Fleas are pesky parasites and have adapted very well to living in our houses. In fact, houses are at the perfect temperature and humidity to become hatching factories for fleas. I no longer recommend flea control just in the spring and summer, but prefer to use flea control on pets all year round. It is better to prevent a flea infestation that try to eradicate one. One flea can hitch a ride on your pants leg from visiting a friends house, and if this flea is a female, chances are she already laden with thousands of eggs. Fortunately, fleas prefer to feast on the smaller critters rather than humans, because our pet’s body temperature is a few degrees higher than ours. But if the dog, cat or ferret are not present, then fleas will indeed bite a human.
To control fleas, you must have an understanding of the flea life cycle and the points in that life cycle where they are vulnerable to eradication. You also need to know what products that will kill the fleas and which ones are safe for your pets. Because some people may have more than one species of pets in the household, you do not want to use a product on a dog that may be potentially toxic to a cat or a ferret.
We will start with the life cycle of the flea.
- A female flea begins to feed on her host as soon as she hops a ride. Her blood meal nourishes the eggs and egg production begins within 20 to 24 hours after her first feeding.
- Female fleas can lay 20 to 50 eggs a day and 2000 in her lifetime.
- The female flea consumes 15 times her weight in blood a day.
- A flea bites your pet 400 times a day.
- The “flea dirt” found on your pet is the flea feces made of your pet’s blood. You can tell it is flea dirt if you put a small amount on a white paper towel and apply a small amount of water. As the dirt dissolves it will turn the paper towel red.
- The eggs are pearly white, oval and about 0.5 mm in length.
- The term “salt and pepper” refers to the flea eggs that are about the size of a grain of salt and the flea dirt that falls off of the pet. It is most notable on the bedding of the pet or where ever the pet lays.
- The eggs are laid on the pet and roll off the pet into the environment.
- Depending on the temperature and humidity, fleas can go from eggs to adults in as little as 13 days to as long as 8 months.
- The flea eggs hatch into flea larvae which look similar to small maggots covered with tiny hairs.
- The flea larvae do not like light and will crawl through the carpet to seek darkness under the furniture, in cracks and crevices of cushions and in other out of the way areas.
- This is one reason why traditional “flea bombs” are sometimes ineffective. The spray goes up and comes back down, and does not reach where the larvae are hiding and feeding.
- Flea larvae feed on the adult flea blood feces dropped off your pet and other organic matter in your carpet.
- The length of the larval stage of the flea is dependent on the temperature and humidity of the house.
- The next stage of development is the pupae or cocoon.
- The larvae builds the cocoon and uses some of the debris in the environment such as carpet fibers into the shell of the cocoon.
- The shell of the cocoon is now “glued” into the carpet and impossible to vacuum up.
- The shell also provides protection from the elements and also insecticides.
- Fleas will emerge from the cocoon when the temperature is around 24° (75.2° F) and a relative humidity of 78%.
- The flea can remain in the cocoon for up to 30 weeks.
- The flea will emerge from the cocoon when stimulated by:
- Mechanical pressure or vibrations- such as someone or a pet walking by.
- CO2 – Carbon dioxide from the pet or person breathing.
- Increased temperature.
- Homeowners away for a vacation can sometimes experience the sudden hatch out of thousands of fleas that were in the cocoon state ready to emerge. The vibrations of the owners returning and the exhaled carbon dioxide coupled with the air conditioner turning back on will stimulate the fleas to emerge and start to bite anything that is near. This sudden hatch out can also occur in vacant houses that have just been moved into.
Now that you understand the life cycle of the flea, let us find the points that the flea can be killed.
- The first point is on the pet. There are newer products available that are safe to use and will kill the flea with in the first 24 hours of the flea jumping on the pet. Why is this important? Remember that the flea does not start laying eggs until 20 to 24 hours after her first blood meal. If you can kill the female flea before she begins to lay eggs, you are a giant leap ahead of controlling your flea population.
- Point number two. Intermittently applying flea control products will result in gaps in your flea control that will result in female fleas laying eggs that can hatch out a year later. I recommend that you use the flea preventative products once a month all year round. Consider the flea not as a seasonal critter, but an indoor monster waiting to hatch out of your carpet and suck your pet’s blood.
- Point number three. The eggs and cocoons have a protective shell that make them resistant to the insecticides. The larvae and the adult fleas are the only stages that can be killed by insecticides.
