Fleas are one of the most common external parasites of pets and in addition to causing itchiness, can also transmit diseases to pets and people. Fleas are mostly species-specific and prefer to feed on dogs and cats so it is possible to have fleas in your home without them biting you. Unfortunately, fleas can be extremely frustrating to get rid of because they live on both the pet and in the environment. Here are some tips below to help break the flea cycle.
It is not uncommon to be able to spot fleas jumping off and on your pet’s body, but they are very small and very fast. They are flat-bodied, dark brown or black in color (unless they are full of blood in which case they can be lighter) and usually less than an eighth of an inch big. Typical behavioral symptoms include restlessness and chewing, scratching or licking certain parts of his body more often than usual when they have a flea allergy. However, not all pets act itchy when they have fleas. If you suspect that your dog or cat has fleas, you can check his skin and coat for signs of them or ‘flea dirt’ which looks like regular dirt but is actually flea faeces. If you aren’t sure if it is actual dirt rather than flea dirt, put some on a paper towel and add some water. If it is flea dirt, then it will turn a reddish brown as it will contain blood that the flea has ingested and then excreted. Again, just because YOU don’t have flea bites, does NOT mean your pet can’t have fleas.
The adult female lays eggs on the host (your pet) where they fall off to hatch in the environment. Eggs incubate best in warm, humid environments which is why flea populations can thrive in the summer and indoors. Once the eggs hatch, the fleas live as larvae in the environment for as little as 9 days before pupating. Larvae are killed at 95 degrees so they have to live in the shade or indoors, out of the summer sun. The larvae spin a cocoon and become a pupa which can remain dormant for months. The pupa can wait to emerge until they detect a host nearby then they emerge as an adult flea. An unfed flea can live for months without a meal but after it has its first blood meal, metabolic changes occur and it only lives for about 4-6 weeks. The female flea produces eggs within 24-48 hours of her first meal. On average the life cycle of the flea from egg to adult takes about 3 weeks.
While they are larvae, fleas can pick up tapeworms. If your pet ingests a flea while grooming they can get a tapeworm infection as well.
With so many different flea treatments available on the market, finding the right one can be tricky. We have put together this list of some of the best and most effective flea treatments for dogs and cats to get you started, but discovering which works best for you and your pets may require some trial and error. To treat fleas, we recommend treating EVERY pet in the household for a minimum of 3 months.
A topical version of Frontline®, this formula will repel fleas and other pests at all life stages for a full 30 days. This helps to prevent re-infestation and keep your home clear of fleas for a month at a time. Like other Frontline® products, it is free of potentially harmful insecticides and water-resistant. Please keep in mind that the dog and cat formulas are NOT interchangeable and should only be used for the labeled species.
These collars offer a much longer-term solution to flea and pest problems. Unlike topical and oral treatments which typically require monthly application, the Seresto™ collars provide protection for up to 8 months. There are multiple varieties available that cater for either dogs or cats. If your pet loves swimming, their Seresto collar might need to be replaced a little more frequently. Make sure the collar is appropriately tight as a loose collar means the medication isn’t in contact with their skin!
Nexgard is an oral once monthly preventative that kills fleas and ticks. It comes as a beef-flavored chew and has been shown to be safe and effective. It kills adult fleas before they can lay eggs. It is currently the only product on the market that is labeled by the FDA to prevent the transmission of Lyme disease as it kills ticks before the bacteria can be transmitted. It may not be recommended for your pet if they have a history of seizures and is only labeled for use in dogs.
Bravecto is the only product on the market that is labeled to last 3 months per dose for the prevention of fleas and ticks. For certain species of ticks, the product may only be protective for 8 weeks. For dogs, this product is an oral chew and for cats, it is a liquid that is applied to the skin. Bravecto starts killing fleas within 2 hours and kills 98% of them within 12 hours.
Revolution is a topical monthly flea preventative that also protects against internal parasites including heartworm. A new Revolution Plus is coming soon that also protects against ticks. Revolution was shown to kill 100% of fleas for 5 weeks in the clinical trial performed. Revolution kills adult fleas before they can lay eggs.
This is a topical monthly flea and tick product that can begin killing parasites in as little as 5 minutes. It is not for use in cats and is not recommended for dogs that live with cats.
Since the eggs continue to stay in the environment and will continue to hatch and produce adult fleas, cleaning up the eggs can help reduce your flea problem. Make sure to wash all bedding in HOT water, including dog beds, throw rugs, blankets on the couch and duvet covers and sheets on the bed if possible. Vacuum all carpets and upholstery. Remember to discard the vacuum bag afterwards as the eggs can hatch and adult fleas can climb back out!
If you still have a persistent flea problem, you may need to consider spraying your house and yard with an insect growth regulator to stop eggs and larvae from maturing. Make sure that you and the pets (ESPECIALLY birds, reptiles, and fish) leave the area when you are using sprays!