Flea Control and your Pet
The Flea Life Cycle
Fleas propagate very quickly. In one month, 10 females can produce over 250,000 young. Understanding the flea life cycle helps us understand how to treat & control flea populations in our homes.
Egg => Larva => Pupa => Adult => Egg…
From EGG to ADULT, the life cycle can vary in length from 2 weeks to 8 months.
Adult fleas will spend most of their time on your pet. However, they will lay eggs in places like the carpet, sofa, pet bedding, yard etc. This is why it is vital to address and treat both your pet and their indoor/outdoor environment.
It is also very important to realize that the pupal stage of the life cycle is resistant to most flea control products. It takes 5-14 days for pupae to mature to adulthood within their cocoon. Once mature, they can either emerge as adults or remain “resting” in the pupal stage for several months until they detect the presence of a potential blood source, (i.e. vibration, heat, pressure, noise.) This is why it is crucial to follow up with repetitive flea treatments, especially during flea season.
The flea’s ability to reproduce rapidly, and “hibernate” until feeding conditions improve, makes them a tough adversary. The fight against fleas takes ongoing and dedicated maintenance
Natural Treatment Methods
There are three major areas of focus to treating your pet naturally and effectively for fleas: your pet’s internal health, topical control and environmental control. As believers in living a socially conscious and non-toxic lifestyle, we would like to encourage and educate pet owners on how to address each of these areas in a safe, healthful and effective way.
The most important part to the fight against fleas is maintaining the good overall health of your animal. A high quality, balanced diet for your pet is essential. Fleas are attracted to animals with compromised health & healthy animals do not taste/smell as good to fleas.
The flea comb is an inexpensive, nontoxic, and essential tool for natural flea control. Flea combing not only physically removes the adult flees from your pet, it also lets you know how severe the problem is on a daily basis. It is a good idea to have a bowl of soapy water close at hand when combing. This way you can drown/kill the fleas quickly before they have a chance to jump back onto your pet or into your carpet/sofa.
Regular bathing is another important factor in the fight against fleas. There are a plethora of flea and non-flea shampoos on the market, some natural, some not. Natural shampoos with proper pH balance for your pet that include natural flea repellents such as Citronella, can be very affective for flea control. However, any shampoo that is safe for pets should have a similar effect as the fleas will die or be “stunned” by being immersed in the suds. After a bath is the perfect time for flea combing. Any surviving fleas should be slow to react and easier to remove with the comb. Mild, less fragrant shampoos are better for cats, as they are very sensitive to the smell. If your pet already uses a special shampoo for health reasons, it is probably better to continue using it rather than an additional flea product that could potentially irritate sensitive skin. An additional option for dogs is the use of insect repelling essential oil products like Insect Shoo. These can be diluted w/ water & used like a dip to help keep fleas from returning.
NOTE: essential oils should be avoided or used with extreme caution when treating cats, particularly citrus based oils such as Pennyroyal oil.
It is crucial to the fight against fleas to treat both your pet and your pet’s environment. For minor flea problems, treatment may be accomplished simply through diligent vacuuming, mopping, laundering of bedding & general cleanliness. For more serious infestations there are safe, nontoxic products and services that are very effective. Products like boric acid crystals and diatomaceous earth are powders that can be applied to carpets, floorboards & furniture bi-monthly in order to kill off newly hatching pupae. There is also a professional service that has a borax treatment, (“Rx for Fleas”) guaranteed to last up to one year.
Controlling fleas in your yard can be more challenging depending on the amount of area there is to cover. Natural options include the use of diatomaceous earth, pyrethrum dust & beneficial nematodes. The nematodes can be found under brand names like Guardian, Interrupt & Lawn Patrol in garden & pet stores. They are organisms in a dormant/dry state that when activated with water attack & kill the larvae of fleas and other harmful insects. They are said to be harmless to beneficial insects, birds and other mammals.
When used on a regular basis and in conjunction with each other, these nontoxic natural methods are very affective in controlling flea populations on your pet and in your pet’s environment.
Conventional Treatment Methods
The Pros & Cons…
- Flea Collars:
- Natural or not, even pesticide treated collars are rarely very effective at killing fleas anywhere other than around the neck.
- Flea powders & sprays:
- There are various types of flea powders & sprays on the market. Some of the more natural kinds use things like diatomaceous earth and pyrethrum dust. These natural products can be fairly safe and effective if applied properly and used in conjunction with the other Natural Treatment Methods. There is always an increased risk of inhalation and/or ingestion with these types of products, which can be dangerously toxic especially with the chemically derived types. In general, this type of flea treatment is messy & needs to be repeated frequently in order to be effective. Because of the need for frequent application, it is always preferable to use the most natural and nontoxic products if using this method.
- Flea Bombs/Foggers:
- The advent of a new generation of topical flea products have rendered flea bombs/foggers almost completely obsolete. While we may not be advocates of topical insecticides like Advantage™, their use is certainly preferable to spraying your home with potentially toxic insecticides.
- Insecticide Drops:
- In the last 5 years or so, a new generation of topical “spot on” flea control products have come on the market. These products, such as Advantage™ and Frontline® are liquid drops of insecticide that are applied to the pets skin between the shoulder blades. The chemical insecticide then spreads across the entire body surface via the oil layer on the skin. While these products may be effective, and certainly preferable to old-fashioned insecticide dips and powders, we have seen adverse health reactions resulting from the use of these products. The insecticide industry in general has a dubious track record when it comes to health issues. We therefore recommend using natural methods of flea control whenever possible.
NOTE: If using this method, Frontline® and Advantage™ are much safer than their less expensive “knockoffs” that are found in pet stores & supermarkets. Packaged to look like them, they are not the same. These other products can be extremely toxic and dangerous for your pet, especially cats. Never use an insecticide product on a cat that is labeled for a dog. The affect can be severe, irreversible, and sometimes fatal!
- Oral Insect Growth Regulators:
- The product called Program® is the most widely used product of this type. It is the equivalent of flea birth control & does not kill adult fleas. Being an insect hormone and not an insecticide, we feel it is a safer approach than the use of liquid chemical products such as Advantage™. It is given orally to the animal. When the flea feeds, it is rendered sterile and its eggs do not develop. The life cycle is broken, but any adult fleas or developing pupae need to be killed by other means. It usually takes at least a month to see results with Program® and you should continue using other methods such as combing and shampooing to account for the adult fleas.