- Point number four. Insect growth regulators are effective to keep flea eggs from hatching, but are difficult to apply in the areas that the flea eggs are hiding.
- Point number five – Frequent use of insecticides in your house and yard can build up and may cause toxicity to you and your family.For these reasons, I do not like insecticide foggers or bombs in the house. They do not get in the areas that hide the fleas and they contain insecticides that can build up in your house.
So, what products are safe to use on my pet?
- The advantage product by Bayer (Imidacloprid) is an excellent product for the control of fleas on dogs, cats and ferrets. (not officially labeled for use on ferret see post on http://www.allferret.com/1425/controling-fleas-on-ferrets/)
Advantage has unique crystals that are not harmful to mammals, but totally incapacitate the fleas. There is a 99% kill rate within 12 hours after applying the advantage. The obvious advantage is it kills the female flea before she begins to lay her eggs, thus breaking the life cycle. The other advantage is the imidacloprid crystals that are attached to the hairs of the pet fall off the animal into the environment, i.e. the carpet, etc. as the pet sheds hair. When the larvae emerge from the safe confines of their egg shell and come in contact with the crystals in the carpet, the result is another dead flea larvae within 2o minutes.
So by applying the advantage product to your pet once a month, all year round, you are also effectively treating the environment as the fleas are hatching out.
Check out how it works at http://advantage.petparents.com/
Advantage – multi contains the imidacloprid like the Advantage but also contains moxidectin. By adding moxidectin advantage- multi prevents heartworm disease, kills adult fleas and controls flea infestations, and treats and controls intestinal worms (hookworms and roundworms). Advantage-multi is applied once a month for both cats and dogs. We have also used it to control ear mites and other mites. Advantage -multi is only available with a prescription but is well worth it for what it covers.
For more information check out http://www.advantagemulti.com/
Revolution is the first-ever FDA-approved, topically applied medication for dogs and cats that kills adult fleas and prevents flea eggs from hatching out, treats and controls earmites, treats and controls sarcoptic mange, and also helps control the brown dog tick. Revolution contains selamectin and is topically applied. Revolution then enters the bloodstream through the skin. Concentrations of Revolution in the blood and tissues prevent heartworm disease and treats the intestinal parasites (hookworms and roundworms). Revolution selectively redistributes from the blood to the skin, where it provides protection against fleas, flea eggs, American dog tick, and mites. I recommend the Revolution be applied once a month to both dogs and cats all year round. Revolution is also only available with a prescription.
Learn more from Pfizer at http://www.revolutionpet.com/revolutionpet.aspx
Vectra 3D for dogs contains 3 ingredients dinotefuran, pyriproxyfen, permethrin. Because cats are sensitive to permethrins, you cannot use the Vectra 3D dog product on cats. The combination of Vectra’s ingredients help to protect dogs from 4 species of ticks, 3 species of mosquitoes and all stages of fleas.
Dinotefuran is a quick-kill insecticide discovered by researchers at Mitsui Chemicals. A third generation neonicotinoid, dinotefuran was synthesized with acetycholine as the lead compound, making it different from other flea control products currently in use which are based on nicotine.
Over the last 10 years, fleas have developed tolerance to older products, making them less effective in protecting pets from infestation and infection.
In addition, dinotefuran does not bind to the same insect receptor sites in the nerve synapse as imidacloprid and other neonicotinoids. The binding is permanent causing continuous nerve stimulation and death of the insect. Ingestion is not necessary. Dinotefuran kills by contact.
In numerous studies and clinics across the U.S., Vectra® vectoricides – which are based on the compound dinotefuran – have killed fleas quickly and safely for a full 30 days between applications.
The permethrin helps repel mosquitoes and ticks is not adequate enough to totally protect from heartworms. If you are using Vectra 3D for fleas, you should also use a heartworm preventative to protect from heartworms and intestinal parasites. Vectra 3D is also applied topically once a month and should also be used year round.
Vectra for Cats
The Vectra for cats does not contain permethrin.
Vectra® for Cats & Kittens and Vectra for Cats® contains a unique dual-action formulation that’s proven highly effective against fleas:
- Dinotefuran: quick-kill contact neonicotinoid that causes continuous nervous stimulation in insects resulting intremors and death.
- Pyriproxyfen: potent IGR prevents development of all immature flea stages; stable in sunlight.
