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What are Fleas?

Fleas are the most common external parasite of companion animals. Flea allergy dermatitis is the most common skin disease of dogs and cats! Flea control has always been a challenge for veterinarians and pet owners because the adult fleas cause the clinical signs, yet the majority of the flea population (eggs, larvae and pupae) are to be found off the pet in and around the home. The ideal flea control program utilizes products that target the various stages of the flea life cycle, not only the adult fleas on the pet.

The Life Cycle of the Flea and How It Propagates
Eggs are laid in the hair coat and are designed to fall off the host. Larvae develop in the host’s environment and feed on adult flea feces (blood) that falls out of the hair coat of the pet. Larvae eventually spin cocoons (often within carpet fibers) for pupation. Pupae are resistant to freezing, desiccation, and insecticides. Pupae can lie dormant for many months; they are stimulated to ex-pupate as emergent adults by vibration, warming and increased carbon dioxide. Normally, ex-pupation occurs when a host is near and the new flea finds the pet within seconds of emergence. Emergent fleas are fairly mobile and can survive a few days without a host, if in a suitable environment. New fleas begin feeding within hours of finding a dog or cat (or human). Once a blood meal has been taken, the flea can survive only a short time if it is dislodged from the host. New fleas experience very high mortality on healthy adult hosts. Most fleas do not survive 72 hours on an animal that is itching and able to groom itself. Unfortunately, limited egg production does occur even on allergic animals. The entire life cycle of C. felis can be completed in as few as sixteen days!

Which animals can get fleas?
All animals including humans can be victimized by fleas.

What are the Signs?
In most cases live adult fleas can be observed on the pet and in the home environment. Some signs of flea allergy dermatitis include: scaly red patches, small red bumps on the skin, excessive scratching, and hair loss. Some animals (people also) can be hypersensitive to flea bites, and symptoms may increase in severity depending on sensitivity.

How are Fleas Prevented?
For the flea-allergic animal 100% flea control is required to remain symptom-free. Even very minimal exposure may be sufficient to perpetuate itching in a hypersensitive patient (one or two bites per week are enough!) Until very recently, veterinarians and pet owners have had to control fleas by treating the environment of the animal for the immature stages of the flea. This approach, although effective when properly instituted, is labor intensive and requires frequent repetitive applications. Application of adulticides on the animal has merely been of palliative value (symptom-treating). The safe insecticides previously available to us did not kill fleas instantly or were not long-lasting enough to ensure adequate protection from flea bites. The female flea survived long enough to lay a few eggs and perpetuate the life cycle.


Today’s Flea Control Products

Recently, some new products have been added to our flea control arsenal. These appear to be highly efficacious, long-lasting and have a very low potential of harmful side effects. It may well be that these promising products will revolutionize flea control in the United States.

Oral Preventatives:

Usually available as a once a month pill or oral liquid suspension, these are prescription drugs. Adult fleas that feed on animals treated with a chemical produce sterile eggs. The product does not kill adult fleas. It is a very easy way to break the life cycle but pets remain fully susceptible to the emergence of any fleas from pupa already present in the environment. Therefore, four to seven months may pass before the flea-free state is reached. In order to stop the life cycle, every animal in the patient’s environment must receive the medication.

Spray on Applications:

Pyriproxifen is a new insect growth regulator that is extremely effective against flea eggs. It remains 100% effective for 150 days after a single spray application! It is an excellent option in cases when oral medications may be too expensive because of a multiple pet household, or in situations where the oral medication is ineffective.

Traditional Insecticides:

Several adulticides, insecticides, or shampoos can be used along with oral preventatives. Shampoos are considered inferior to sprays, dips or drip-ons because they have little to no residual activity. For cats, sprays or foaming mousses are useful. For dogs, sprays are recommended.