Fleas are a well-known problem of household pets. They can be a year-round problem in Southern California since our climate provides the optimal temperature range for flea survival. Common fleas infect dogs, cats, and rabbits. They can also be brought into your yard or home by raccoons, opossums, and skunks.
It is not normal for your pet to have fleas. They are an annoyance to you, a health hazard to your pet, and can transmit internal parasites such as tapeworms. Some pets are allergic to the bites of fleas and develop severe itching, hair loss, skin irritation, and redness (so called “Santa Barbara itch”). Some people are also allergic to the bites from fleas. Fleas can be a serious problem as kittens and puppies or toy breeds can die from anemia due to an overwhelming flea infestation.
The Life of a Flea
Fleas have a four-stage life cycle. Typically, a flea population is made up of approximately 50 percent eggs, 30 percent larvae, 15 percent pupae, and only 5 percent biting adults. Adult fleas rarely leave their host (the pet). Fleas seen in the environment are usually newly hatched and looking for their preferred home—your pet.
Fleas feed on animal blood and reproduce by laying hundreds of eggs that fall off the pet into bedding, furniture, and carpeting. Once the eggs hatch into larvae, the larvae move to places of darkness and higher humidity (under furniture, into cracks, crevices, and baseboards) and feed off debris (skin cells, crumbs, etc.) in these areas. They then form a pupae or cocoon, which hatches into an adult flea, which jumps on your pet and the cycle starts all over again. In order to get flea infestations under control, it is extremely important to kill the adult fleas and prevent the eggs or larvae from developing.
Treat the Pet
There are many new flea products on the market that are more effective and less toxic to your pet and the environment than the old sprays, dips, powders, and shampoos used in the past. Frontline Plus, Advantage, Advantix, and Revolution are very effective topical flea products currently available. They can be purchased at veterinary clinics or by catalog order with a veterinarian’s prescription. You may also find these products in pet stores, but they are only guaranteed for safety and efficiency if sold through a veterinarian. Additionally, there are oral flea products available through veterinarians—Program and Capstar. Some people may prefer to use these products rather than a topical product on the pet’s coat. Program is a once/month pill for dogs or an oral liquid or pill for cats that prevents flea eggs from hatching. Used alone, it will eliminate 90 percent of the flea population in three months, but it is even more effective when combined with one of the above-mentioned topical spot-ons. Many veterinarian researchers believe that using Program with a topical spot-on to kill adult fleas is the most effective way to control fleas and prevent the possible development of fleas resistant to topical spot-ons alone.
Flea collars alone are not very effective. Some collars help to keep fleas off the head and neck areas, but the fleas then usually stay in the tail and underbelly regions. Some pets may develop a contact dermatitis on the neck area and some (cats, kittens, and young pups in particular) can become ill from sensitivity to the insecticide in the collars. Flea collars can also be dangerous if they get stuck in a pet’s mouth or chewed on by other pets so they are not generally recommended.
Treat the Environment
With the new and more effective treatments available to kill and control fleas on the pet, it may not be necessary to use flea control products in the house and yard. If, however, you have a severe flea infestation or a very allergic pet, treating the environment will result in faster elimination of the fleas. Vacuum carpets and furniture frequently using a vacuum with good suction and discard the vacuum cleaner bag immediately. Vacuum thoroughly along the edges of walls, in corners, under furniture, and behind doors as flea larvae tend to survive best in these locations. It’s best to discard or wash the pet’s bedding in very hot water. Also sweep and mop floors, especially under beds and closets. If infestation is severe, steam clean all furniture and carpets to help kill fleas and eliminate debris that feeds larval fleas. To control fleas outdoors, apply approved insecticides to shady areas where pets frequent. Flea larvae cannot survive in dry sunny locations, so these areas need not be treated. Always allow treated areas to dry several hours before allowing the pet and people access into treated areas.
There are many natural products on the market that help control fleas The online store, Only Natural Pet, sells all natural flea powder, shampoo, herbal sprays, and garlic tablets that can rid your pet of fleas. Borate powder can be used to kill fleas on carpets and wood floors. There are also essential oils that can be massaged on your pet such as lavender and tea tree, which can help prevent fleas. For more information on all natural flea control, visit www.onlynaturalpet.com
Even though fleas can be a nasty problem in Santa Barbara, if you arm yourself with the right products you can eliminate the problem quickly so that you and your pet can enjoy the beautiful outdoors year-round.
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Lisa Acho Remorenko is executive director Animal Adoption Solutions.