In numerous studies and clinics across the country, Vectra for Cats & Kittens and Vectra for Cats have provided fast, safe, long-lasting protection against fleas and flea-borne diseases.
- Kills fleas within 6 hours.
- Kills on contact; fleas do not have to bite to die.
- Prevents development of all immature flea stages: eggs, larvae and pupae.
- Protects against flea-borne diseases including tularemia, rickettsiosis, bartonellosis and tapeworm.
- One application protects cats for 1 month.
- Safe for kittens as young as 8 weeks of age.
- Patented applicator makes administration fast, easy and accurate.
Vectra does not cover intestinal parasites, heartworms, or earmites.
ProMeris® for dogs is a topical, waterproof spot-on product for the control of existing flea and tick infestations, as well as the prevention of re-infestation, in dogs and puppies 8 weeks and older.ProMeris for dogs contains metaflumizone, as well as amitraz. A single dose effectively stops and controls flea and tick infestations, prevents flea re-infestations for up to six weeks, and tick re-infestations for up to four weeks. Monthly application is generally recommended for optimal control of fleas and ticks.
The Amitraz in Promeris is also effective againt Demodectic Mange in dogs.
Promeris does not protect your pet from heartworms or intestinal parasites.
ProMeris for dogs is available with a prescription:
- Kills the fleas that may cause flea allergy dermatitis
- Kills the ticks that may transmit Lyme disease, canine ehrlichiosis, or Rocky Mountain spotted fever
- Provides waterproof protection
- Includes an easy-to-use applicator
- Is gentle enough for dogs and puppies 8 weeks and older
- Works on indoor and outdoor dogs
ProMeris for cats is a topical, spot-on product for the effective control of existing flea infestations and prevention of re-infestations in cats and kittens 8 weeks and older. It’s the only product available from a veterinarian that contains a proven, active ingredient called metaflumizone, and research shows fleas are readily susceptible.
ProMeris for cats is available with a prescription:
- Effectively stops and controls infestations and prevents re-infestations of fleas for up to seven weeks
- Provides optimal flea control with one monthly dose
- May be used as part of a treatment strategy for flea allergy dermatitis
- Includes an easy-to-use applicator
- Is gentle enough for cats and kittens 8 weeks and older
Visit http://www.promeris.com/ for more information.
Comfortis® is the first FDA-approved, chewable, beef-flavored tablet that kills fleas and prevents flea infestations on dogs for a full month.
Only Comfortis® offers you all of these benefits in a single product:
- Fast, month-long flea protection
- Starts killing fleas within 30 minutes
- Lasts a full month
- Kills fleas before they can lay eggs
- The convenience of a chewable, beef-flavored tablet
COMFORTIS chewable tablets contain (spinosad) . Spinosad is a member of the spinosyns class of insecticides, which are non-antibacterial tetracyclic macrolides. Because it is ingested, the flea must bite the dog to receive the deadly dose. Comfortis also does not treat the environment so you will continue to find fleas for several months until all the eggs, larvae and pupae have completed their life cycle.
Comfortis does not protect your pet from heartworms, intestinal parasites, ticks or mites and is only effective against the fleas. You must use other products in conjunction with Comfortis to protect from the other parasites.
Go to http://comfortis4dogs.com/ for more information
Capstar contains nitenpyran and is also given orally. It is effective at killing fleas in 30 minutes and the flea must bite the dog to get the lethal dose. Capstar is only effective for one day so I seldom use it especially when other products that last the full month are available. Capstar is only used to kill fleas and does not protect your pet from heatworms, intestinal parasites, mites or ticks.
A few words about OTC (over the counter) flea medications. It has been my experience that the OTC flea spot-ons sprays and flea collars are NOT effective flea control products and I do not recommend them.
As you can see, there is a variety of products available for flea control. Each one has it’s own merits and covers different parasites. If you seem at all confused, get with your veterinarian and discuss with him or her what products they recommend. Since I live in a mosquito, flea, tick, and intestinal parasite hot bed in Houston, TX, my preference has been Revolution because it covers almost everything and because it is absorbed through the skin, bathing does not remove the product. Also cats are now getting heartworms so I am also recommending the Revolution be applied to cats year round to help prevent heartworm disease. I also like the Revolution for the earmite and sarcoptic mange control as well as the intestinal parasite control.
I have given a brief synopsis and links to the supporting websites so you can be an educated consumer.
I hope this has helped.
Debra Garrison, DVM