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28 February 2010

Fleas - Pesky Fellows

This is one of many dog ownership tips I'd like to share with you under the name 'Paws for Thought' written by a friend at work, posted here with her permission. Please note that these posts are written by a dog lover learning more every day and happy to share. They are intended to give you options and ideas to think about. They do not replace the help of a professional (such as a vet, behaviourist, trainer or lawyer). Posts can be shared with others as long as you make sure that any references contained within the post remain with the post and please do not take chunks out of context. Preference is definitely for the whole post to be shared rather than pieces.

With the time of year and persistent postings regarding fleas and their control I thought I'd check out a few references and learn more about the beasts and how to get rid of them. Here's what I learnt – and it’s more than you probably ever wanted to know…

About fleas

Fleas are parasites. They suck blood, make animals, especially puppies, anaemic, they spread tapeworm and cause serious skin irritations. Some dogs can also become allergic to fleas. They can bite humans as well.

Fleas can build up rapidly to plague-like proportions under the right conditions – something some of you seem to be experiencing: (

Adult fleas live & feed on your pet but 95% of the flea population live as eggs, larvae and pupae in the dirt, carpet, bedding and cracks and crevices, ready to jump on your pet.

With nearly 2,000 species and subspecies, fleas thrive in warm, humid environments.

The life cycle of a flea:

The female adult flea lives and lays eggs on your pet. The eggs fall off and remain protected in the dirt, cracks and crevices of your house, in pets bedding or in your carpet, where they hatch into larvae.

The larvae feed on debris and develop into pupae, which can lay dormant for a long time. They hatch into new adults under the right conditions, in as little as 19 days in warm and humid weather, and hop on your pet to feed. The adult flea can survive for up to a year without a blood meal.

With a complete life cycle ranging anywhere from 16 days to 21 months, depending on environmental conditions, fleas are most commonly found on a dog’s abdomen, the base of the tail and the head. With heavy infestations, however, fleas can thrive anywhere on the body. They feed once every day or two, and generally remain on their host during the interim.

A single female flea can produce up to 50 eggs per day and about 2,000 in a lifetime.

Larvae can be easily killed by drying out (exposure to relative humidity under 50 degrees) however they are capable as moving as far as a metre to find locations suitable for survival such as protected environments in carpet fibres, cracks between floorboards and on unfinished concrete floors.

Fleas are hearty and nimble, and when searching for a host, they can jump 10,000 times in a row (the length of three football fields). Three pairs of legs make for excellent leaping capabilities (up to two feet), and a laterally flattened body allows for quick movement in a dog’s fur.

A large build-up of fleas occurs when the weather gets warmer, especially in humid areas but we are still at risk in cooler areas because of heating in our homes.

Finding fleas

Often fleabites cause itching and scratching which can over time cause hair loss, inflammation and dry, scurfy skin over the base of the tail and lower backline, where fleas like to congregate.

The real sufferers are pets that become allergic to the saliva the flea injects into the skin while feeding. These animals will react every time a flea bites, even if only one flea is present. This condition is known as Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD).

But your pet may have fleas even though you can’t see them. 'Flea dirt' or flea droppings are detected more easily than the flea itself and can be seen on the skin over the rump and back - like black specks of dirt. To find them:

Groom your pet using a fine-toothed comb held over a white surface such as a piece of kitchen towel. Any fleas or flea droppings will be deposited on the surface.

Add a few drops of water and if the droppings turn reddish brown it is very likely your pet has fleas. Oh and by the way the reddish brown will be your dogs blood – yuk or what : )

Flea control

The only effective way to get rid of fleas is to remove all fleas from the dog and its environment (simultaneously to have most effect). Areas to address include:

·         Other household pets such as cats (even if they are not scratching themselves). But be sure that you treat each animal with a treatment appropriate for its species – or you might have a very expensive vet bill not to mention having poisoned your pet. For instance permethrin which is included in some dog flea treatments is poisonous to cats.

·          The dog themselves.  There are very many options out there – a staggering amount but be careful about mixing and matching as some in combination can cause overdoses/ poisonings. Also be aware particular dogs can be sensitive to particular products and the reaction can be worse than the fleas.

Options include:

Flea powers – generally needing to be applied once or twice a week.

Flea collars – can kill fleas for up to 9 months.

Flea shampoos – kill fleas on contact but have no residual effect.

Flea rinses – for use after shampoos or on their own and generally with a residual effect of up to 7 days. Options include:

Permoxin - can be used weekly on dogs or made into a spray for daily use. Used weekly it will also control ticks.

Flea sprays – rapidly kills fleas and some have insect growth regulators to prevent the laying of viable flea eggs for up to 6 to 12 weeks.

Spot on treatments – generally applied monthly. Some kill the fleas before eggs are laid and some include insect growth regulator to control all stages of flea life. Some options include:

-         Advantage – for eliminating adult fleas in dogs and contains micro-crystals that drop from the animal's coat into areas that they visits. These micro-crystals are like 'mine fields' that will bomb the developing flea larvae as they hatch from eggs.

-         Advantix - combines the active ingredient of Advantage to control fleas along with permethrin to repel and kill ticks, including the paralysis tick.

