By Dr Basil Sands
Fleas are the ectoparasites that cause pet owners in the Bahamas the most stress out of all parasites. It seems because of our warm climatic conditions we are bombarded with this pest year round.
Fleas are the leading cause of itching and scratching in dogs and cats. Fleas survive by jumping onto a host animal, cutting open their skin and feeding on the blood.
In many dogs, the bites cause only a mild itch but a heavy infestation in a puppy or small dog can cause severe anemia and even death. Fleas can cause an allergic reaction by a marked hypersensitivity to the saliva of fleas that result in skin abrasion, hair loss and secondary pyodermas.
They can also transmit tapeworms to your pet. Flea infestation can be diagnosed by finding fleas on the dog or by seeing black and white (salt and pepper) grains in the coat. These particles are flea feces (the pepper) and flea eggs (the salt). Flea fecal material is made up of digested blood and when placed on a wet paper or towel it turns reddish brown.
The adult flea is small and has no wings and cannot fly. However, they do have powerful back legs and can jump great distances. Fleas move through the hair rapidly and are difficult to catch.
To effectively control fleas one must understand the flea life cycle. Fleas need a warm, humid environment to flourish and reproduce. The higher the temperature and humidity, the more efficient their reproduction. This summer has been very hot and the amount of rainfall has been the highest in years, thus the high levels of fleas seen this summer.
The adult flea can live up to 115 days on a dog, but only one or two days off her. After a flea takes a blood meal, fleas will mate on the skin of the dog. The female lays eggs within 24 to 48 hours and may produce up to 2000 eggs in a four-month life span. The eggs fall off and incubate in your home beneath furniture and in carpets, cracks and bedding. In 10 days the eggs hatch into larva that feed on local debris. Larva spin a cocoon and goes into a pupal stage that last for days or months. Under ideal temperature and humidity conditions fleas can emerge rapidly.
After hatching, immature fleas have two weeks to find a host. At any one given time, about 1 percent of the population is composed of adult fleas, while 99 percent remain in the invisible egg, larval and pupal stages. An effective flea control program must eliminate this large reserve.
How to control fleas: Today, you can go to any food store, pet store or mom and pop store and find products that are labeled to kill fleas. I am not telling you how to spend your money or where to spend it, but I am going to recommend what you should use.
Advantage: This is a once a month liquid preparation that kills fleas by direct contact. Fleas don't have to bite the dog for the preparation to work. Advantage kills fleas on direct contact and may reduce hatching eggs and larvas. One drawback of advantage is that it loses some of its effectiveness if the dog gets wet.
Advantix: This is a new formulation of Advantage that works on fleas and ticks, however it is very expensive.
Frontline plus: This contains the active ingredient Fipronil which kills fleas on contact within 24 - 48 hours. The fleas do not need to bite the dog to be killed. It is a liquid that comes in tubes and is applied between the shoulder blades. The effectiveness of frontline is not diminish if the dog becomes wet. The product has a residual affect that last up to 90 days in some dogs. One additional benefit is that it often kills ticks for up to 30 days. The frontline plus has Methoprene, which is label to kill adult fleas, flea eggs and larvae. It is also labeled for use on breeding, pregnant and lactating bitches.
Revolution: Is a once a month liquid preparation used as heartworm preventative that has flea-controlling properties. However, it is extremely expensive and I do not recommend it.
Flea shampoos, usually pyrethrin based, such as Adams and Zodiac, kill only when they are on the pet. Once rinsed off, they have no residual effect. These are used in mild to moderate flea infestation, when the environment has also been thoroughly treated.
Flea powders and dust, such as Zodiac and Seven dusts have more residual killing activity, but must be worked thoroughly through the hair coat down to the skin. Dusting must be repeated 2-3 times a week or as recommended by the manufacturer.
Sprays and Dips: These have the most effective killing action and are the best choices for severe flea infestation and for dogs with flea allergy dermatitis if you are not using a topical preventive like Frontline, Sprays like Adams or Davis work best on dogs with short coats. When using a spray, begin near the back of the dog's head and work toward to tail. This prevents fleas on the body from escaping the treatment by moving up to the face. Insecticide dips such as Para Mite applied to the coat and allowed to dry are extremely effective in getting rid of fleas. Dips penetrate the hair coat and have the most immediate killing action and the longest residual activity.
Flea collars: Aid in flea control but do not eradicate all fleas. Most collars contain Dichlorvos, which turns into a vapor that surrounds the dog. If the dog sleeps outdoors, the collar is not as effective. Flea collars lose their potency over time and must be changed every two months. Dog flea collar should never be used on cats.
Treating the environment: As mentioned earlier, a female flea may produce up to 2000 eggs in 4 months. Most of these eggs will incubate in the environment and become adult fleas. Hence it is wise to treat the environment with a product that will kill flea eggs and larva. You can ask your veterinarian for a suitable house treatment and/or a yard treatment that is reliable and safe or you can call your local pest company.