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Welcome to The Animal Hospital of Lynchburg's FLEA and TICK PREVENTION web page!!!
Successful flea control has two aspects. Fleas must be controlled on your pet, and fleas must be controlled in your pet's environment. Since cats and dogs share the same fleas, the presence of a cat in your dog's environment can make flea control much more difficult, and vice versa. Other animals outdoors, domesticated or wild, can also affect your ability to control the flea population.
Diagnosis of Flea Infestation
When a dog is heavily infested with fleas, it is easy to find them. If the numbers are small, it is best to quickly turn your dog over and look on its belly. If you do not find them there, look on the back just in front of the tail. Be sure to part the hair and look at the level of the skin. When the numbers are very small, look for "flea dirt." Flea dirt is digested blood left behind by the fleas. Flea dirt is actually fecal matter from the flea. Finding flea dirt is a sure indication that fleas are present or have been present recently.
Flea dirt looks like pepper. It varies from tiny black dots to tubular structures about 1/32" (1/2 mm) long. If you are not sure it is flea dirt, put the suspected material on a light colored table top or counter top. Add one or two drops of water, and wait about 30 seconds. If it is flea dirt, the water will turn reddish brown as the blood residue goes into solution. Another trick is to put some of the material on a white paper towel and then wet the paper towel with water. A red stain will become apparent if you gently wipe the material across the surface of the paper towel.
Many people find tiny drops of blood in a dog's bedding or where the dog sleeps. This is usually flea dirt that was moistened, then dried. It leaves a reddish stain on the bedding material and is another sign that fleas are present.
Life Cycle of the Flea
To appreciate the complex issue of flea control, you must understand something about the flea's life cycle.
Although you are only able to see the adult flea, there are actually 4 stages of the life cycle. The adult flea constitutes only about 5% of the entire flea population if you take into account all four stages of the life cycle. Flea eggs are pearly white and about 1/32" (1/2 mm) in length. They are too small to see without magnification. Fleas lay their eggs on the dog, but the eggs do not stick to the dog's hair. Instead, they fall off into the dog's environment. The eggs make up 50% of the flea population. They hatch into larvae in 1 to 10 days, depending on temperature and humidity. High humidity and temperature favor rapid hatching.
Flea larvae are slender and about 1/8-1/4" (2 to 5 mm) in length. They feed on organic debris found in their environment and on adult flea feces, which is essential for successful development. They avoid direct sunlight and actively move deep into carpet fibers or under organic debris (grass, branches, leaves, or soil.) They live for 5 to 11 days before becoming pupae.
Moisture is essential for their survival; flea larvae are killed by drying. Therefore, it is unlikely that they survive outdoors in shade free areas. Outdoor larval development occurs only where the ground is shaded and moist and where flea infested pets spend a significant amount of time. This allows flea feces to be deposited in the environment. In an indoor environment, larvae survive best in the protected environment of carpet or in cracks between hardwood floors. They also thrive in humid climates.
Following complete development, the mature larvae produce a silk like cocoon in which the next step of development, the pupa, resides. The cocoon is sticky, so it quickly becomes coated with debris from the environment. This serves to camouflage it. In warm, humid conditions, pupae become adult fleas in 5-10 days. However, the adults do not emerge from the cocoon unless stimulated by physical pressure, carbon dioxide, or heat.... pet and human activity in a household are typical triggers.
Pre-emerged adult fleas can survive up to 140 days within the cocoon. During this time, they are resistant to insecticides applied to their environment. Because of this, adult fleas may continue to emerge into the environment for weeks following insecticide application.
When the adult flea emerges from its cocoon, it immediately seeks a host because it must have a blood meal within a few days to survive. It is attracted to people and pets by body heat, movement, and exhaled carbon dioxide. It seeks light, which means that it migrates to the surface of the carpet so that it can encounter a passing host. Following the first blood meal, female fleas begin egg production within 36 to 48 hours. A single flea can produce up to 50 eggs per day. Egg production may continue for as long as 100 days, which means that a single flea may produce up to 5,000 eggs.
