how to control fleas in dogs and cats

Flea Control for Dogs & Cats

Environmental Flea Control

With a proper understanding of the flea life cycle and the types of flea control products available, you CAN win the fight against a flea infestation. When you see significant numbers of fleas on your pets then you are already BEHIND in the management of these parasites.

If all your flea control efforts are aimed at treating only your pet, then you will never succeed. With significant exposure, or with flea allergic pets, it is IMPOSSIBLE to control fleas by only treating your pet. To be effective, you must deal with the environment as well.

Why? Although the adult fleas on your pet are the most obvious, they represent only 5% of the total flea problem. An adult female can lay up to fifty eggs per day, and even the MOST effective topical products are not 100% effective for the entire dosing period, so even routine use can result in a minor flea infestation in the house. Thus, minor breaks with late dosing can definitely result in fleas laying eggs that will accumulate within the house.

Once newly emerged adults find and feed on the pet, they do not usually leave. That means 95% of the total flea population associated with your pet is in the environment. Does this mean you have to treat acres of yard in addition to your house? No! Successful treatment programs are based on the fact that fleas are nest parasites.

The Flea Cycle

The adult flea lays eggs in your pet’s coat that readily fall from the hair into the environment. The vast majority of the eggs (90%) have been proven to fall within 2 feet of the animal’s favorite resting areas. Therefore, most of the flea larvae will hatch near your pet’s most common resting places inside and out. They require the droppings or pellets from the adult flea to survive and mature. These nesting areas will be the flea hot spots.

The final pre-adult stage is the pupae. The pupae spin cocoons which make them virtually resistant to all insecticides. Vibration, pressure, heat, and carbon dioxide from your pet’s breathing stimulate their emergence. If not stimulated to emerge, the pupae can survive in their cocoons for up to six months or longer.

In fact, sometimes when battling back from a large infestation, you may be discouraged about that time – 6 months later suddenly you seem to be back to where you started. Do not despair, that is likely the last hatching of the oldest flea pupae from the initial infestation, and if you are following the steps outlined you should have things well under control even for that last ‘blast’ of emergence from the environment.

Flea Control Products

Insect Growth Regulators (IGR’s):

These products inactivate the flea eggs and larvae, thus effectively breaking the life cycle. They are sometimes referred to as emergence pesticides. They are generally environmental treatments, but some of the topical products for use on the pet contain them as well.

  • Older products: Methoprene (Precor), and Fenoxycarb (Torus) – generally only effective for 2-3 weeks. They break down more rapidly in direct sunlight.
  • Newer generation products: Pyridine (ovikill), and Nylar. These are stable in direct sunlight and so can even be used effectively in the yard and are generally considered to have a residual active period of 5-6 months provided they have not been removed by cleaning.

They come in either area control house sprays or foggers – these products always have an adulticide pesticide in them as well but it is the IGR that is the most important choice.

Insect Development Inhibitors: Lufenuron (Program and Sentinel)

This is a product designed to be fed to dogs and cats once a month on a full stomach (or given to cats as an injection that last for 6 full months). Lufenuron does NOT kill adult fleas; however, it does effectively sterilize the fleas on your pet, thus effectively stopping their reproductive cycle in your home.

Ultimately, this product provides excellent flea control. You may still need to use environmental/topical flea control efforts to bring the initial infestation under control, or to insure lack of symptoms for flea allergic pets being incidentally exposed to adult fleas. Generally, you will see fewer and fewer adult fleas emerging, as the original pupae’s infestation in your home becomes exhausted.

Adulticidal Products: (Advantage, Frontline, Vectra, Comfortis/Trifexis)

  • Topical Products (Advantage, Frontline, Vectra) – These kill adult fleas on contact. They are applied directly to the surface of the skin, and quickly spread to provide full body coverage and bind to the upper skin layers, so that sunlight, rain, and regular shampooing do not significantly affect protection. All are extremely effective within the first three weeks. But with ALL there is some marginal loss of effectiveness between the 3-4 week mark (that can allow for minor flea reproduction to occur in the house from month to month even if you are perfectly regular in your product use).

If you are dealing with a heavy infestation or a flea allergic pet then consider applying them every 3 weeks rather than every 4 weeks. Also consider switching products if you are seeing large numbers of adult fleas even though you are being faithful applying the product.

  • Systemic Products (Comfortis or Trifexis) – These are oral tablets that kill adult fleas after a single bite. They target insect receptors and are very safe for use in dogs and provide a very rapid flea kill. They are an excellent choice for flea allergic animals due to the rapid rate of their adult kill.

Now that you know which products to use for flea control, get rid of the pesky fleas once and for all with these 6 steps.