hatch and move around seeking a host. Young adult fleas will work their way out of a vacuum cleaner bag eventually, so empty your vacuum far away from the house or use a product like Flea Vac pellets to kill these insects inside the vacuum cleaner. These steps must be repeated periodically as well, to ensure you are capturing each successive generation of fleas.

Flea infestations can be maddening. But with a good plan and by staying mindful of the flea's lifecycle, any flea population can be brought under control and removed from your house.

About the Author

August Bering V, "Augie" to his friends, is President of Bering's Hardware in Houston, TX. Bering's is well known for a broad range of carefully selected home goods such as outdoor living products to pet products, and red carpet service that has delighted customers for generations since 1940. From your bridal registry, decorating your first home, to your first baby registry, Bering's has special gifts for special occasions and the right tools for the right job. Augie enjoys spending time with his family and friends, grilling and cooking, playing hard outside, travelling, design, art, live music, and spending as much time as he can with his family.

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