The Curious Lives of Fleas

Fleas are still biting and causing considerable concern for dog and cat owners everywhere. According to research, fleas remain active during the fall and winter in addition to the spring and summer. The reason for this is two-fold:

1) A commonly held belief that fleas die off or are no longer active during the colder months leads to pet owners believing they no longer need to treat their pets. Bad idea.

2) Fleas are a lawn pest. Remember that fleas have been around long before humans invented carpets and central heating. A flea’s natural larvae habitat is in leaf litter, grass and soil. Much like spiders, mice or rats, once it gets cold outside, they take refuge inside our structures. Sadly, since fleas are blood-feeders, this means your pets are more vulnerable than ever; especially if you’ve stopped treating your pets monthly. Treat year round to protect year round. It’s a shame fleas don’t eat dust, I’ve got three stories of hardwood floors that could use some attention!

To understand why fleas are so difficult to control you need to know a little about flea biology. Flea life cycles are maddeningly fast; 10 to 14 days, and tenacious in purpose. It starts with the egg (this one is self-explanatory), larva, pupa and adult flea. Only the adult flea feeds on blood. Ewww…  The larvae feed on organic material they find in the carpet or whatever blood substitute they are living on. However, since larvae MUST feed on some blood, the larvae feed on the dried fecal spots produced by the adult fleas. Insert grossed out reaction here.

Perhaps fleas were the original vampires. While it’s not likely that fleas will earn book rights or generate untold millions in the box office, they are not going away without a fight. I can see the book shelves and the marquee now, ‘iBite: Chronicles of a Flea’.

The larval stage is the Terminator of all the life stages. No matter what you hit them with, they just keep going and going. Fleas can jump a foot off the ground, that’s the equivalent of a human jumping five stories into the air! Fleas can lay dormant for months -new homeowners beware – and suddenly spring into action when you flip the switch to heat your home. Resiliency in a tiny package. Short of breaking through walls and time travel, these teeny tiny critters are bad news. The larval stage is the most difficult to control because the pupae is protected by a tough silk casing which is why many individuals struggle to rid their pets and properties of fleas; sometimes for months at a time, and at considerable expense. photomicrograph of common flea

The single most important factor for getting rid of fleas is preparation. The more prepared your home or business is for treatment, the more successful the treatment will be. This will require vigilance and patience and some elbow grease.

  1. Vacuum prior to treatment and for up to two weeks following treatment. This will help to remove fleas and stimulate the pupa into coming out of their protective casing and onto the treated surfaces where they will be killed by the treatment.
  2. Clear all floors throughout the house of all small items such as books, clothing, shoes, toys, plants. Anything smaller than the furniture. This includes closet floors. This will allow for a more thorough and much more effective treatment.
  3. Treat your pet with appropriately labeled flea treatment.
  4. Discard or wash your pet bedding in hot water with heavy detergent.
  5. Have the entire structure treated. Treating only the areas where your pet enters is trouble for later on down the road.

Adult fleas can actually survive for six months or more on a single blood meal. That’s not even the bad news. If you factor in the warmer months, add in a warm fall, and forget to treat your pets, fleas could be on your calendar more often than birthdays, holidays and special occasions combined. Come to think of it, maybe keeping up with flea treatments isn’t such a bad idea.

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Occasional Invaders, Not Space Invaders

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