This entire life cycle (adult flea >>> egg >>> larvae >>> pupa >>> adult) can be completed in close to 14 days with the proper temperature and humidity conditions. On the contrary, the cycle can be arrested if conditions are not optimum, and can take up to 6 months. This adds to the problem of flea control.
If untreated, the female flea will continue to take blood for several weeks. During that time, she will consume about 15 times her body weight in blood. Although the male fleas do not take as much blood, they, too, contribute to significant blood loss. This can lead to the dog having an insufficient number of red blood cells, which is known as anemia. In young or debilitated dogs, the anemia may be severe enough to cause death.
Contrary to popular belief, most dogs and cats have rather limited itching due to the fleas themselves. However, many pet s become allergic to the saliva in the flea's mouth. When these pets are bitten, intense itching occurs, causing the pet to scratch and chew on its skin.
Successful flea control must rid the pet of fleas and it must rid the pet's environment of fleas. In fact, environmental control as important as treatment of the pet. If your pet remains primarily indoors and you do not have other pets that come in from the outside, environmental control is relatively easy, especially with the advent of the new topical products (see below). However, the dog that goes outdoors frequently or stays outdoors presents a somewhat greater challenge and a few fleas may occasionally be seen indoors.
Many of the older insecticides (which have been the mainstay of flea control for years) have limited effectiveness against fleas because they are only effective for a few hours after application on the pet. Also, these are primarily geared to kill adult fleas. Flea powders, sprays, and shampoos will kill the fleas present on your pet at the time of application. However, most of these products have little or no residual effects, so the fleas that return to your pet from his environment are not affected. Thus, your pet may be covered with fleas within a day after having a flea bath or being sprayed or powdered.
However, there are some newer, more effective products that can be a valuable part of the overall treatment plan. They kill adult fleas rapidly and are extremely safe to use on dogs as well as cats. Our favorite product is NexGard by Merial the same makers as Frontline Plus. NexGard's main ingredient is Afoxolaner and is available in four sizes of beef flavored, soft chews for oral administration to dogs and puppies according to their body weight effective for 3o days.
Feline Flea and Tick Prevention
There are topical treatments that are applied to the nape of the neck for feline flea and tick control. They are Frontline Plus and Revolution. Both are safe and very effective, lasting control for 30 days.
Revolution is recommended for use in cats 8 weeks of age and older to kill adult fleas and prevent flea eggs from hatching for 1 month. It also prevents heartworm disease, treats and controls ear mites infestations, as well as treating and controlling intestinal hookworm and roundworm infestations.
Frontline Plus for Cats provides fast acting, long lasting, waterproof treatment and control of fleas, ticks, and chewing lice for use only on cats and kittens 8 weeks or older and weighing over 1.5 pounds.
The newer topical products do not require the aggressive environmental control that is necessary if only dips, sprays, or collars are used. This is one reason that they have become so popular with pet owners. Products such as Frontline Plus will distribute throughout the environment along with your pets hair and dander, and will effectively keep eggs in the environment from hatching.
Even though fleas may be in your house, most people never see them. Fleas greatly prefer cats and dogs to people; they only infest humans when there has not been a cat or dog in the house for several days. For the same reasons that the topical products help to treat the outdoor environment, Frontline Plus will effectively keep eggs in the house from hatching.
Reemergence of Fleas
If you recall, pre-emerged adult fleas can survive up to 140 days within the cocoon. This is significant when your pets are gone from home for extended periods of time. During the time that the house is quiet and empty, pre-emerged adults remain in their cocoon. Even if the house was treated with an insecticide, their cocoon protects them. When people and pets return to the house, adults emerge from their cocoons and immediately begin to seek a blood meal. They jump on cats, dogs, and even people. Although it may appear that a dog just returned from boarding brought fleas to your home, it is also very possible that a sudden emergence of adult fleas may account for the fleas present. If large numbers of fleas are seen, they are almost certainly newly hatched fleas and have not been brought home with the pet. For this reason, we recommend that flea control be an ongoing, monthly issue in most homes.