-         Frontline Spray - should eliminate fleas for 2 to 3 months. Apply by thoroughly rubbing into the coat with a gloved hand. Also treats ticks for approximately 1 month.

-         Frontline Plus Top Spot – used once a month. Combines a long acting adult flea killer with an insect growth regulator giving protection for at least 1 month. Also treats ticks for approximately 2 weeks.

Multipurpose products – some products incorporate flea treatment with treatment for heartworm and/or intestinal worm control. Options include:

-         Advocate - is a new multi-purpose product that combines the key ingredient of Advantage with an ingredient that also prevents heartworm, hookworm, roundworm, whipworm, mange and lice in dogs.

-         Revolution - controls adult fleas, prevents flea eggs from hatching, and kills flea larvae in the environment. Also controls heartworm, ear mites, sarcoptic manage, roundworm and hookworm.

Tablets and injections – may include insect growth regulator to sterilise flea eggs and stop them hatching. Options include:

-         Sentinel - a monthly tablet that not only controls fleas by stopping flea eggs from hatching, but also includes a heartworm preventive and an intestinal wormer for tapeworms as well as roundworms, hookworms and whipworms.

-         Capstar - kills fleas but has no residual action. Can be useful to quickly eliminate a new flea infestation before using a long term preventive.

-         Proban - given once or twice per week on a continual basis is effective against fleas and ticks.

You can also use a flea comb on your dog to help control an infestation.

The environment – inside the house

Flea bombs, foggers and mists all of which contain insect growth regulators and some of which provide up to a years worth of protection.

Thoroughly clean and vacuum your house, including rugs, bedding, upholstery, furniture, floors and skirting boards to help destroy fleas at each stage of their life cycle. Remember to discard any vacuum bags.

Wash dog bedding weekly.

The environment – the outdoors

Yard sprays or rinses that can be applied to specific areas including kennels and runs and many of which contain insect growth regulators.

Treatment should include:

-         Kennels

-         Rest areas (both those you provide and the spots the dog chooses)

-         Areas in the garden frequented by the dog – particularly if they lie there

-         Digging spots and sandpits

-         Under the house, porch or other buildings particularly where dark and moist.

Concentrate on shady areas, where fleas live. Options can also include the use of an insecticide, nematodes or microscopic worms that kill flea larvae.

Your car

If your dog travels in your car then don’t forget that you need to treat this area as well.

Alternative options

There are a range of alternative options available including:

Garlic - a natural flea preventative. A herb some people add to dogs meals several times a week - fresh or as a powder. More is not better however and it has been suggested that prolonged use can cause anaemia. There are no scientific studies backing up the effectiveness of garlic as a flea control agent. I recommend you to talk to your vet about it before using.

Essential oils for flea control - dilute in water and spray on coat. Total essential oils should be about 15 drops in 500 mls of water. Lavendar, citronella or cedar are meant to repel fleas but don't kill so they are not effective in an infestation.

Electronic flea collars - often reported as not effective.

Parasitic nematodes - tiny worms that eat the larvae if placed in favourite patch in the yard.

Pyrethryn - derived from the chyrsanthemum flower. Considered fairly safe. Is often combined with piperonyl butoxide which makes it more effective.

Yeast – touted but no scientific studies.

Vitamin B - touted but no scientific studies.

Lavender - sprinkle around bedding or make a lavender pillow.

Plant fennel, sage or wormwood near kennels and resting areas.

Wash bedding in hot water and rinse in cold adding 10 drops eucalyptus or lavender oil.

Some alternatives to beware of include:

Borax - borax and borax powders are toxic to dogs as well as fleas so are not recommended.

Borates – which can be effective but are toxic if inhaled or ingested.

Diatomaceous earth which can be irritating to breathe.

Rotenone - derived from derris root. This is toxic than commercially available flea products and poisonous if it enters waterways.

Limonene and other citrus products - natural flea repellents. But do not use on puppies and could cause poisonings particularly if used with other treatments. Speak to your vet before using.


Some of these products and even natural remedies are poisons and you need to read and stick with the product labels.

If you have young, sick, pregnant or nursing animals then speak to your vet before applying anything as animals can be more sensitive to products at this time. Some products cannot be used on puppies under a specific age (usually 3 to 4 months but check the label).

Many flea products for dogs are toxic to cats so check the label and/or with your vet.

For prevention (or more likely minimisation of risk) consider:

o        Regular grooming of your pets

o        Regular washing of pet bedding (weekly even)

o        Blocking off access to under the house during flea season or treating the area with an appropriate product.

Your vet will be able to recommend the best product and/or mix of products for your pet – please speak to them.

Sources: - the background website behind many Australian vet surgeries and clinics websites

Dr Barbara Fougere -Healthy Dogs. A HAndbook of Natural Therapies.

Denise Flaim - The Holistic Dog Book. Canine Care for the 21st Century J.M Evans and Kay White - Doglopedia. A Complete Guide to Dog Care.

Eric Allan and rowan Blogg - Everydog. A Complete Book of Dog Care.

The Merk/Merial Manual for Pet Health. home Edition

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