Don’t let your guard down yet, for flea season is not over. (I know those of you in warmer climates know that flea season is never over!) It may be getting colder here in Pennsylvania, and residents of these northern states may want to breathe a sigh of relief, but I have seen some of my worst flea-
infested patients this time of year. In fact, I saw one in my office today. You may be surprised to know that October is actually the peak month for flea activity (while May is the peak month for ticks). Fleas do tend to be more seasonal here, but their season can extend well into December.
Anyone who has ever battled fleas in their home knows what I mean when I say DO NOT skimp on flea prevention. Once a population is established in an environment such as your home, this tenacious little pest is difficult to eradicate. And the environment is really where the action is. While the adult flea lives and feeds on dogs and cats (with the occasional human as collateral damage), the rest of its life cycle is spent in the nooks and crannies of our carpets, couches and (eww) bedding.
The easiest and most effective way to battle a flea infestation is to ensure you never have one to begin with. Using flea preventives on your pets should help keep fleas from moving in and benefiting from the free room and board. Don’t skip doses, don’t use cheap products, and don’t try to cut corners by splitting doses in half. I recommend consulting your veterinarian on the best method of battling your flea circus. Most vets carry a variety of effective anti-flea products in their clinic, and can help you choose the right one(s) for your pet. If you do choose to purchase the medications over-the-counter, be sure to read all labels carefully, as not all medications and treatments are safe for all pets.
So what do you do if you have a house full of fleas? Fighting a flea infestation requires an arsenal of weapons and a well-planned attack. Not only do you have to treat your pet to kill the adults, but you also must wage a war on the developmental stages of the flea as well. Prepare for a hard fought battle, but if you do it correctly without cutting any corners you can be successful.
First, you must address the adult fleas that are already on the pet. I generally recommend a topical flea preventive such as Frontline or Advantage, as well as an oral product, such as Sentinel, that renders the fleas unable to reproduce. By using two separate products with different modes of action, it is easier to avoid any issues with drug resistance. In really severe infestations I will add repeated doses of a third product that rapidly kills all of the adult fleas on the pet, but only lasts a very short period of time.
The real work comes in the environment. To effectively battle fleas you must vacuum like you have never vacuumed before. An adult female flea can lay up to 50 eggs per day, which fall off of your pet into your house and then develop into larva, pupa, and finally adults – who leap impressively back up onto your pet! Flea eggs are basically microscopic, and they can end up anywhere you pet has been. So that means vacuuming the floors, beds, couch (I know my dogs sneak up there when I’m not home), and anywhere else your pets hang out. After the vacuuming comes the washing – bedding, throw rugs and blankets – pretty much anything your pet has contact with. Just so you don’t skip the work at this point, I will tell you that flea larvae are essentially tiny little maggots which feed on adult flea feces and other organic debris (I will not elaborate, but feel free to use your imagination). After the washing, you may choose to use chemicals to treat the environment in order to kill off any flea babies you may have missed with your vigorous cleaning.
Follow this advice and you, your pet, and your home will hopefully stay flea free forever!