they are cat fleas, but Ctenocephalides felis is really
not picky, they can colonize our Beardies as well as cats,
domestic rabbits, ferrets, cows, goats, raccoons, opossums,
skunks, coyotes, foxes, mongooses, koalas and even some species
of poultry. Oh yes, and they bite people and can cause,
plague, typhus and other nasty diseases. No wonder they
are public pet owner enemy number one.
popular belief squirrels and wild rabbits do not bring fleas
into our yards, blame nocturnal visits by feral cats and some of
the species listed above. While we are dispelling
erroneous beliefs, fleas do not jump from host to host either.
Once they find their host, they settle in and live their lives
there. Why not, they are warm, safe from predators and a
nice blood meal is millimeters away! Only in cases of
severe overpopulation will they vacate the neighborhood.
a flea arrives it starts feeding in the first few minutes.
Breeding follows within a day or two, followed by egg production
48 hours later, about 40 or 50 eggs per day per female flea.
Females outnumber males 2:1 on average. Once produced, the
eggs drop off the host. Outdoors most eggs dry up and do
not hatch. Inside our houses though, 50-70% of the eggs
eggs hatch into larvae. They require humidity of greater
than 50% and are also subject to desiccation, although they will
drown if their environment is saturated. They survive in
soil, grass, carpets, unwashed pet bedding and in the cracks in
hardwood floors or under the molding. They live primarily
on adult flea feces which have dropped off with them. Many
will die of starvation. Ideal conditions for eggs and
larvae are temperatures of 65-75 oF and a relative
humidity of ~ 75%. (Humidity is higher in the deep carpet
pile or soil than in the air above it.) However, all life
stages of the flea can survive a temperature range of 28 to 95 oF.
Above that temperature, especially in full sun, immature stages
will die. Up here in the cold Northeast fleas over-winter
in animal bedding domestic or wild or in our homes.
larvae that have made it thus far, eat like pigs for the next
two weeks, going through at least two molts as they grow.
They are at their most vulnerable at this stage. Once the
larvae have matured they produce a silk in which they wrap
themselves to form pupae. The outer surface is sticky, and
becomes covered in debris from their environment. As
pupae, fleas are pretty much invulnerable to their environment
including insecticides, and 80-90% will survive. After a
week, adult fleas are ready to hatch from the pupae, but their
hatching will be delayed if the environmental conditions are not
right, especially if it is too cold or dry. Emergence can
be delayed up to eight months.
hatch if they sense carbon dioxide release or body heat from a
potential host.. Vibrations from the host moving about and
causing surrounding debris to shift can also cause hatching.
biggest problem for our Beardies is flea allergic dermatitis
(FAD). There is a considerable range of severity, but in
most dogs the areas affected will be the spine in front of the
tail head and the groin. The degree of itchiness varies,
but in severe cases is extreme. There will be significant
hair loss, redness, and divots in the skin from the scratching;
secondary bacterial infection can cause pyoderma and hot spots.
do not have to see adult fleas to diagnose FAD, although finding
the tiny dark spots of flea feces which turn red in water
digested blood- certainly helps. It must be remembered
allergies are additive, and there may be accompanying atopic
dermatitis exacerbating the condition.
spot ons are usually effective at keeping fleas at bay
(Advantage, Frontline, Vectra 3D, Promeris or Revolution).
Not all dogs will tolerate these products so watch your dog
carefully especially on the first application, and if you notice
a problem quickly wash the area of application thoroughly and
then seek veterinary assistance. Reports of flea
resistance to these products are probably not accurate.
Frequent shampooing especially with harsh shampoos or
swimming can reduce efficacy despite product labels.
Vectra-3 and oral Comfortis tend to have the longest action.
Both are new products. Comfortis starts to kill fleas
within 30 minutes of being ingested. It continues to kill
fleas for a month. Other oral flea products would include
Capstar and Program/Sentinel. Capstar kills all fleas on a
dog within 30 minutes, but has no residual action beyond 48
hours. It would be the first choice for a heavily infested
dog. Program (Sentinel includes the active ingredient in
Program as well as the heartworm protective ingredient of
Interceptor) provides a month of protection, but takes longer to
kill fleas initially than Confortis or Capstar. The oral
products have no action against ticks. Capstar can be used
long term to protect the dog against fleas being given every
second or third day.
the environment is heavily infested with pupae, spot on
treatments can be overwhelmed. In these cases, they should
be applied every two or three weeks as needed, with Capstar
given at regular intervals to bring down the population on the
Beardie. Capstar can be given safely to puppies as young
as 4 weeks of age.
70-80% of its life span the flea is not on the animal though,
but hidden in the environment. In dry areas, outdoor fleas
will die in non-irrigated areas by mid summer. Indoors
they continue to flourish. If your dog gets on the
furniture or if you have cats that do, remember immature stages
will be under the cushions and in the upholstery or even in your
bed. Most larvae and even some of the eggs can be killed
by the use of insect growth regulators (IGRs) such as methoprene
and pyriproxifen). Knockout spray dries on contact and is
easier to use and less messy than some. Be aware though
that these sprays usually contain permethrins (synthetic
pyrethrins) to help kill eggs as well as killing any adult fleas
in the environment. Another option is sodium polyborate (Fleabusters)
which kills the larvae by drying them out, and may choke them to
death on the fine dust too. None of these products
will have any effect on pupae. The best recourse and the
most environmentally friendly, is frequent and thorough
vacuuming. Do not put flea collars or other flea products
in the bag. You will aerosolize the chemicals into the
environment. After vacuuming seal the bag in a plastic bag
and put it out in the trash.
of the outdoor larvicidal sprays contain malathion or diazinon.
Both are organophosphates. The latter is banned for
domestic use but still available for agricultural use.
Both are extremely toxic to humans and domestic animals as well
as beneficial insects and wildlife, and should not be used.
Nematodes of the species steinernema are a natural means of
controlling flea larvae as well as those of cutworms, Japanese
beetles and other pests. Occasional watering and
replenishment every few months is all the care they need.
Some people advocate using diatomaceous earth, but unless it is
well watered into the ground the harsh dust can cause damage to
respiratory tissue, particularly that of our dogs who are
closer to the ground. It will become airborne after a dry
spell again too.
must be taken with applying any of these control measures.
Be sure to read the directions closely. Research the
ingredients and make sure that you are applying the right
product to the right species. Be aware of the special
needs of the infant and geriatric animals as well as the immune
compromised humans and adult dogs. A recent report links
the use of pyrethrin sprays and pet shampoos by pregnant women
to the incidence of autism in their children. The spot-ons
coat the hair of our dogs, they will be ingested by dogs and
puppies mouthing on them, as well as human children and adults
when they pet or cuddle the animal. Fleas cause a lot of
misery and we need to control them. However, control can
bring a cost.
final take home thought. Fleas drown. All the fleas
on our dogs are adults