It’s that time again! Flea season! Cats, dogs, indoor, outdoor. No one is safe from them. Fleas are a pest that can cause all sorts of trouble.
Fleas are great at what they do. A female flea can lay up to 50 eggs a day. This means that in prime conditions, one female flea can lead to 20,000 fleas in just 60 days. (Which is not really something I want to think about too hard.) They have 4 life stages: egg, larvae, pupa and adult. Generally, this cycle takes about 3 weeks, but in the absence of warm-blooded hosts, pupae can delay emerging as adults. They are stimulated to emerge when they sense motion, heat, moisture and carbon dioxide. Ponder that for a minute: empty house or apartment; humans, dogs, and cats move in with all their motion/heat/moisture/carbon dioxide; and suddenly everyone is covered in fleas.
Besides the obvious horror of a parasitic infestation, fleas can trigger allergies, cause anemia, spread disease and intestinal parasites. It only takes one flea bite to set off a flea allergic animal; this can lead to itching, skin redness and hotspots. Fragile animals such as the very young, very old and very small can become anemic when heavily infested, some even requiring blood transfusions to survive. Fleas can carry several diseases that spread to their hosts: the most notable ones are plague and cat scratch fever. Fleas are also part of the tapeworm life-cycle: when your pet grooms a flea off of themselves and swallows it, they can become infected with tapeworms. All of these fun facts mean that it is important to protect your pets from fleas. But how??
Fleas can be tough to get rid of. There are a lot of products out there, but not all are equally effective. Fipronil (the main ingredient in Frontline) has been on the market for decades, so many flea populations have started to become resistant to it. For dogs, I have had most luck with oral products like Nexgard and Bravecto. They are generally palatable and can be used in most dogs except those with seizure disorders. For cats, I still like topical products but find Revolution and Bravecto to be most effective. Be sure to avoid over-the-counter products for cats like Hartz or Sargeant’s because they are toxic and can cause muscle tremors and seizure-like activity.
Since no product can kill all life stages of the flea, it is important to approach an infestation with a multi-pronged approach. First, use a product that works. Second, use it for at least 3 months, though ideally all year round to prevent future infestations. This 3-month timeframe allows the fleas in the pupa stage to emerge as adults and be killed by the flea product. If you only do 1 or 2 months of treatment, the fleas that are in the pupa stage at time of treatment will just hatch later and re-infest your pet and your home. Thirdly, wash all bedding on the hot setting and vacuum anything that cannot be washed weekly during treatment. Don’t forget to empty the vacuum canister each time!
The best way to manage and prevent fleas is to treat all of your pets year-round with a quality product. If your pet is having trouble with any parasites, contact your veterinarian.