All dogs pick up fleas, ticks, and chiggers at one time or another, usually during the warm weather months. Even a pampered city pet can pick up a stray flea from a potted plant. Hunting dogs often return home with a collection of chiggers or ticks. Fleas hop from one dog to another with amazing speed and agility. Your pet only needs to greet one flea infested friend in order to acquire the beginning of a flea colony of his own.
External parasites are not a special affliction of dogs. The dog is simply a convenient host for them. We would probably have them too, if our bodies were covered with hair and we ran around without shoes and clothing and sat or slept on the ground. Fleas are the most common, the easiest to detect and to get rid of. Fleas appear as black specks on a fine tooth comb, and a single one can drive a dog crazy.
The worst part of fleas is that they act as hosts to tapeworm larvae, and if your dog swallows one you may end up with a worm problem too. You can trap fleas in a silky smooth coat with a flea comb, but fleas that nestle in the dense undercoat of double coated dogs must be treated with a product that penetrates the skin, and a regular mild treatment is safer than an occasional severe one.
In one day a single flea can bite your pet 400 times, while consuming more than its own bodyweight in blood. Some dogs can contract flea allergy dermatitis, an allergic reaction to the flea’s saliva. The severity and length of the flea season varies depending on what part of the country you live in, but it is best to treat your pet in early spring, (April – May). In northern climates, flea and tick season usually lasts approximately 4 months, but in the extreme south, fleas can live all year long.
There are more than 2000 species of fleas in the United States alone, but the one that attacks most pets is the cat flea, Ctenocephalides Felis. A cat flea can lay up to one egg per hour, and within two days, a wormlike larvae will hatch from those eggs. The eggs are oval, smooth, and about 0.5mm in size. The hatched larvae will range from 1.5 to 5mm in length. The complete cycle from egg to adult takes approximately 30 to 75 days depending on temperature and humidity.
Adult fleas are about 1/16 to 1/8 inch long, are dark reddish brown, wingless, hard bodied, have three pairs of legs and are flattened from side to side. Fleas can jump vertically up to seven inches, and horizontally up to fourteen inches. They have piercing – sucking mouth parts and spines on their body. Adult fleas cannot survive or lay eggs without a blood meal, but may live from two months to one year without feeding.
In order to effectively control an infestation, fleas must be removed from the pet, the home, and the yard. Starting with the pet, there are shampoos, topical treatments, sprays, collars, and oral medications. The least recommended is shampoo, due to the grooming the pet does to his own coat. The pesticides can be toxic if they are consumed in quantity. Topical treatments are better, along with sprays and collars, but the best and most recommended is the oral medication Lufenuron called “Program” from your veterinarian.
To clean the home, all areas frequented by the dog should be cleaned thoroughly by vacuuming, washing bedding and rugs and possible treatment by insecticides. Treating your carpet with a Borate powder such as “Borax” laundry powder works as a poison upon ingestion by the flea, simply sprinkle the powder on your carpets and leave it for a few h ours before vacuuming will rid most homes of their fleas. A second treatment can follow if necessary. It’s cheap, you can do it yourself and there are no insecticides used.
To treat the lawn and around the homes exterior, pyrethroids such as “Archer” or “Nylan”, as well as fenoxy carb such as “Logic” or “Torus” can be effective. Outdoor treatment is usually only done in extreme or severe cases of flea infestation and may not be necessary. You should however keep your lawn trimmed to create a drier, less ideal environment for flea larvae. If you don’t want to handle the pesticides yourself, any licensed professional pest control operator can do the treatment for you.
In summary, you should check with your veterinarian before using any form of flea treatment. Never use products for dogs on a cat, as cats are more sensitive to the pesticide and they groom themselves more thoroughly. Never apply pesticides to young, pregnant, or sick animals, and use alternative methods to control fleas, such as combing frequently with a flea comb, vacuum your home frequently and dispose of the vacuum bag, wash all pet bedding regularly, and bathe your pet with a pesticide free shampoo. Prevention is much easier than dealing with an infestation.
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