THE FLEA LIFECYCLE
In order to understand why a flea powder or one spot on treatment won’t fix a flea problem, we need to understand a little about the flea life cycle.
- An Adult Flea – after jumping onto a host and eating a blood meal, the adult flea changes it’s metabolism into reproduction mode. An adult female flea can lay up to 40 eggs daily and lives for 4-6weeks. That’s 1120-1680 eggs in a lifetime.
- Eggs – this lifestage is about 30% of the flea population at any given time. The eggs are laid on the host and fall off into the environment. They incubate best between 18.3-26.6 degrees and can remain dormant for up to 2 weeks. This stage likes to be resistant to insecticides.
- Larvae – this lifestage is about 60% of the flea population at any given time. The tiny, caterpillar-like larvae feed on faeces of fleas that have dropped off the animal or are in the environment. The time in the larval stage depends on environment – can be as little as 9 days or up to 6 months! The larvae molt 3 times then enter a cocoon and become pupae. Larvae are particularly susceptible to heat and so prefer to be in sheltered areas such as under the house or indoors.
- Pupae – once the flea enters its cocoon, it is nearly invincible! They can remain dormant in this stage for up to a year waiting for the right conditions to emerge. Vibrations, carbon dioxide, sound and warmth (for example, vacuuming!!) will encourage the young flea to emerge from its cocoon!
- Young Adult Flea – Once hatched, the young adult flea can go months before feeding but once it has found a host, it will never purposely leave.
During summer, the entire life cycle can take place in as little as 2-3 weeks however, it can take almost 2 years – no wonder they are so difficult to get rid of!
As you can see, most of the flea life cycle occurs OFF the animal so it is important you address this in your management of fleas. A thorough vacuum of all areas of the house, particularly carpets should be completed as often as possible. Any bedding that the animal sleeps on should be washed in hot water and left out in the sun to dry. Fence off or treat any areas under the house where the animal has access to. New evidence suggests flea bombs settle on floors/furniture from above whereas other Insect Growth Regulator sprays are sprayed from lower down and will better eliminate fleas and their life cycle. We recommend discussing the use of these with a pesticide company. Be sure to check the products are safe for use around animals and how long your pets should be out of the house.
The next step is treating the animal. It is important you treat every animal in your house and if possible other animals that your pets are in contact with. Treatment should be completed in the following order:
- If adult fleas are visible on your pet give them a Capstar tablet > this will kill all adult fleas on them within the hour. These can be given daily for 6 consecutive days (for dogs) or every 36 hours for cats.
- Bath your animal in a soothing shampoo such as Aloveen. Be sure to pick off as many fleas as possible and dry their coat thoroughly. A ‘flea’ shampoo is not necessary and can be an extra irritant to the already inflamed skin.
- Apply a preventative treatment to your pet. Please do not buy these from the supermarket as they are not effective and potentially harmful. We recommend:
- CATS – a suitable spot-on every 3 months or a spot-on every 2 which includes an all wormer). These both also cover paralysis ticks. Please ask us for the product name.
- DOGS – A three monthly chew (which also covers Paralysis ticks) or spot-on applied every 6 months. Please ask us for product brand recommendations.
Please note we do not consider Frontline spot ons or spray an effective flea prevention product as there has been proven resistance to the primary ingredient, Fipronil.
If you have been applying a regular flea prevention product to your pet as above but still have issues with fleas please consult your veterinarian for further advice.
Due to the nature of the flea life cycle, the best results are obtained when treatment continues year round. In severe infestations medications are often required to reduce inflammation and itching or treat secondary infections.
What is meant by the term flea allergy?
Despite common belief, a normal dog experiences only minor skin irritation in response to flea bites. Even in the presence of dozens of fleas, there will be very little itching. On the other hand, the flea allergic dog has a severe, itch-producing reaction to flea bites – even one bite from one flea can set of a chain of events that results in severe irritation all over the body! This occurs because the dog develops an allergic response to the flea’s saliva. When the dog or cat is bitten, flea saliva is deposited in the skin. Just one bite causes intense itching, and this is of a long-lasting nature. In cases of flea allergies, it is even more vital the above treatments are provided and prevention is strictly adhered to.